SHERMAN – Believe it not, Gen Z-ers, there was a time last century when autumn didn’t feature televised college football games five nights a week – or even any. In those days, starting in the 1920s, the closest thing to Twitter, television and the Internet was something called radio, and it was popular indeed.
As chronicled by local author Alan Burton in his latest book, perhaps no one did football broadcasts better than the Humble Oil Company, later known as Enco and Exxon — a storied entity that brought Southwest Conference gridiron action to millions of avid fans from 1934 to 1977.
Burton explores these memorable broadcasts, and the men who made them famous, in “Go to the Games with Humble – Kern Tips and the Golden Age of SWC Radio.”
This entertaining volume will no doubt summon fond memories for fans who lived it — those who spent hours listening to SWC foes charge back and forth across the radio dial. And younger readers will likely be intrigued by how much things have changed.
“Humble did a really good job of covering all the Southwest Conference teams,” Burton said recently at the Sherman IHOP. “They didn’t play favorites. It didn’t matter if it was Texas A&M, the University of Texas, Rice, SMU – you could generally find the game on a radio station. … And they did a good job of promoting the game. They didn’t make much money doing it but it was a pretty prestigious gig, being an announcer for Humble.”
Burton estimates there were 85 different announcers, all told.
“I could only find maybe six or seven still living, and I talked to two of them, Dan Lovett and Tom Hedrick. … The biggest surprise I ran across was there’s like eight guys that went on and did Hollywood acting [or] news broadcasting. There was a guy that directed The Tonight Show with Johnnie Carson — weird stuff that I would have never imagined.”
The undisputed king of these revered broadcasts was Kern Tips, who delighted listeners for 32 seasons with his unique style, supreme preparation and unmatched descriptive ability. As noted in “Go to the Games,” a fumble to Kerns might be termed “a malfunction at the junction”; a quarterback sack would perhaps be described as, “He had to peel it and eat it.”
A former newspaper sports editor, Tips was a radio general manager in Houston when Humble drew him to the microphone in 1935.
“Kern Tips is a legend to this day,” Burton said. “His legacy lives on, I think, for establishing professionalism. He set the bar very high. … When Tips passed away in 1967, Connie Alexander sort of moved to the top as the No. 1 broadcaster. I also liked a guy named Jack Dale. I liked their style.”
While Tips rightly receives a good deal of Burton’s attention in the book, other top Humble broadcasters like Connie Alexander and Eddie Barker get separate chapters as well. Scores more are noted and duly examined in a section deemed “Other Voices.” Each man had particular talents and stories to tell, but all shared a love of SWC football – and it came through loud and clear. Audio samples of their work can still be found on YouTube.
The more seasoned among us will recall that Barker went on to big things as a Dallas newsman, including a key role in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. Other names familiar to long-time North Texans will be Frank Fallon, Gordon McLendon and Frank Glieber.
Behind-the-scenes accounts and plenty of little-known facts are scattered throughout Burton’s 195-page gem, as are old clippings, photos and advertisements.
Burton lists 116 newspapers used in his research — from the Alto Herald and Olney Enterprise to the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle — some going back to the 1930s. Several books on the SWC were also valuable tools, Burton said, along with myriad Internet searches.
A Sherman native, Burton graduated from Texas Tech University in 1979 and was later sports editor at the Sherman Democrat before serving as Sherman ISD’s director of community relations for over a decade. He is currently special assistant to the president and director of communications at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where he’s served in numerous posts for the past 19 years.
Since 1996, Burton has penned six other well-received books, most dealing in the realm of Texas sports.
The introduction to “Go to the Games with Humble” is a treat as well, describing the author’s first live encounter with Southwest Conference football as a 7-year-old with his dad, and his earliest memories of Humble football broadcasts during family road trips and holiday gatherings.
For real history buffs, Burton’s first chapter offers a detailed account of the origins and lifespan of Humble/Enco/Exxon, hence after referred to as “H/E/E” in the book.
The convenience of the car radio and the magic of the transistor radio boosted H/E/E broadcasts’ appeal in the 50s.
“You could take the game with you, and that was sort of neat,” Burton said. “At one point in time, radio had the advantage of immediacy that, say, newspapers didn’t.”
Even after TV became widespread, Burton noted, only a game or two were shown each week when he was growing up in the 60s.
“The only way, really, to follow your team [live] was the radio,” he said.
“Their No. 1 rule was to be objective. Don’t show any favoritism.” Burton added that announcers weren’t allowed to talk about injuries, fights or questionable officiating. “It was sort of a simpler, more innocent time.”
The book notes instances where not speaking of injuries or other perceived extraneous events was taken to extremes, certainly by today’s standards: a head coach dies on the sidelines; a section of bleachers collapses; and a player suffers a serious neck injury.
Tips himself, in a 1957 book excerpt included by Burton as an appendix, staunchly defends the policy. The idea was to keep family members listening at home from being alarmed, perhaps for no reason.
Other helpful/interesting appendices include: a 1945 pre-game, halftime and post-game script; a timeline of memorable football broadcasting moments, starting in 1912; an alphabetical listing of H/E/E announcers and the years they served; and a listing of announcers by year.
Then there’s the topper: Appendix 6, which lists week-by-week game assignments for H/E/E broadcasts from 1934 to 1977, though some, Burton said, could not be tracked down. It’s extensive, and indicative of the author’s desire to corral this history for the ages.
Burton recalls how schools were initially hesitant to embrace radio — and later TV — fearing each would hurt gate receipts. Those fears vanished as the big dollars started rolling in.
The broadcasts were so popular, even with the wide-spread availability of television in the 50s, many folks turned down the volume on their sets to hear the action by radio. Several H/E/E broadcasters themselves would also work in the television booth during this time.
Burton ultimately covers in detail the demise of H/E/E’s 43-year relationship with the SWC and the semi-craziness that followed. The SWC itself was eventually dissolved in 1996, forever closing the last vestige of this special time.
“All of a sudden radio became big business and money, and [the SWC] decided to go a different direction,” Burton said of the split with H/E/E. “You can’t really blame the conference. They were looking at more ways to bring in revenue. … Now it’s all about money. Everybody basically has their own network.”
“Go to the Games with Humble – Kern Tips and the Golden Age of SWC Radio” is available now on amazon.com. Burton will sign copies of the book from 1 to 3 p.m., Sept. 15, at Half Price Books, 5803 E. Northwest Highway in Dallas.
Other Burton books:
*Til the Fat Lady Sings – Classic Texas Sports Quotes, 1996
*Rave On – Classic Texas Music Quotes, 1996
*Texas High School Hot Shots – The Stars Before They Were Stars, 2002
*Dallas Cowboys Quips and Quotes, 2006
*Pirates, Soldiers and Fat Little Girl Friends – More Classic Sports Quotes, 2010