PHOENIX — A farm boy in Iowa, in the 1940s with no electricity, but he had a handheld, battery-operated radio.
Those were the humble beginnings for Al McCoy, who has gone on to become one of the most legendary voices in sports history.
“We didn't have electricity. But we had a battery radio. And I got hooked on radio very early as a kid and particularly listening to sporting events. Then, it was mostly baseball. And I followed the Cubs and, and football, college football at that point in time,” McCoy told ABC15. “And that's where the so-called name announcers were, right, and I listened to all of them. And very early as a youngster, I thought, ‘boy, that would be great. Wouldn't it be great to be at the Garden in New York and do games there and Chicago Stadium and do games,’ not really realizing that maybe I'd be there someday. But at an early age, I guess I got the bug.”
McCoy’s first job behind the mic? Webster City, Iowa, calling semi-professional baseball while attending Drake University. McCoy, though, said basketball was his first love. He eventually used a voice recorder to tape himself calling a basketball game for the broadcast department at Drake after convincing them to let him do so.
McCoy eventually made his way to Arizona to call minor league baseball games as well as games for the Phoenix Roadrunners.
Once Veterans Memorial Coliseum was built and the Phoenix Suns were becoming a reality, McCoy knew he wanted to get involved.
After he was originally turned down, he eventually convinced the St. Louis Hawks, an NBA team at the time, to allow him to call a preseason game for them at Veterans Memorial Coliseum against Philadelphia. He did it in exchange for free advertising at the radio station McCoy worked for at the time.
McCoy took a tape of that broadcast and eventually got it into the hands of Jerry Colangelo.
“I have to admit, and I did years later to Jerry Colangelo, I edited that tape until I sounded like maybe the fastest basketball announcer you'd ever heard,” McCoy said with a chuckle. “And that's what I gave to Jerry Colangelo, at that time, and that prompted him to hire me.”
49 years later, he’s still with the team and now calling his third NBA Finals for the Suns.
When the NBA added the three-point line in the 1979 season, McCoy knew he needed a catchphrase for the big shot.
“Most baseball announcers have a call they use, like, ‘it might be it could be it is, or it's going, going gone’ or whatever, you know, so I started thinking and I don’t like to admit this, but as a kid growing up as a farmer, I used to read comic books. And one of my favorites was Captain Marvel. And he was kind of the Superman type. And a little guy named Billy Batson who was actually a radio reporter, became Captain Marvel, when he said, SHAZAM, which was the first letter of Socrates, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Mercury, and so on. So I thought, hey, that might be something because when he says SHAZAM, it's excitement and lightning and thunder and all this goes off... So I decided I would use that thinking that maybe there'd be two or three a game. And, of course, that first year that the three-point shot was in I think the Suns took three all year.”
But what about this year’s team?
While McCoy acknowledged the Suns have a lot of impressive parts, the one that stands out for him this season is their chemistry.
“The thing that has impressed me most was that these players all like one another, enjoy playing with one another, they're all pulling for each other. And that has been, I think, a vital part of the team. And you have to credit veteran players like Chris Paul and coaches like Monty Williams.”
So just how far will the Suns go in the finals? To put it in Al’s words, “Anything is possible in the NBA.”
Any idea when you’ll put the mic down for the final time?
“When the official throws that ball up to start the game, I still have that excitement. And so, two words that I have kind of adopted, ‘keep going.’ So, I guess I'll just keep going.”