If you’ve listened to sports on radio in the last half-century, there’s a good chance that the voice you heard was Spencer Ross.
Ross, 71, is undeniably, a New York original. While his contemporary Marv Albert is more famous, Ross has, perhaps, an equally recognizable voice. Both Albert and Ross were proteges of the great Marty Glickman. The late, trailblazing sportscaster often referred to his “students” as the two best basketball announcers he’s ever heard, with Ross proud to say he was given “top billing.”
That delivery is back after a three-year hiatus, doing weekend morning sportscasts on WINS.
“I’m a very active guy, I still run three to five miles, six days a week,” Ross tells FishbowlNY. “I’ve just gone nuts sitting around. I’m not ready for retirement. My voice is what it was and still is.”
This marks a homecoming of sorts for Ross, who got his start on New York radio at WINS in 1969. Along the way, Ross has done play-by-play work for every major team in the New York area except the Mets. Ross is probably most known for a 30-year career with Madison Square Garden, which led various roles for Knicks and Rangers on radio. He left the company three years ago, and is still uneasy talking about the bitter divorce.
At MSG, he took on many of the same announcing roles that his idol Glickman handled decades earlier.
“He was very special, very dear to me,” Ross reflects.
Although Ross is famous for his radio work, a brief stint in the Yankees TV broadcast booth yielded him an Emmy Award in 1988. He was the “pure” announcer in the booth with former ballplayers Bill White and, of course, Phil Rizzuto. And even though it was a short tenure with the Yankees, the “Scooter” memories last a lifetime.
One night in Cleveland, Rizzuto and White opened the telecast with the taped intro. Rizzuto flubbed his line–his name–calling himself Bill White. It didn’t air until Ross surprised Rizzuto with the clip when they were teamed in the 4th inning. The blooper became a classic on the highlight reel.
During his illustrious career, Ross worked with, and got to know some of the biggest names in broadcasting. But he also recalls a couple of unknowns who became very important people in sports.
While doing Giants pre-season football his spotter in the booth was John Mara. He rose to president, CEO, and co-owner of Big Blue. For a couple seasons while Jets play-by-play man, Ross’ spotter was current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
A Thanksgiving tradition that many still recall was Ross calling the annual PSAL High School Football Championship on WPIX/Channel 11. It was the perfect fit for Ross, who graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn.
But growing up, Ross wasn’t all about having a microphone. He was an athlete, so good in basketball that he earned a scholarship to Florida State University. A funny thing happened on the way to the Final Four, Ross found his true career.
It was 1961, after his freshman year, as Ross was chatting with head coach Bud Kennedy, the phone rang. A Tallahassee radio station (WTNT) was interested in putting FSU men’s basketball games on the air.
“I can do that coach,” Ross told Kennedy. “I knew I wasn’t going to make the squad the following year.”
Although that was his first taste of broadcasting work, Ross already felt like a seasoned pro.
“I grew up listening to Marty Glickman. I used to sit in front of the television and imitate him,” Ross recalls.
So the next day, there was no more dressing for shoot-arounds. Practice now had a new meaning–taking a recorder and making a demo of the scrimmage for the radio station.
When Ross returned that fall, he officially learned his fate with the team. But remained connected to the squad as he was hired as the team’s first radio play-by-play voice. WTNT paid Ross $10 a game for his first professional gig, but perhaps more important he was permitted to keep his scholarship.
With his legendary voice, Ross had a dream career, doing play-by-play for every major sports franchise in New York, save the Mets. Ross tallied 20 teams, professional and college, that he called games for during the last fifty years. While that would seem like a record, a Guinness spokesperson squelched any hopes, telling FishbowlNY that they don’t follow the category.
“Every game I’ve ever done,” Ross says. “Every time I’ve sat in the broadcast booth, I’ve gotten paid going to ballgames.”
While others at his age are well into retirement, Ross, a 2009 inductee into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, is experiencing a renaissance.
“If it doesn’t turn into anything more, I’m just having a good time,” Ross says. “I’d like to get back to doing play-by-play somewhere.”