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Bulldogs of the Fourth Estate: Ed Thilenius
Bulldawg Illustrated continues its series, featuring long-time UGA personalities of the Fourth Estate. There are many who are published authors along with network television superstars. Our sixth installment spotlights former Georgia Bulldogs’ play-by-play announcer, Ed Thilenius, who like so many media stars got his start in a local newsroom (Athens Banner-Herald).
Before Scott Howard, an underappreciated announcer who underscores the fundamentals of radio play by play, there was Larry Munson; before Munson there was Ed Thilenius who had, at one time, a similar cult following as Munson did.
Thilenius’ teams, unfortunately, did not have the good fortune of winning like those of Munson era. Larry’s broadcasting career was linked with the accomplished coaching of Vince Dooley.
Like the coach of his era, Wallace Butts, Thilenius did enjoy a late championship run in the 50s when the Bulldogs won the SEC title in 1959 and subsequently defeated Missouri in the Orange Bowl 14-0.
Latter day Bulldog fans don’t remember Thilenius, although in the UGA archives are tapes of his play-by-play accounts including the broadcast of the 1957 Tech game when Georgia broke the drought by defeating Tech on Grant Field, 7-0, Theron Sapp scoring the only touchdown of the game.
Before his dalliance into radio, which segued into a permanent gig, Thilenius was a reporter with the Athens Banner-Herald. There was an incident on campus in the late 40s having to do with a prominent dean being shot by his estranged wife. Thilenuis covered the story and when he showed up in the dean’s hospital room, he was greeted with, “Hello Ed, I see the press is here.”
With a perfect bass voice for radio, Thilenius, who sounded as though he might have swallowed Walter Conkrite, moved into full time status with WRFC, covering sports and news for the local station, as he had done for the Banner-Herald; and calling Bulldog football, basketball, and baseball games along with the Friday night games of Athens High. A busy man, indeed.
By the time of the 1965 football season, in which he called the flea flicker game which upset defending national champion Alabama, Thilenius had moved to WAGA TV in Atlanta, becoming the city’s first full time TV sports director. In 1966, the Falcons joined the National Football League, and Thilenius became the announcer for the NFL franchise.
At the time, CBS arranged for two announcers to call each game. If the Falcons, for example, were playing Green Bay, stations in the Southeast got the broadcast of Thilenius, while the Midwest stations heard the game called by Ray Scott.
The next season, CBS decided that one announcer crew was sufficient and let half of the announcers and crews go. Thilenius did not make the cut. He was devastated. Falcon owner, Rankin Smith, did his best to get CBS for find a spot for Thilenius, but to no avail. Ed then wanted his old Georgia job back but Joel Eaves, athletic director had already hired Munson and would not consider a change. Ed drove over to Athens to meet me and ask how he could present his case, but I had to tell him I was not in a position to help him.
In 1964, I recall, Bobby Dodd then AD at Tech, made an offer to Thilenius to become the Yellow Jacket announcer. It ended up with Ed getting a raise out of the negotiations, which greatly irritated Eaves. was not sympathetic with Thilenius’ desire to return to the Bulldog booth.
Interestingly, a few years later, Munson and Thilenius became acquainted. One day, I got a call from Munson saying that it would be nice to have Thilenius back on the broadcast doing color.
That would have gone over splendidly in some circles, but I had to tell Munson that I didn’t think it would be a good idea. While I was not sure what would come of a discussion with the incumbent power brokers at the moment, namely Coach Eaves, I was fearful that Thilenius in that position might cause a great controversy. Some fans, with Munson’s popularity in its infancy, might clamor to have Thilenius back doing play-by-play.
I always thought that it was big of Munson to even consider the arrangement, but I felt that such a move might end up in debilitating controversy.
The last survivor of the Thilenius broadcast crew, John Withers worked not only the Georgia broadcasts but the Falcon broadcasts of 1966, remembers Thilenius as being “a perfectionist.”
“I enjoyed working with him. He would always try to compliment our crew for the job we did. He would make sure that he mentioned our names which gave us great status around campus and the host hotel when we were on the road. I thought he was a great announcer.”
Ole timers have great recall of Thilenius’ broadcasts. “Imagine your radio dial as a football field, the lefts and rights are the same.” Then he would describe the huddle of quarterback Fran Tarkenton. “Tarkenton talks to his two rows or five.”
His voice was so authoritative. No sports announcer ever sounded better on radio.
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