Broadcasting Legend Whitaker Dies at 95

Posted on August 19, 2019

Jack Whitaker, who in 2013 won NTWAB's inaugural Jim McKay Award for excellence in broadcasting, died of natural causes on August 18. He was 95.

During his wide-ranging career, Whitaker was best known for his coverage of horse racing and golf. He was on hand for Secretariat's capture of the Triple Crown in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. He also covered the NFL, including announcing the first Super Bowl, winter and summer Olympic Games, professional boxing, major league baseball, early pro soccer, America's Cup yachting, and track and field.

Whitaker started with CBS in 1961 and went over to ABC in 1982. He retired shortly after leaving the latter network in 2004.

Whitaker worked his career well-decorated with honors. He was a recipient of the Maryland Jockey Club's Old Hilltop Award in 1983, and in 2017 he was named to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame's Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor.  According to his Wikipedia biography, Whitaker was the winner of three Emmy Awards -- for Outstanding Host or Commentator in 1979, for writing in 1990 and in 2012 a Lifetime Achievement Award; was named Best Announcer by Sports Illustrated in 1976; and was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1997, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Saint Joseph's University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

CBC Sports chairman Sean McManus said, "There will never be another Jack Whitaker in sports broadcasting. His amazing writing ability, on-air presence and humanity are unmatched. His unique perspective on sports ranging from horse racing to golf to NFL football was extraordinary."

Whitaker wasn't born into a sports or media family. From the East Germantown section of Philadelphia, he attended Northeast Catholic High School for Boys. He went to St. Joseph's College before and after volunteering to serve in the Army in World War II, when he found himself on Omaha Beach in Normandy three days after D-Day in June 1944.

His first media job after college was in Pottsville, Pa., at a small radio station. From there, he joined the sports broadcast team at WCAU in Philly and worked with two other future legends: John Facenda, who would become the voice of NFL Films, and Ed McMahon, eventually the constant companion of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

Whitaker was married to Nancy Chafee from 1991 until her death in 2002.

By Dick Downey for NTWAB