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Groundbreaking Sportscaster McKay Dies

This 1980 file photo originally from ABC-TV shows Jim McKay. McKay, the veteran and eloquent sportscaster thrust into the role of telling Americans about the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died Saturday, June 7, 2008. He was 86.(AP Photo/ABC)
This 1980 file photo originally from ABC-TV shows Jim McKay. McKay, the veteran and eloquent sportscaster thrust into the role of telling Americans about the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died Saturday, June 7, 2008. He was 86.(AP Photo/ABC) (AP)

Mr. McKay won two Emmy Awards for his steady coverage of the crisis, one for sports and one for news -- the only time a sports reporter has received an Emmy in news.

"He brought a reporter's eye, a literate touch, and above all a personal humanity to every assignment," broadcaster Bob Costas said in a statement. "He had a combination of qualities seldom seen in the history of the medium, not just sports.

James Kenneth McManus -- Mr. McKay's legal name throughout his life -- was born Sept. 24, 1921, in Philadelphia. He moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 14 and was a 1943 graduate of Loyola College, where he was class president and excelled in theater, journalism and debate.

After commanding a Navy minesweeper during World War II, he returned to Baltimore and found a job as a reporter with the Evening Sun. When the paper began a television station in 1947, Mr. McManus (as he was then known) was given a daily sports show and became the first host of a broadcast produced in Baltimore.

In 1950, he moved to New York and WCBS-TV. When an executive decided to name his show "The Real McKay," James McManus became forever known as Jim McKay. He did a variety of television work, including weather game shows and a popular courtroom drama, "The Verdict Is Yours." He also covered the Masters golf tournament and the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome for CBS.

When ABC's Arledge devised "Wide World of Sports," he turned to Mr. McKay. The show premiered April 29, 1961, and Mr. McKay remained its host for more than 25 years, intoning the famous lines that opened each week's edition: "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports . . . the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat . . . the human drama of athletic competition."

Mr. McKay traveled to all 50 states and more than 40 countries to present a sporting smorgasbord, from skiing and gymnastics to weightlifting, speed skating, Grand Prix auto racing, barrel jumping and demolition derbies.

" 'Wide World,' in effect, created a new sports world -- outside of baseball, basketball and football -- and brought that world into our homes for the first time, establishing a foothold in our athletic culture for previously neglected games," Norman Chad wrote in The Washington Post in 1987. "Kids, suddenly, wanted to be gymnasts and figure skaters, and viewers were enchanted by the new pastimes."

Painfully shy in his early years, he overcame his hesitancy in front of a microphone when early TV host Arthur Godfrey told him to imagine that he was speaking to one person. For Mr. McKay, that ideal listener was always his wife, who wrote syndicated television and political columns as Margaret McManus.

In addition to "Wide World," Mr. McKay covered major golf tournaments and horse races -- his two favorite sports -- and was a fixture of ABC's Olympic coverage through 1988. He cut back his appearances on "Wide World" in the late 1980s, and the show ended its 36-year run in 1997. Mr. McKay narrated many sports specials, won 13 Emmy Awards and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1995.

In later years, Mr. McKay raised thoroughbred horses on his farm and launched the Maryland Million stakes race at Pimlico for horses bred within the state.

He was invited by Costas, one of his leading proteges, to share the anchor's booth at the Winter Olympics in 2002. Mr. McKay wrote a second volume of memoirs in 1998 and produced an autobiographical documentary for HBO in 2003.

His son, Sean McManus, followed his father into broadcasting and is president of CBS News and Sports.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. McKay is survived by a daughter, Mary Guba of Sparks, Md., and three grandchildren.


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