How's this for pioneer journalism? It's the story of the first ever American broadcast from the Soviet Union. It's 1958, and a young journalist by the name of Keith Jackson is going into foreign territory to cover a sporting event.
"They were stoning our embassy, the Brits were sinking ships in the Suez and the marines were landing in Lebanon. We went into the Soviet Union on a tourist visa and that was one hell of an adventure," he smiled. "When we got there, our troubles had just started."
With a rag-tag crew, a Soviet engineer and an interpreter, Jackson had trouble securing the rights to broadcast in the massive Soviet bureaucracy.
"They finally called me on a Friday night and said 'we've decided you can do the broadcast... if you have trouble call me.'"
"There wasn't a phone book in all of Moscow," chuckled Jackson, who was given a rather indecipherable Russian name to work with. "And to my knowledge, there still isn't."
Armed with a sense of adventure and not much else, Jackson and crew made their way down to the event site. They quickly found out what the world would only know decades later. The Soviet Union wasn't an efficient and work-friendly paradise.
"There's this lady with a pistol on her hip, a rifle on her shoulder and a hat on her head--and she's not about to let us come in. 'I must have a piece of paper with a stamp on it,' she said. So I fetched around, and I fetched around and I finally found a piece of paper that had a stamp. It was a Seattle City Police and Fire press card that had a stamp on it," said Jackson. "[We] showed it to the woman [and] she opened the gate. We did the broadcast the next day."
After his adventures in Moscow, there were many more. Jackson went on to cover the 1972 Munich Olympics where terrorism made its mark on the world of sport. He covered some of the greatest Olympians ever, and he became the voice of college football in the U.S. He's America's version of Ron MacLean, except he's a little older, a little more experienced and doesn't have Don Cherry around. And this legend of broadcasting came to Calgary to speak at the Dino's Football banquet.
"I came here 'cause Jack Neu-mann drove me nuts," said Jackson with a grin as he looked right at the U of C's Sports Information Director. "He stayed after me for years."
The room burst into laughter, but Jackson quickly turned serious.
"I came because I wanted to come," he said. "They're not even paying me. I came because it sounded like fun and because I might be able to stimulate some interest [for the Dinos]."
Besides, Jackson admits he likes coming to Canada every once in a while.
"They're good people," he said of Canadians. "Kind people. The kind of people maybe my wife and I knew when we were growing up."
Despite his enthusiasm, Canada was not the primary topic of conversation for the day. The main topic was sports, and as a man who's seen it all, Jackson had a lot to offer. He's seen sports broadcasting change from its pure and simple roots to the flashy gimmicks of today. But the man who was as much part of Saturday mornings as pajamas and cartoons has no regrets.
"That's what we needed to do then," he reflected. "We needed to sell it, sell it, sell, it. We started off with the pure attitude, now we have become cartoons. Look at some of the stuff that's put on the air. Money drives the bus. You have a product to sell. You get a bunch of production guys trying to top each other."
Jackson looked sad when he mentioned money and its influence on sport.
"The athletes don't stay anymore, but when the college makes a bijillion dollars, who's to blame?"
he asked. "Who's to blame for money driving the bus at all levels of society?"
And university athletics is one area where money is really an issue.
"Colleges and universities live on grants," said Jackson. "You always have this academia versus athletics. The upper campus versus the lower campus. It's been going on forever."
This creates an interesting situation for the top brass of any academic institution and Jackson
sympathizes with the plight of the University President.
"He has to keep himself at a certain level with academics, while at the same time trying to find someone like the athletic director to
develop the marketing program for [sports]," Jackson remarked. "The first thing you know, the marketing gets going, the team wins and everyone gets excited. Bam! The
team stops winning. Now you got all this debt and you get a new president."
But despite all his views, Jackson doesn't like talking about money or politics, especially at the college level. He'd much rather preach the merits of athletics. When discussing today's youth, he brings up his experiences growing up during the 1930's and he wonders what the new generation of athletes will grow up to be.
"Make them tough," he said. "Sports will do it. But there's not enough sports for everybody. For everyone [who gets an opportunity] there's a thousand others. I get a little cranky when people knock sports."
And that's Keith Jackson. The legend, the man, the husband, the father and even the journalist. He wants to promote sports, promote football and teach the youth of today about the things he loves. And at the Dinos banquet where he was the keynote speaker, Jackson got to do just that. He reminisced about wins, losses, and the painful drama of athletics and social change. And the crowd listened, just as we all did for the last 40 years.