Last weekend marked the end of an era. After more than 50 years in the sports journalism business, Ray Didinger signed off the air on a sports radio show he and Glen Macnow had done for about 20 years on 94WIP. If you lived or worked in Philadelphia for any period of time since about 1970 and if you had even a passing interest in sports, you know who Ray Didinger is. For others who were not in that circumstance, let me present a thumbnail sketch of his career:
- He was a reporter, beat writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (a paper no longer in existence) and then for the Philadelphia Daily News.
- He was the Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year five times.
- He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH for his coverage of the NFL.
- He was a writer and producer at NFL Films and won four Emmys in the process.
- He is the playwright of a one-act drama Tommy and Me.
- He has been a fixture on Philadelphia TV doing pre-game and post-game programs for Eagles’ games.
- He has been a weekend sports radio host for more than 20 years.
One of his TV shows was Football America. It was a celebration of football as an element of US society and culture. It was not about the NFL or college football weekends. Football America was about how the game of football is an essential part of Americans’ lives well beneath the showcase level of the NFL and major college football. If you have never seen Football America, do yourself a favor and track it down so you can enjoy it.
I first met Ray Didinger in about 1970 when he was starting his career as a sportswriter. It was clear from the beginning that he was a gifted writer and those awards mentioned above demonstrate that others have recognized his talents and abilities. What sets Ray Didinger apart is that he combines great talent with authenticity. Ray Didinger is one of the nicest, most genuine human beings on the planet. There is not a milligram of conceit or deceit in him.
I heard of his plans to retire as of Memorial Day weekend about a month ago. My email response to the friend who gave me that news began with this comment:
- Damn – – sports radio just got a whole lot dumber.
His weekend radio program was something you had to hear if you were in the Philadelphia listening area because he approached the program calmly and rationally. Need I remind anyone that such is not the hallmark of sports radio programming. There was no ranting and raving; there were few if any ‘hot takes”; the program was three hours of analytical discussion about sports between two men who are obviously friends in addition to being co-hosts of a radio program. Every time I listened to the show, I felt that I came away from it just a tad smarter than I was when I tuned in.
A couple of years ago, Ray Didinger published a memoir titled, Finished Business. Whenever I learn that a sportswriter I have followed has put together a memoir, I make it a point to read it. My two favorite sports memoirs had been:
- Over Time by Frank Deford
- Gloves Off by Lowell Cohn
Those two exceptional books are now joined by Finished Business; it is a great book and an easy read.
Often in the world of sports a coach or manager finds himself being nudged out of his position but instead of being fired, that beleaguered coach/manager chooses to resign – – often giving the rationale that he “wants to spend time with his family”. That excuse has almost become a cliché and I say “almost” because that is exactly what Ray Didinger said was a key element of his decision to retire from sports journalism. The difference in this case is that anyone who has followed Ray Didinger over the past 50 years or so takes that statement at face value and knows it to be the case. Remember, there is not a milligram of deceit in the man.
Oh, by the way, there is one hole in Ray Didinger’s résumé that he might choose to fill during his retirement years. He has been a journalist, author, screenwriter, playwright, radio host and TV personality – – but he has not yet published an anthology of poetry. Over to you, Ray…
Bonne chance, Ray Didinger. Thank you for many hours of enjoyment and enlightenment over five decades. Stay well…