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COURTESY OF ART ECKMAN - Art Eckman went from the Class of 1959 at Jefferson High and the airwaves of KBPS (1450 AM) at Benson to national sportscasting jobs on various fronts, including stints for Wide World of Sports, ESPN, the Atlanta Hawks and more.Art Eckman will be inducted today into Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow Alumni Hall of Achievement, which recognizes the accomplishments of outstanding alumni in the college of communication.


“It’s a great feeling to be honored for your career when you’re my age,” says Eckman, 73, a Portland native whose roots in the City of Roses run deep. “It’s nice to have people appreciate what I’ve been able to accomplish.”

During Eckman’s graduation ceremony from Washington State in 1964, Murrow — the legendary broadcaster for whom many national communications awards are named — spoke at the commencement.

“I got a chance to talk to him, which was a thrill,” says Eckman, an Atlanta resident since 1978. “I always tried to follow his journalistic creed of credibility and giving the correct information. Many sportscasters rely on hype; I came through the journalism side, and it helped pave my career.”

Old-timers remember the rich-voiced Eckman as a television and radio broadcaster in the 1960s and as the radio play-by-play voice for Oregon State football and basketball between a pair of legends — Bob Blackburn and Darrell Aune.

Eckman attended Portland’s Ockley Green School from kindergarten through eighth grade with another big sports name — Terry Baker, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy at Oregon State. Eckman graduated with Baker in the 1959 class at Jefferson High.

“Terry and I were in a speech class together when we were sophomores when they announced an audition for sportscasters at KBPS radio,” Eckman recalls. “It was well-known I was a lousy football player, but I loved sports. There was a suggestion that I audition for KBPS. Everybody kind of laughed. I took them up on the bet and won the audition.”

Among the judges for the audition were Blackburn and Johnny Carpenter, the longtime sports director for KOIN-TV. “They became my mentors,” Eckman says.

Upon graduation from WSU, Eckman was hired as a news reporter by KOIN. Six months later, Carpenter told him about a sports director job that had opened at KATU-TV. Eckman applied and got the position, and worked there for three years.

In 1967, Eckman served as the play-by-play voice for Sunday TV replays of Oregon State football games on KATU. That was the year of the Giant Killers, during which Dee Andros’ Beavers beat No. 2-ranked Purdue, tied No. 2-ranked UCLA and beat No. 1-ranked Southern Cal.

“What a great experience that was for a young guy in his first job doing play-by-play,” Eckman says.

In 1968, Blackburn left to serve as radio play-by-play man for the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics. Blackburn held OSU’s radio rights and hired Eckman to be his successor. He served in that capacity for three years, calling Beaver football and basketball.

Eckman left KATU that year to become sports director at KEX radio while doing OSU games for the station. While at KEX, Eckman delivered sports news on Barney Keep’s morning talk show.

“That was really exciting for me,” he says. “In those years, they had what was called the ‘Skywriters Tour,’ where media went from school to school in the Pac-8 to preview the football season. One year, I roomed two nights with the great Keith Jackson. Here I am, a wide-eyed rookie broadcaster at Oregon State, matched up with Keith. He was so great at telling me about things you just don’t learn without experience. I got a chance this year to thank Keith again for his advice.”

Besides OSU football and basketball, Eckman did play-by-play for the Pacific Coast League’s Portland Beavers, calling the games live at home and recreating games on the road.

“I have that in common with Ronald Reagan and Walter Cronkite,” Eckman says with a laugh, recalling the last years of that era of sportscasting. “A Western Union operator would send you limited information of what was happening in the game, and you’d make up the rest. I put my wallet in my front pocket and I’d whap it to make the sound for a ball being hit.

“I remember one night the Beavers were playing in Oklahoma City and we got no information for quite some time. Finally, I had to tell the audience, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you know this is a re-creation. We are having technical difficulties. We’ll get you the information when we have it.’ Turned out the beer tap in the press box was right next to the Western Union machine, and the operator got increasingly drunk as the game went on.”

Eckman says he was twice named Oregon sportscaster of the year — once while at KATU, once at KEX — and served as president of the Oregon Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. He left in 1971 to serve as radio play-by-play announcer for the NBA’s San Diego Rockets and was replaced by a former colleague at Washington State — Aune.

“I was manager of the student radio station at WSU,” Eckman says. “When I was a senior, Darrell was a sophomore. When I left for the Rockets, I recommended Darrell for the OSU job.”

Eckman was in San Diego just one season before the Rockets moved to Houston, where he worked for another five years. He then left for San Francisco, where he worked three years at KRON-TV and KSFO-radio, handling Giants radio broadcasts with Al Michaels.

In 1978, Eckman moved to Atlanta to become sports director and anchor at WXIA-TV. He spent 13 years there, working a couple of seasons as TV play-by-play voice of the Hawks.

In 1991, Eckman left WXIA and became a private contractor, spending much of the next 12 years working supercross and motocross broadcasts for ESPN.

“It took me all over the world,” Eckman says. “On the broadcasts, I worked with David Bailey, who taught me an awful lot about the sports. I absolutely loved it.

“A couple of weeks ago, I was honored at a supercross event in Atlanta as a ‘legendary announcer’ in the sport. That meant an awful lot to me.”

In 2003, Eckman retired at age 61 after a sportscasting career spanning nearly four decades. Or so he thought.

“I got bloody bored,” he said. “I don’t play golf. I was becoming somebody I didn’t like. I found I needed something to do.”

In 2010, Eckman got something to do. He was hired as a consultant to the athletic director for Kennesaw State, a Division I school located 20 miles north of Atlanta.

“I’ve worked with media and branding for the university,” Eckman says. “It was a chance to be part of the administrative side and utilize my years of experience in sportscasting.”

On Sept. 3, the Owls will face East Tennessee State in the school’s first-ever football game.

“I’ve been working on the plans for the last three years,” Eckman says. “Football is a religion in this area. The students are so anxious for this team to hit the field. Starting everything from scratch is not only a challenge, it’s fun. And I can say I helped start it.”

Not only that, but Eckman will serve as the radio sideline reporter for the inaugural season.

“At 73 years of age — ridiculous,” Eckman says, laughing again. “It keeps me young, I guess.”

Eckman was named to the PIL Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

“I get back to Portland once or twice a year,” he says. “I love the area so much. I’m proud to have won those sportscaster of the year awards there because they were voted on by my peer group — people like Bill Mulflur, George Pasero, Leo Davis, Bob Robinson and Don Fair. It made me feel good that those experienced writers voted for me.”

Eckman will join the likes of Jackson, KGW anchor Tracy Barry and syndicated cartoonist Gary Larson in the WSU Murrow Hall of Achievement on April 2.

“I’ve done it all during my career,” Eckman says. “I think I’ve covered every sport except women’s mud wrestling. It’s been a tremendous amount of fun.”

And it all started in Portland.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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