George Michael died today and that made me sad. Before there was Chris Berman or Dan Patrick or Scott Van Pelt or any of the SportsCenter greats, there was George Michael, blazing a trail on Channel 4, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C.
I grew up in Baltimore and didn't get channel 4 as a so-called local station. But in the days before everyone had cable, what you had on your house to get better TV reception was a big old antennae and from our home in Owings Mills, Md., we could pick up the DC nightly newscasts. This was when channel 4 was actually on channel 4 and channel 13 meant you literally turn the dial to 13, etc. Remember VHF and UHF? I do, and I remember 'finding' George Michael on Channel 4 one day. I have no idea when exactly I found him, but I remember being captivated.
After radio gigs as a rock DJ in Philly and New York, George got to DC in 1980, the year I turned 10. So I'm guessing I found George shortly thereafter, as a sports obsessed 10 or 11-year-old who needed as much of a fix as he could find. And boy did he deliver. Before anyone was doing national highlight shows, George revolutionized what to expect from your local sports anchor. I used to make sure our family changed the channel at night to catch him, rotating the dial on our antennae to make sure the channel came in as clear as possible.
And when everyone else was doing 5-7 minutes of local scores, George was rocking The Sports Machine, a 30-minute highlight extravaganza that put everyone else to shame. He had such infectious enthusiasm and star quality that you watched him as much as the highlights. The Sports Machine ran on Sunday nights and it was great. I would hope that George would include the Orioles in his packages so I could see the home team. He would even do some goofy stuff, like pro wrestling highlights when no one else was putting them on the sportscast ... and this was before pro wrestling was "out" as a "fake" sport, so it was semi-controversial.
I want to thank George Michael, for doing what he did. He had a vision to make sports highlights more than just a few minutes. But a long-form experience where you could settle in and see different highlights and players and games from around the country. He also seemed to really love what he was doing, night after night, and had great chemistry with his team, especially newsman Jim Vance.
Ironically, as the number of channels and shows has exploded over the years, one thing that's been taken away is the ability to watch the local news in DC from Baltimore. I remember feeling kinda proud to have been watching George long before the Sports Machine went national. I knew he was great, and then the nation saw him being great too as the show was picked up in syndication.
George Michael was a guy who was really good at what he did. He had vision and energy and charisma and he really knew how to deliver.