In 1962, Holliday was a disc jockey spinning records from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Cleveland radio station WHK. One day he learned that the Browns’ public address announcer had passed away.
Thinking he might audition for the job, Holliday called the Browns’ main switchboard and asked to speak to Modell, the team’s owner.
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“They put me right through,” Holliday recalled Thursday. “And this voice answers and says ‘Hello?’ And I said ‘Mr. Modell, I’m Johnny Holliday of station WHK . . .’ And he said ‘Oh, I know who you are. I listen to you in the afternoons.’”
Holliday expressed his condolences over the PA announcer’s death. Then he asked Modell if he could try out to be the Browns’ next PA man.
But Modell explained that he had already promised the job to the team’s spotter, who provided the radio play-by-play man with info on who the ball-carrier was, who made the tackle, etc.
A moment later, though, Modell agreed to let Holliday do the PA duties for the first game of an NFL doubleheader taking place that week at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Detroit Lions were playing the Dallas Cowboys in the first game. The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Browns in the second.
Holliday worked the first game and when it was over, the phone rang. It was Modell, calling to say he wanted Holliday to do the second game, too. No one was more relieved at that moment than the spotter, Holliday recalled.
“He said to me ‘I couldn’t have done it!’” Holliday said with a chuckle. “He said ‘I’m a spotter, not an announcer. Art was just being nice to think of me.’”
Many years later, when Holliday was calling a Terps’ football game against Georgia Tech at M&T Bank Stadium, he asked someone in the press box if Modell was at the game. Told that he wasn’t, Holliday asked the person to pass along a note to the now-owner of the Ravens.
“I wrote on a cocktail napkin: ‘Mr. Modell, you may not remember me. But I did the PA announcing for you a long time ago and you paid me the grand sum of $25,” Holliday recalled.
A week later, Holliday says, Modell wrote him back saying: “I’ll give you $30 a game if you’re available.”