Sport

Hall-of-Famer a voice to be reckoned with

Part-time Sarasota resident Don Henderson inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame

At his induction speech for the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame, Don Henderson had his opening line ready.

And the 86-year-old, part-time Sarasota resident for 20 years wasn’t about to use his time at the microphone to lie.

“I started off by saying, ‘You are looking at the most unlikely guy to ever be standing up here for the Hall of Fame. You’re talking about a bartender.’ “

Henderson was being modest, though for a time he did run a bar in Trenton, New Jersey, started by his father.

He also was a pretty fair swimmer at Trenton Central High School, good enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Texas.

That wasn’t the unlikely part Henderson talked about. He always had the deep rich voice one might expect to hear on radio or television, but that wouldn’t portend a career in both sports TV and radio lasting from 1957 to 2000.

Don Henderson merely took each opportunity he was given and parlayed it into another. “I just went from one thing to the other thing and it came up roses.”

Ask any Philadelphia 76ers fan about Don Henderson. Or the Phillies. Ask any fan of Temple Owls basketball about him. With those teams, Henderson’s voice became synonymous.

There just wasn’t a clue to any of it. Henderson also played baseball for a year at Texas before doing both sports became too much. But with a semester to go before earning his degree in business, Henderson was offered a tryout by the Cleveland Indians.

He left Texas and reported to Tucson, Arizona. Henderson didn’t make the Indians, and five weeks in their minor-league system convinced him he wasn’t good enough.

So at age 21, he returned to Trenton and managed the bar, Club 50, with a brother. Soon a guy suggested Henderson add music to the play. It turned into one of the only jazz clubs in the Trenton area, attracting talent such as Doc Severinsen, Clark Terry and Coleman Hawkins.

Around this same time, a writer for the Trenton newspaper was hosting a one-hour nightly sports radio show. The guy was going away on vacation and asked Henderson, who had never before done radio, to sit in for him.

“It’s an hour,” Hendeson said. “How tough can this be.”

When the regular host got another job, the owner of the station asked Henderson to keep doing the show. That led him to start a Sunday night jazz radio show from his bar.

Henderson was doing the nightly radio sports show and Sunday night jazz show when a man from Philadelphia, named Ed Moore, called. He listened to Henderson’s radio shows and liked what he heard. He was also starting up a new TV station in Philadelphia, channel 29, and wanted Henderson, with no prior experience, to do the sports segments on the 6 and 11 newscasts.

And Moore also made Henderson’s wife, again with no prior experience, the station’s weather person. Hubby doing sports, wife the weather.

Henderson did this for about five years when his station got the rights to Notre Dame football. On a Monday night, along with Norm Snead, Henderson would recap the game while previewing the Irish’s next one.

Now known around the area, Henderson stayed at channel 29 for a few more years before the CBS station in Philadelphia, the country’s No. 4 market, hired him to do a two-hour daily talk-radio and pre- and post-game shows for the Phillies.

Henderson got to know all the players and even managed to get Steve Carlton, who hated the media, for an interview. Then, after some time, Temple wanted Henderson to do football and basketball play-by-play.

He did this for two years and then Pat Williams became GM of the 76ers. The team’s broadcaster was leaving and Williams wanted to know if Henderson wanted the job.

He did and got to call some memorable games, including Portland’s Game 6 win over the 76ers in the 1977 NBA Finals and their Game 7 loss to the Celtics in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals.

But when the 76ers, with Moses Malone, won the title in 1983, Henderson wasn’t there to broadcast it. His contract up, he went back to Temple, where he remained for the next 17 years.

After doing one year of Miami Hurricanes football in 2000, Henderson called it quits, though he still does a once-a-week sports internet show.

“Just lucky breaks, that’s all.”

Breaks that Don Henderson got, then made into something suitable for a hall of fame.

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