George Michael dies at 70; sportscaster pioneered the highlights show
A longtime fixture on the Washington, D.C., television scene, he reached a national audience with 'The George Michael Sports Machine.'
George Michael, seen in 2007, was a high-rated and hyper-animated Washington, D.C., sportscaster whose extensive use of game highlights from across the country on his nationally syndicated show has now become the norm in the industry. (John McDonnell / Washington Post / February 28, 2007)
Michael was a popular rock 'n' roll DJ in Philadelphia and New York before making a successful transition to television, where his boisterous style and unremitting hustle made him one of the dominant personalities in Washington for years. He represented sports as entertainment, with what some regarded as a team-friendly approach, especially to the hometown Redskins.
Known for his bronzed face, receding golden hair and brilliant teeth, Michael worked at WRC-TV, an NBC owned-and-operated station, from 1980 to 2008.
He oversaw a trend-setting show that made liberal use of action highlights from games in addition to interviews and other reports.
"The George Michael Sports Machine," as it eventually was called, was syndicated to almost 200 stations at its peak and ran on KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Los Angeles.
The show, one of the first to recognize the growing appeal of NASCAR, was unique on non-cable television, and it would be years before the cable network ESPN would render it obsolete.
"George wasn't the first to make videotape the king -- Warner Wolf did it before him -- but his rise at Channel 4 coincided with better technology to provide the highlights, the greatest sports boom in U.S. history and a profitable local news operation willing to spend time and money on its sports segments," said Norman Chad, a syndicated columnist and the Washington Post's former sports television critic. "It's amazing to think 'The George Michael Sports Machine' somehow survived ESPN. It was like the corner mini-mart continuing to sell milk, bread and eggs after Wal-Mart moved into town."
Over the years, Michael created and produced the long-running shows "Redskins Report" and "Full Court Press," featuring guests such as former Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and local print sports reporters, including Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post.
The Post duo's success on Michael's shows helped them land starring roles on "Pardon the Interruption," a half-hour national sports opinion show that has been on ESPN since 2001.
George Michael Gimpel was born March 24, 1939, and grew up in St. Louis, where his father was a butcher. They were not close, he once told the Washington Post, and grew farther apart after his mother died when Michael was a teenager.
He was attending Saint Louis University in the early 1960s when he became a record promoter before working for a series of radio stations throughout the Midwest.
He was a rock 'n' roll disc jockey in Philadelphia before being offered a job in 1974 as a radio personality on WABC-AM in New York.
Michael became a play-by-play announcer for the New York Islanders hockey team and appeared on Howard Cosell's "Speaking of Sports" radio show before moving to Washington.
Survivors include his second wife, Pat Lackman, a writer who became a key partner in her husband's on-air career; along with two children from his first marriage, Brad and Michelle.
Bernstein writes for the Washington Post.