Fact Check

Clem McCarthy

Did Clem McCarthy get the chance to broadcast the first network airing of the Kentucky Derby because of another announcer's gaffe?

Published Oct. 23, 1999


Legend:   Radio announcer Clem McCarthy got the chance to broadcast the first network call of the Kentucky Derby due to another announcer's embarrassing gaffe.

Origins:   Every horse race fan of the radio era is familiar with the name of veteran announcer Clem McCarthy. The gravel-voiced McCarthy grew up around horses, worked as a handicapper for the Morning Telegraph and the Daily Racing Form, was one of the first to

call races over loudspeakers at such tracks as Bowie racecourse and Arlington Park in Chicago, and spent many years broadcasting notable horse races and boxing matches on network radio.

Unfortunately, McCarthy is today most remembered for having committed one of radio's most infamous mistakes near the end of his career: he called the wrong horse the winner in the 1947 Preakness. Perhaps a better memory would be the serendipitous story of how he rose to radio prominence in 1928 by becoming the first announcer to call the Kentucky Derby over network radio. Legend has it that someone else had been tapped to do the broadcast, but this other announcer had placed a wager on the first race of the day, openly rooted for his bet during his call of the race, and when his horse failed to finish in the money, ended his call with a vociferous "You son of a bitch!" Supposedly, the intervention of Damon Runyon resulted in the original announcer's being eased out of his spot and replaced by McCarthy in time for the Derby broadcast later that day.

Last updated:   5 August 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Dunning, John.   On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio.

    New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.   ISBN 0-19-507678-8   (p. 631).

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