By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Longtime sports fans in the Buffalo-Niagara area have vivid memories of Bill Mazer, 92, the legendary broadcaster who died last week in an assisted-living facility in Danbury, Conn.
Mazer, who became famous for his encyclopedic knowledge, especially of sports trivia, started his career in 1947 at radio station WKBW in Buffalo. He had been recommended by Marty Glickman, a fixture in the Madison Square Garden press box. Within a year, Mazer was hired as sports director for WGR radio and was the sports anchor at WGR-TV (Ch. 2) from 1954 to the early 1960s. For the young University of Michigan graduate, the Queen City was an intensely competitive market for sportscasters. WBEN, for example, was loaded with top talent like Ralph Hubbell, Chuck Healy, Dick Rifenburg and Don Cunnigham. Still, Mazer created his own niche.
Among assignments, he was the voice of the Niagara University Purple Eagles, with his colorful coverage of Little Three Conference basketball games at the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. He had all the skill and savvy of another famous sportscaster Bill Stern who could make reading names from a phone book sound exciting.
One memorable night, when NU was playing at the student center on campus, Mazer went overboard criticizing the Purple Eagles for their sloppy performance. Several times, he fumed about the apparent lack of a sound strategy and the consistent failure to set up plays, He made it clear — more than once — that the Eagles needed better coaching.
Coach John J. (”Taps”) Gallagher was obviously preoccupied with his chores at court side so he had no idea that Mazer was blasting him on the radio. However, as the story goes, Mazer would eventually get an earful about his remarks because Gallagher’s wife was listening at home. In all fairness, NU was experiencing a rare off night and even Taps, one of the most respected coaches in the nation, suffered from the frustration, despite the endless hours of practice and planning.
In 1964 it was off to the Big Apple where Mazer won instant recognition with his WNBC-AM radio show. New York Daily News columnist Bob Raismann said Wednesday: “It didn’t matter where you were listening or calling from — Mazer was speaking to nobody else but you. He made the same connection with TV viewers for 20 years on his popular program “Sports Extra.” He could make you feel like Buffalo was one of the nation’s greatest sports towns, Raismann said: “And when he talked about how Buffalo was a springboard to a gig in the USA’s biggest media market, his excitement, his feeling of satisfaction, and achievement cracked through the front of a tiny transistor radio.”
After several years with WNBC, he signed on at WOR-AM and did color commentary on the CBS television network’s hockey game of the week. He also covered the Knicks, the Nets and the Islanders. He enjoyed a high profile as host of lunchtime interviews from Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on Central Park South. “He was known as the maven of sports facts,” said Tom Niland of Youngstown, noting that Mazer might have been the first person to hold that title in New York City. It was often said that he was a pioneer in hosting an all-sports-talk radio show in the U.S.
For the record, Mazer was christened the ‘Amazin’ by news anchor John Roland who was frequently hurling difficult sports questions at him during the nightly sportscasts. It was rare indeed when Roland stumped the expert.
TRIVIA: (Answer to Thursday quiz): The National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame is in Saratoga.Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.