On a February night in 2002, I stood outside Vince Lloyd’s Green Valley, Ariz. retirement home with the host. We both looked to the countless stars in the desert sky.
The previous year, Lloyd’s old WGN comrades-in-arms-Lou Boudreau and Arne Harris had died. Back in 1998, Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray passed away. Talking about Brickhouse, Vince said he had a telling feeling that Jack had died earlier that day, before he heard the news. That’s how connected the WGN boys were through what Brickhouse called “80-hour work weeks” and rotating poker games at the sports staff’s homes.
“They were my friends,” Lloyd said, looking up.
Nothing is forever except friendship and great memories. A year and a half later, the man born Vince Lloyd Skaff in South Dakota in 1917 also was consigned to fond remembrance, his stout heart, trademark baritone voice and old Marine Corps toughness unable to outlast cancer at 86. I cherished Vince’s good fellowship and support of my career in his later life, after he had served as a youthful soundtrack of summers as he did for several million Midwest listeners as a verbally animated Cubs radio voice.
I committed to the concept to garner honors and recognition for Vince, probably underrated during his prime since Brickhouse had the highest regional profile as Cubs TV play-by-play with the most games on video in the majors. But the Ford Frick Award, baseball’s highest honor for an announcer, seemed beyond Lloyd’s reach posthumously. Soon after his July 2003 death, I added Vince Lloyd at the last moment to my “Where Have All Our Cubs Gone?” book, published in 2005, as a means to remember him.
Then an opportunity knocked. I got to know John Owens through his work in the “Decades” history series on ME-TV, then even more up-close-and-personal as editor and Owens as lead author of “Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, The 1972 White Sox and A Transforming Chicago” book that has garnered raves over the past year. Owens also serves as president of the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Television Academy of the Arts & Sciences, which for decades doled out Emmy awards for Chicago, Milwaukee and nearby cities. And since 1992, the academy has honored talent and executives with long service in TV in the markets it serves via its Silver Circle Award.
What about Vince? His jack-of-all-trades TV work since 1949, including nine seasons as Brickhouse’s sidekick on Cubs and White Sox WGN telecasts, led to his highest profile as Cubs radio voice teaming with “Good Kid” Boudreau. Vinnie certainly was Silver Circle-worthy. Owens, also a Lloyd fan growing up, instructed me on how to nominate the fellow whose “Holy Mackerel” home-run call still rings in our ears decades later.
An application accepted!
Imagine the pleasant surprise on December 3 when Owens, who had just presided over the Emmys ceremony, informed me Lloyd had made the 2023 Silver Circle via an announcement at the ceremony. Now Vince is again with his friends, as Brickhouse, Caray, Harris and the late WGN sports editor Jack Rosenberg are also Silver Circle recipients.
Lloyd will be honored with other 2023 honorees on Friday, May 5, in a ceremony as the TV Academy returns to live events after the pandemic’s virtual substitutes.
Lloyd was selected by a committee comprised of past honorees and TV veterans. They are chairman Cheryl Stutzke, Diana Borri, Gloria Brown, Katie Carrillo-Majewski, Jim Disch, Carol Marin, Steve Novak, Jay Smith, Tom Weinberg and Fred Weintraub.
If I was happy, imagine the reaction of Lloyd’s family members across the country. I had long communicated with grand-nephew Richard Williams in my quest to get remembrance of Vince’s talent. Moments after I received Owens’ e-mail, I called Williams at a concert near his home in Atwater, in California’s Central Valley.
Two families are involved here. First the extended Skaff family, some of whom had come to Chicago in 2018 for the induction of Lloyd and Boudreau into the WGN-Radio Walk of Fame outside Tribune Tower. Then there’s eternal brotherhood of the Marines. Williams is a retired U.S. Navy corpsman who was assigned to Marine units in California during his service four decades ago.
“Vince would be so very much honored to have received the Silver Circle Award from his colleagues,” said Williams. “He was also a past member of AFTRA (the American Federated Television and Radio Artists). He would have been so very grateful and humbled to be the recipient of such an award recognizing him for the epitome of the full accomplishment of his complete work. On the upcoming 20th anniversary of our beloved Vince Lloyd Skaff’s passing, the Skaff family is grateful and appreciative for bestowing this award for all to remember Vince by.”
Lloyd was not just some distant figure from broadcast history to Owens. He has fond memories of driving around with his father a half-century ago, the latter’s cigar making the car aromatic, as Lloyd and Boudreau conducted their homey broadcasts of Cubs games while ringing a cowbell for Chicago homers. But Owens and contemporaries could hear and view Lloyd in so many other roles, from TV newscaster and sports anchor to parade host to the first Chicago Bulls radio play-by-play voice, again teaming with Boudreau, in 1966.
“That was one of the great things about the pioneers in TV and other markets,” Owens said. “It was the ability to be tasked to do number of different assignments — news to sports to game shows. That’s what makes guys like Vince special. I remember that gravel voice. Such a wonderful communicator, an unforgettable broadcaster. I still hear his voice calling out ‘Holy Mackerel. ‘”
I recall watching the then-Chicago Emmy Awards live on WMAQ-TV (Channel 5) as far back as the mid-1960s. Despite WMAQ’s long-promoted status as an all-color live, local station since 1956, the station only had a black and white mobile unit and aired the ceremonies in monochrome. But the organization did not have a permanent award for video achievers at the time. Finally, in 1992, the Silver Circle was created.
Borri, a former 40-year WMAQ veteran and now Emmy co-chair who has served as chapter president, vice president and national trustee, recalled how the Silver Circle began:
“The Chicago/Midwest Chapter of NATAS began the Silver Circle honors locally after the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences national awards committee developed the award as recognition for individuals ‘who have made significant contributions to their local television market(s) for 25 years or more or who have spent their formative years in the market.’
“Since the Chapter did not begin this special recognition award until 40-plus years into the market’s history, there were quite a backlog of Chicago TV industry pioneers to induct.”
Giants of Chicago TV are Silver Circle inductees: Floyd Kalber, John Drury, Irv Kupcinet and Red Quinlan, the pioneering station executive who started Fox-32 and in a rare misplay signed the White Sox to their disastrous UHF deal in 1966. Sportscasters such as Johnny and Jeannie Morris, Mark Giangreco and Jim Rose are members.
Lloyd on WGN-TV soon after station sign-on
But everyone who might be considered worthy has been honored yet. Some will simply have to wait for the passage of time and a motivated nominator. No matter the qualifications, few had to be as versatile as Lloyd, who was the third personality after Brickhouse and Harry Creighton hired in WGN’s sports department after the station signed on in April 1948. But a WGN talent could not just do sports exclusively.
Lloyd had worked his way up through the radio ranks from South Dakota through WMBD in Peoria, Brickhouse’s alma mater, before joining WGN in 1949. The earliest documented assignment I’ve seen was on Oct. 1, 1949. WGN was one of three stations to telecast all Cubs home games simultaneously in 1949, but opted to bail out on the final Saturday of the season. Instead, the station aired a Lloyd-helmed Northwestern-Pitt football telecast from then-Dyche Stadium in Evanston.
Lloyd’s standing assignment by this time was as on-field interviewer on the pre-game Leadoff Man show before Cubs and Sox home contests. Brickhouse and Creighton handled the play-by-play. But soon Lloyd worked an 11:45 a.m. TV newscast, requiring him to hustle from the Tribune Tower TV studios to either Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park for the 1:15 Leadoff Man. Later Lloyd worked a 7:45 a.m. TV newscast while also working ballgames.
In 1955 Lloyd anchored a 6:15 p.m. TV sports roundup show. On May 12, the Cubs’ Sam Jones became the first Black pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the majors. His stomach growling with no post-game dinner, Jones was invited to appear with Lloyd to watch “film” of the telecast from the ninth inning. In the years before videotape, the recording was a kinescope, filmed directly off a TV monitor. The Chicago Tribune story describing Lloyd’s show was proof all of Brickhouse’s nine no-hitters had been recorded. Unfortunately, through the years the Jones kinescope was lost, possibly in the station’s 1961 move to its present 2501 W. Bradley Place studios.
During my years gabbing with Vinnie, he was a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes information about WGN. Self-described as the station’s “house Democrat” at the dawn of the Fifties, he recalled how imperious Tribune Company chief Col. Robert R. McCormick maneuvered his accountants to show how the new WGN-TV was losing money during the Truman Administration. The Colonel simply abhorred paying federal taxes when the Democrats held the White House. When nominal Republican Dwight Eisenhower became president in 1953, suddenly WGN suddenly was reported in the financial pink, by Lloyd’s recollection.
In 1953, Brickhouse landed the Bears radio rights from chum George S. Halas. How close were the pair? Brickhouse was in a Bears executives/coaches photo of that era. So why did he make so many mistakes, such as calling the wrong running back, during his often-amusing Bears broadcasts with Kupcinet? “Jack didn’t know the (intricacies of the) game,” Lloyd replied. Indeed, Brickhouse was a basketball and baseball guy from his WMBD days.
Historic baseball telecasts
Lloyd took over the second chair from Creighton in the baseball TV booth in 1956. In this role, he participated in four one-of-a-kind TV moments, most of which have been preserved.
He was at the centerpiece of the oldest Chicago videotape known to exist – the eighth and ninth innings, and aftermath of May 15, 1960 Don Cardwell no-hitter against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Lloyd was shown doing the play-by-play of the eighth, including a strikeout of pinch-hitter Stan Musial. He then announced a live Oklahoma Gasoline commercial before hustling down to the field.
Wearing sunglasses despite the deep late-afternoon shadows, Lloyd corralled Cardwell for the post-game interview as hundreds of celebrating fans pressed in close while then-assistant director Arne Harris provided blocking. Overall, thousands had stormed the field in merriment, the closest thing to an old-style World Series-clinching celebration ever seen at Wrigley Field. When he finally let a nervous Cardwell go, the surging mob snapped Lloyd’s mike cord. Although the telecast was in color, the roughly half-hour clip was only recorded in black and white.
On April 10, 1961, Lloyd worked his way into the Griffith Stadium box seats during the Sox-Washington Senators season opener to interview new President John F. Kennedy for the Leadoff Man. The interview had been arranged by the cagey Jack Rosenberg through a friendly union official. Kennedy at first appeared semi-disinterested, but Lloyd kept him talking and livened things up after a couple of minutes. The interview was branded as first for a sitting president on a baseball telecast. Some 18 minutes of the telecast still exist.
Two telecasts nine days apart in 1962 were history-making. On July 14, the Cubs and Sox played home games simultaneously, requiring split-second technical switching for the WGN crew. Lloyd handled the game at Comiskey Park while Brickhouse was stationed at Wrigley Field. WGN did not miss any runs scored. Despite all the hoopla, WGN did not preserve the tape.
Then, on July 23, the first long-form trans-Atlantic telecast was staged via the new Telstar satellite. The first clip shown in both the U.S., Canada and Europe was a few minutes of a Cubs-Phillies game at Wrigley Field. Lloyd was heard doing a quick game summary before Brickhouse came on in the oldest Chicago color videotape known to exist.
All the while, Lloyd became one of the easiest talents to work with for his WGN colleagues.
“What you see is what you get. It’s an old cliché, but a perfect description of Vince Lloyd,” said Chuck Shriver, a newswriter/producer at WGN before he served nine seasons as Cubs media relations director (1967-75) during Lloyd’s radio play-by-play heyday.
“From the first time I met him in the summer of 1960, when I was a summer full-in writer in the WGN newsroom, Vince remained the same person. He was a big bear of a man, with a resonating baritone voice, always with a quick smile and a friendly hello.”
Shriver witnessed Lloyd do radio baseball play-by-play, but not at a live game. Into the 1960s, the station had a regular studio re-creation by Western Union ticker of a game. The practice was commonplace in the earlier days of radio. Ronald Reagan gained notoriety at WHO-Radio in Des Moines re-creating Cubs games in the 1930s. My late Diamond Gems show co-host Red Mottlow saved the tape of his own WGN re-creation of a Reds-Braves game in 1959, and I replayed it on the syndicated baseball program four decades later.
“A teletype operator at the ballpark typed out a barebones description of what was happening in the game that click-clacked out of a ticker tape printer on a half-inch wide strip of yellow paper,” Shriver said.
“From that strip of paper, the announcer, in the studio, created the action and atmosphere of the game, with the help of a sound effects man, who provided recorded crowd noise and would hit two sticks together to simulate the crack of a bat on ball. I watched in fascination as Vince made the yellow ticker tape come alive. Sitting in the studio behind him I closed my eyes and felt that I was right there at the game. It was like magic.
“I also noticed that Vince’s game was about 10 minutes behind the actual play-by-play coming across the ticker tape. Afterwards I asked him about that, and he said that he did that in case there was an interruption in the transmission from the ballpark, he wouldn’t be stuck trying to ad-lib for an extended period until the transmission from the ballpark resumed.”
Shocking shift to baseball on radio
The trajectory of Lloyd’s career changed dramatically as the 1965 season neared. Much-admired Cubs radio voice Jack Quinlan was killed when his convertible slammed into a parked truck in spring training in Arizona. Amid the grief, WGN boss Ward Quaal asked Lloyd to take Quinlan’s place. Lloyd was reluctant at first, but agreed when color analyst Lou Boudreau threatened to quit if Lloyd did not move over. A legendary radio pairing was born.
We could write thousands of more words on the Vince-and-Lou show alone. Suffice to say, they gave Midwestern listeners what they wanted, a combination of a homer-style with more than a dash of honesty. They rose to the heights with the Cubs’ legendary bid for glory in 1969 as Lloyd repeatedly busted his vocal chords on home-run calls. The pair multi-tasked, sometimes eating while talking on the air. Fans sent home-cooked vittles up to the broadcast booth, where the crew kept a small refrigerator.
Lloyd had to put up with more than the public knew. Manager Leo Durocher was the most amoral man in baseball who should take eternal blame for crashing the ’69 team with his sclerotic leadership. Durocher got away with things no manager could have pulled off decades later. One time on the team plane, Durocher grabbed Lloyd’s pipe right out of his mouth and dropped it into the sink in the bathroom in back. Leo The Lip was lucky someone did not thoroughly punch him out. He provoked a near-team mutiny in 1971.
All the while, the radio men did double duty. Lloyd and Boudreau often were called back to the studio to anchor TV sportscasts on the 10 p.m. news. In addition to the Bulls, when baseball season was over, Lloyd and Boudreau did a Big Ten college football game of the week on radio. Lloyd also was play-by-play voice of the Chicago Fire on World Football League WGN telecasts in 1974. He also teamed with Johnny “Red” Kerr to do the TV play-by-play of home games of the Chicago Hustle, the city’s first women’s pro basketball team in the late 1970s. Workweeks were long, but so was the camaraderie for the long-timers at the station.
In his late 60s, Lloyd’s workload eased. The arrival of Harry Caray in 1982 necessitated a shifted role for Milo Hamilton, who had hired on ostensibly to replace Brickhouse on TV late in 1979. Hamilton shifted over as the full-time radio voice teaming with Boudreau, with Lloyd now limited to home games as the third wheel in the booth. When the Cubs were out of town, he and Jack Rosenberg teamed to build up the Cubs radio network for Tribune Broadcasting. The people-person talents of both snared stations from Florida to Arizona and many points in-between.
Just hiring on to the Cubs in this era was Sharon Pannozzo, who worked her way up in the ranks to media relations director in 1991. Lloyd was not the No. 1 broadcast voice anymore, but was a true team player.
‘Larger than life’
“Vince was larger than life,” said Pannozzo. “Such a deep voice in such a kind man.
“He loved his job and was so generous with his time. I remember being on the annual Cubs Winter Caravan with him doing lunch and dinner engagements all over the Midwest in the coldest months of the off-season, and always with a big grin. He was a treasure.”
Lloyd officially retired in 1986. But he was not done with Cubs broadcasting. When Caray suffered a heart issue and had to stay off the road in 1994, he asked Lloyd to fill in. Again reluctant, Lloyd bowed to Caray’s persuasion, and his voice was nearly as strong as ever at 77. An old friend was welcomed back.
“It was great to have him back in the broadcast booth when Harry was sidelined,” Pannozzo said.
I greatly enjoyed my visits with Lloyd for several spring trainings in a row at the turn of the millennium, when I swung by Sox camp in Tucson before picking up the Cubs in Mesa. In Green Valley, 20-some miles south of Tucson, we may have been 1,500 miles from Chicago, but Vinnie’s storytelling always time-tripped us back to glory days. The visits were a highlight of those trips.
Vinnie was ill when I made my last visit in 2003. He still taped a tribute to a projected 10th anniversary Diamond Gems, my then-syndicated baseball radio show. But I had not used the tape by the time he died on July 3, 2003, with Pannozzo recalling a sad moment announcing his passing in the pressbox. Possessed of a nice stock of vintage Lloyd tape, I decided to do an hour-long Diamond Gems tribute to him.
Vinnie needed to be honored as much for the good man he was as for the announcer who entertained a region.
“We last talked just a few days before he died – and he was always the same,” said Shriver. “In a hospital, dying of cancer, the first he did was ask how I was.”
The theme of the radio tribute would be a popular talent who won over practically everyone he encountered, in person or over the air. Soon after his death, I encountered Ernie Banks in the Wrigley Field pressbox dining room. He was on hand to sing in the seventh inning. I asked Mr. Cub if he’d tape a couple of comments in honor of Lloyd. After all, Vinnie was one of six men who were with Banks start to finish in his Hall of Fame career, 1953 to 1971. The others were Brickhouse, owner P.K. Wrigley, clubhouse boss Yosh Kawano, trainer Al Scheuneman and Chicago’s American/Chicago Today beat writer James Enright.
I was shocked by Banks’ response. “Just because someone is with you a long time doesn’t mean he’s your friend,” he said. That was the first, and only, negative comment I ever heard about Lloyd. Considering the countless thousands of positive words the announcer had uttered about Banks on TV and radio, it made no sense. But Banks proved to be a complicated man, his “Let’s play two” sunny public disposition masking obvious flaws in his private life.
I did not give up, though, dancing around with Banks for more than an inning as Cubs handler Joe Rios approached to take him into the radio booth prior to the singalong. I finally got Banks to record a mini-tribute before he departed. Knowing how he and Boudreau had to deal with the profane, off-putting Durocher, somewhere Vinnie was smiling at my persistence.
Two decades later, I’m thrilled a few more people will hear about this man for all seasons who was so much a part of our popular culture in the mid-and-late 20th century. But more than sheer talent, Vinnie’s personality was worth a Silver Circle induction based on its own merits.
“Vince was not a selfish or self-promoting man, said kin Richard Williams. “Instead, he shared his knowledge and guidance with aspiring young men and women who seek a career in broadcasting or journalism. He was loved and admired by all with whom he worked and by his fans. He always had a moment of kindness and time to reach out to everyone who seek his attention during their encounters, never turning anyone away.”
Holy mackerel, and no doubt about it.Category Chicago Baseball History Feature, Chicago Baseball History News Tags Al Kern, American Federated Television and Radio Artists, Arne Harris, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Tribune, Chicago White Sox, Diamond Gems, Ernie Banks, Harry Caray, Jack Brickhouse, Jack Rosenberg, John Owens, Leo Durocher, Lou Boudreau, National Television Academy of the Arts and Sciences, Red Mottlow, Ron Santo, Sharon Pannozzo, Silver Circle, Vince Lloyd, WGN