Category Archives: Early Months

laying the groundwork, setting the stage

September 16th – 2 minutes with NCAA TV Committee Chairman

Captain Bo Coppedge gave me 2 minutes of his time the morning of the UConn-Navy football game.  He became an ally with me and the NCAA as he was Chair of the TV Committee.

This meeting came on the heels of the best timing on September 1st when I scrambled to get our transponder confirmation in the mail – just before an article in the Wall Street Journal launched a flurry of activity with people wanting transponders, and doing anything to get one!

Ten days later, I spoke with JB Doherty for the first time.  Turns out he was the one who brought the financing together several months later.

Scott and I met with JB two days later and laid out our plan.

Then we were off to Chicago to share the excitement with my family.  They believed in me and our project and agreed to put up the seed money for the E.S.P. Network.

We were in business!

Confirm the Transponder for the E.S.P Network

A simple telephone call – Locking up the satellite transponder with RCA!

September 1, 1978 – Plainville, CT: We got a sneak preview that something big was about to happen in the young life of the E. S. P. Network when I returned a call to Al Parinello, the RCA Americom satellite transponder salesman. Although we had committed to a 24 hour transponder weeks earlier, we had yet to send written confirmation to RCA. Al said, “Things are heating up. You’d better get that letter in the mail today. There will be a real scramble after Labor Day and I don’t want you guys to lose you slot.”

The letter went out that day and it’s a good thing it did. As Parinello had predicted, “things were heating up.” An article in the Wall Street Journal right after Labor Day forecast the impending boom in the cable television business because of advances made in satellite communications technology. Requests for transponder space flooded RCA Americom’s offices … everybody wanted “in” on the new technology’s path to cable TV gold.

And so it was that a phone call, a confirming letter and great (albeit almost accidental) timing landed transponder 7 on RCA Satcom 1 for the E. S. P. Network just days before the the world was informed via the Journal that a communications revolution was on the way.

August 18th – the road to the NCAA and . . .

Two days after the Eureka day, I discussed the approach to the NCAA with John Toner at UConn, to his delight.

Later we tried to figure out how to get some money to move the project forward.

page 82 fills in the details

ESPN’s Eureka Moment

August 16, 1978 – near Waterbury, CT: Without question, this was the most important day in the formation and launch of ESPN. The Detroit Press proclaimed it, “The most important day in the history of sports television.” A student at Northwestern University dubbed it, “The Eureka Day.” Call it what you will, but here is what happened on that fateful day.

A month or so earlier we (my son Scott and I) had discovered and acquired tentative rights (they were confirmed in September) to an RCA Americom satellite transponder (channel) through which we could deliver programming to virtually all of North America far more economically than any other means of transmission. Our plan was to “do sports all day – every day” 24/7. For over a month we had been asking ourselves what programming we would originate and what the new “all sports all the time” network would look like.

We needed a plan and then we needed money, people, equipment, facilities, cable subscribers and most critical of all … programming that would eventually fill 8,760 hours of air time. For context, the so called “Big Three” – ABC, CBS and NBC combined only delivered 1,200 to 1,300 hours of sports programming annually. To state the obvious, we were aiming for the stars … approximately seven times what the TV giants of the day did.

We were driving to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, for my daughter Lynn’s 16th birthday. It was a blistering hot day and we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam on Interstate 84 only minutes after our birthday journey had begun. As we sat sweltering in a Toyota without air conditioning, we did what we had been doing every day since we knew we were going to have a “channel in the sky” to delver whatever we wanted all over America 24/7 … we verbally volleyed back and forth about finding programing. Finally, in exasperation, mixed with a little “heat-induced” anger, Scott said, “Play football all day for all I care.” I replied, “Why not?” His response, “Because the NCAA has contract with all the networks,” barely slowed us down. We could certainly do basketball, baseball and any other NCAA sports that were not under contract.

That did it! For the next ten hours or so – including timeout for the birthday party – the vision for ESPN that exists to this day was laid out. We decided to do multiple sports for campuses across the country, to hire a couple of experienced regional announcers (turned out to be Lou Palmer and George Grande – remember them?), one “big name” announcer (Jim Simpson), and on and on. The biggest single “off the charts” idea was to do a half hour sports news show opposite the Big Three Evening News shows at 6:30 PM Eastern. When the idea was announced months later, it was met with almost universal scorn, sarcasm, ridicule and outright belly laughs.

By now, you’ve already guessed that the half hour show debuted as SportsCenter on September 7, 1979, and has won countless awards for creativity, longevity and, most importantly, undying loyalty from legions of sports fans of all ages around the world.

There’s much more to the story of course, but ESPN’s “Eureka Day” was 33 years ago today – August 16, 1978.

(August 16, 1978: page 76)

The Birth of ESPN – starts tomorrow!

Big day tomorrow – the first significant date in the Birth of ESPN’s history – August 16, 1978.

Follow the exciting story right here.