Greg Gumbel rings in 50th year in broadcasting with NCAA Tournament

Gumbel, 75, began his career at NBC 5 Chicago in 1973. He’s now in his 24th year as CBS’ lead host of college basketball.

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Greg Gumbel will be in the host chair Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons from CBS’ studios in New York.

Mary Kouw/CBS

CBS and Turner are beginning their second decade of broadcasting the NCAA Tournament together. Their partnership in making every game available nationally has been a boon for everyone.

But from 1991 to 2010, CBS aired the whole shebang, meaning viewers had to watch whatever the network bosses gave them. CBS prioritized regionality, but a better game might take precedence if the local team was being blown out.

“It used to be hell on wheels sometimes if we would switch an audience from one game to a game with a minute and a half remaining and it’s tied,” said Greg Gumbel, CBS’s college basketball host since 1998. “A lot of fans were appreciative because they couldn’t turn to another channel to see it, but there were some markets that you couldn’t take an audience away from it.”

Audiences that lost their game would find their way to Gumbel’s voicemail to express their displeasure. Gumbel had nothing to do with those decisions, but he knew who did. So he playfully forwarded the messages to Sean McManus, then CBS Sports’ president and now its chairman.

“And he walked into the studio once, and he goes, ‘Greg, stop forwarding these,’ ” Gumbel said.

Despite irritating his boss, Gumbel, 75, has stuck around to enter his 50th year in broadcasting this month. He began his career at NBC 5 Chicago in 1973. It was a great place to start for Gumbel, who grew up in Hyde Park and went to high school at De La Salle. Now he’s hosting March Madness, which might be madder than ever after it was canceled in 2020 and limited last year.

Gumbel said he felt that way while hosting the selection show Sunday.

“[Analysts] Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis and I made a point of saying throughout the day that it was so nice to be back to what we consider normal,” Gumbel said. “It was nice to be able to see the kids in the stands when their school is called and they go crazy.”

That can be how it feels working on the selection show. The crew first sees the brackets not long before the audience does. Gumbel usually receives them 15 to 45 minutes before the show. This year, they arrived about 20 minutes before airtime.

With little time to prepare, Gumbel relies on his knowledge from following the action all season. He also is aided by cards with information about each team, created by studio staff. But he admitted there’s an element of “chaos.”

“Clark and Seth are cramming, like for a final exam, and I just kind of sit there and familiarize myself with the notes that I have in front of me,” he said. “You can exhale after reading through one bracket, go to commercial and come back and go, ‘Now we do the Midwest Region.’ It’s an adrenaline rush.”

Gumbel’s attention now is on the games. He’ll be in the host chair from CBS’s studios in New York on Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Turner’s Ernie Johnson will host in the opposite windows.

Given Gumbel’s measured tone and smooth delivery, it’s hard to believe that broadcasting wasn’t his first vocation. These were his jobs after graduating from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1967: assistant advertising director for Litton’s Clothing Store in Chicago; paper and print buyer at Time Inc. in Chicago, and hospital supplies salesman in Detroit.

“I was a really, really good hospital supplies salesman,” Gumbel said, “and I can’t tell you how much I hated it.”

In January 1973, Gumbel’s younger brother, Bryant, who was working for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, told him that WMAQ-TV in Chicago was looking for a weekend sports anchor and asked if he’d be interested. The brothers were huge sports fans — Bryant is a Cubs fan, Greg a White Sox fan — but that was Greg’s only credential for the job. He was undeterred.

“I go, ‘Hmm . . . bedpans, baseball. Bedpans, baseball,’ ” Gumbel said of weighing his options. “ ‘Yeah, I’d be interested.’”

He auditioned with lots of others, and three weeks later, the job was his.

After seven years at Channel 5, Gumbel moved on to ESPN, then MSG Network in New York. In 1989, he started his first run at CBS, during which he hosted the 1990 All-Star Game at Wrigley Field. He spent five years at NBC before returning to CBS, where he also calls NFL games.

But he’s still not sure how his low-key style originated.

“The people that I have admired most in the business have been that way — Pat Summerall comes to mind,” Gumbel said. “I certainly don’t like hearing people yell at me on TV, which is why I avoid a lot of sports-talk shows and sports-talk radio shows. I’ve always sworn that I’m never going to fake being excited.”

With March Madness back in full swing, he’ll have no problem there.

Remote patrol

Siera Santos, who was an anchor and reporter at Fox-32 and NBC Sports Chicago before leaving to fill the same roles in her hometown at Fox 10 Phoenix, is joining MLB Network. Debuting during the first week of the season, she’ll host the highlight show “Quick Pitch” and appear on “Big Inning,”

the whip-around program on MLB.TV.

—- NBC Sports Chicago will air five more White Sox spring-training games, the next coming Monday. Jason Benetti is expected to be on the call for each. This weekend, he and Will Perdue are calling the NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee for Westwood One radio.

—- Marquee Sports Network will air 17 of the Cubs’ 19 spring games (the other two will air on MLB Network). Jon Sciambi will call seven of Marquee’s games, and Pat Hughes and Beth Mowins will fill in.

—- Former Cubs Cliff Floyd and Cameron Maybin joined Marquee’s analyst team. They’ll contribute to pre- and postgame shows. Both also will appear on MLB Network.

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