Alistaire Cooke, the sagacious author, television personality and commentator on American life, volunteered some broadcast tips this week to Tom Weiskopf, who was making his debut as a CBS-TV analyst on the telecasts of the 45th Masters golf tournament.
"Remember that you don't have to shout.Just speak into the microphone at a normal level," Cooke advised in his reassuring, informative, modulated tones during an informal encounter at the Augusta National Golf Club.
"You know, it's peculiar, but people still don't believe in electronic gadgets," Cooke told Weiskopf, four-time runner-up but never champion of the Masters, who did not merit an inviation to play this year. "When you are in New York and telephone somebody nearby, you speak normally. When you phone St. Louis, you talk louder. When you call the West Coast, you scream into the phone. But it's really not necessary.These communications marvels do work."
The technology of television has changed remarkably since 1956, when CBS originated its first telecast of the Masters, using six black-and-white cameras and two announcers to cover the last four holes of the final round. The next year, walkie-talkies were introduced to relay information to the announcers.
This year, 25 space-age color cameras, five videotape machines with slow-motion and stop-action capability, and 40 sensitive microphones are among the arsenal of equipment CBS has deployed at Augusta National, where 23 miles of TV cable are installed underground. Permanent towers, painted Masters green, were erected in the late '50s to minimize scars on the picturesque landscape.
More than 150 production and technical personnel, linked by an elaborate communications network, will work on Sunday's telecast of the final 10 holes (WDVM-TV-9, 3:30-6 p.m.). Forty-seven miles of telephone cable are in place to assure that Weiskopf and six other commentators don't have to shout to get their words to 500 North American stations and others abroad.
How important is the Masters to CBS Sports?
Frank Chirkinian, executive producer and codirector, who has worked on every Masters since 1959 and now lives in Augusta and reverses the legacy of tournament cofounders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, says: "Life and death, maybe? I mean, how important are your kids to you? Every network has certain events that are so identifed with them that they almost become personal. The Masters may be the most important event CBS Sports has.
"It's the best golf tournament for television, no question about that. Augusta may be one of the prettiest places in the world in the spring, when everything's in full bloom. The venue doesn't change, which enables us to do a better job; we can polish the telecast from one year to the next. There's a mystique to the Masters that no other tournament has. It's the whole setting: the Augusta National, the spirit of Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts, of all the past Masters champions. It's the winner's green coat and all the other traditions."
It is also the grand finishes, another Masters tradition. "It's often been said that the Masters is really two tournaments: the first 63 holes and the back nine on Sunday," says CBS Sports Vice President Kevin O'Malley, explaining why Masters officials have resisted suggestions that final-day coverage be expanded. "They see the story as basically unfolding on the back nine, which is the heart of the Augusta National course, and they've exhibited a preference for us to stay with that concept."
Atheists and pious believers alike have uttered prayers to the gods of golf when they've come to "Amen Corner" on the final round with a chance to win. Dreams have soared with eagles on the par-5 13th and 15th holes, and others have died with a dimpled ball splashing ignominiously into Rae's Creek.
All this is splendid television fare.
"We keep saying, 'How the hell are we going to top that?' And when the next year comes around, we say, 'My God, we've done it again,'" beams Chirkinian. "You could sit around all night and talk about the great finishes at Augusta National, and you come to realize that this is one of the great stages anywhere. I think the Greeks would have been spellbound by the Masters because it's not just golf. It's great, great theater."
The drama is sometimes tragic, but never comedic. "I was asked once what were the funniest things I ever saw at the Masters, and I said nothing funny ever happens there," said Chirkinian, a caustic and often humorous fellow who is a purist here. "Babies don't cry and small dogs don't bark. Augusta National is like an outdoor cathedral."
The green-jacketed overseers of this shrine in the Georgia pines monitor the CBS telecasts closely, making sure that they maintain a properly sacred, discreet and reverential tone. Nothing controversial, ungentlemanly or unladylike, which might detract from the Masters' cultivated image of Southern gentility and immaculately manicured greensward alight with flowers, is likely to get on the air.
By club decree, neither the prize money nor any other hint of commercialism is ever mentioned. Augusta has more than its share of beautiful belles, some rather revealingly attired, but "honey shots" are taboo. Celebrities are not focused on or identified, nor the size of galleries disclosed. Indiscretions are not suffered lightly, either. CBS commentator Jack Whittaker, usually a man of uncommon eloquence, was banished from 1967 until 1973 for referring to the gallery around the 18th green as "a mob scene in the gathering dusk."
Roberts, the crusty perfectionist who was chairman of the Masters from its inception in 1934 until 1976, set an ongoing policy of eschewing a substantial brodcast-rights fee in exchange for strict controls over the telecasts. By special agreement unthinkable for other events, there are never more than two telecast sponsors, approved by the club, and commercials are limited to four minutes per hour, less than half the number on comparable telecasts.
CBS once denied Roberts' request that it paint its TV trucks green, to blend in with the trees, because he found black-and-white mobile units with the network's "eyeball" logo unsightly. That problem was solved seven years ago with completion of a permanent broadcast complex and studio behind the practice tee, off Magnolia Lane.
"Mr. Roberts was always after us to do one thing or another, and to show more of the flowers," Chirkinian says, recalling the excruciatingly detailed critiques of the telecasts that Roberts intiated. "He was a tough taskmaster, but thank God for that, because he made us set our standards very high."
The Masters no longer has approval rights over commentators (a 1975 Federal Communications Commission ruling prohibits this without an on-air disclaimer that the green coats thought would sound crass), but most other provisions of the original CBS-Masters contract remain in effect. Chirkinian and the Augusta National hierarchy are philosophically compatible, which is one reason they have gotten along so well over the years.
As Alistair Cooke advised Tom Weiskopf, a quiet, understated tone will do quite nicely here, thank you. Speak softly, and the message will carry.