Legendary Tulsa Sportscaster Reminisces Past Calls

Editor at Large

VOICES OF TULSA: Veteran Tulsa sports announcer Len Morton, left, with former University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University basketball coach Ken Hayes, center, and current TU Director of Broadcasting Bruce Howard during a recent Tulsa Sports Charities luncheon. Morton announced TU and Tulsa Oilers baseball radio games for many seasons during the 1960s and 1970s.

DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers

In the past month we have been blessed with a sports fan’s world tour: soccer in South Africa, tennis in England, golf in Scotland and baseball all around the lower 48 states.

We have had each play reported and repeated in a variety of ways. Even the most routine ground ball is shown at least once again and a close play can be the object of five or six camera angles and played with a multiplicity of speeds as we, at our leisure, try to see if the referee or umpire made the correct call.

In short, the games or matches or rounds or whatever are presented in numbingly realistic detail.

It wasn’t always that way. Len Morton remembers the day when broadcasting an away game was often a triumph of imagination wrapped around bare-boned fact.
“When Mack Creager and I were broadcasting the Tulsa Oilers baseball games, we did the games live from Texas League Park but putting us up out of town and buying a telephone line was too expensive so we usually did the away games from a radio station studio in Tulsa.”

This required some ingenuity. The idea was to pretend they were in Ft. Worth or San Antonio or Beaumont or Shreveport or wherever the game was being played.

It was a deception that had been successfully accomplished by the old Liberty Radio Network, which broadcast Major League day games from studios in Houston. The Liberty Radio Network was a the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer of game rebroadcasters, keeping a dozen recordings of fan reactions on turntables constantly so they could switch from cheers to boos as the action demanded.

Morton’s operation, on the other hand, was distinctly bare budget. One night crowd reaction had been recorded and the crowd “reaction” to the play on the field was limited to turning the volume up and down.

Crowd reaction had been recorded one night at Texas League Park but unhappily it was made on a night when the opposing pitcher was coming off a suspension. It seems that his exile came when he was arguing with the home plate umpire and the umpire shook his finger in front of the pitcher’s face, so the pitcher bit him.”

This inspired one leather-lunged fan to scream, “mad dog, mad dog, bow wow wow wow wow. For years Martians catching Earth baseball broadcasts must have thought this was part of the crowd ritual.

Other sound effects were achieved with minimal effort.

“We had the crack of the bat by hitting a pencil against a wooden block,” recalls Morton. Unfortunately the pencil tended to bounce so the impression was of the batter hitting the ball twice.

Of course it was the action the fans tuned in for, Len says, and here they were at the mercy of forces beyond their control.

“We got our game information by teletype. Some of the operators would give us a detailed account of the game (curve ball high, strike one) and some would give us the bare essentials (S1). On a fly ball to center we might have the center fielder making a dazzling running catch just in front of the fence when in reality he made the catch running at top speed toward the infield. The public was never the wiser.”

Most games started at 7:30 p.m. in those days. “We would wait until 8 p.m. to start our game. That way we’d have a little cushion.”

The cushion was more than a luxury. The connection sometimes broke and the radio announcers were often left trying to fill in with repeated foul balls, trips to the mound, rain delays and anything else that could slow up the action. If a play was missing when the connection was remade the announcers had to figure out what might have happened and report it that way.

If things were running late and they already knew who had won, Len says they had as stand-by: everybody hit the first pitch. “We could get rid of the last two innings in 15 minutes and get home early.

This was carried to an extreme one night in the early 1960s when the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane was playing its Varsity vs. Alumni game. “Our radio station was committed to carrying that live, after which we would follow with the Tulsa Oilers game.” That year the Alumni had negotiated the right to call an unlimited number of time outs, and accordingly called a time out after almost every play. The game dragged on and on and on.

“My co-announcer was waiting impatiently in the studio while the football game came to its elongated conclusion. By the time he announced the first pitch it was past midnight and the baseball game had been over for hours.

“As he told it that night virtually every player hit the first pitch.”

“The game was over, commercials and all, in about 47 minutes.”

Editor’s Note: Len Morton served as Channel 2’s sports director, called the play-by-play for University of Tulsa football and basketball and was the voice of Tulsa Oiler’s baseball on . Morton also called the first football game in the Astrodome, played in 1965.

Updated 10-18-2010

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