Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Satchel Paige and Ted Williams are among just a few of the baseball greats Curtis Hart has had the chance to interview in his 35 years in sports broadcasting.
Hart, who is now an instructor at the University of Memphis, worked in multiple areas of broadcasting, from production to play-by-play to hosting sports radio programs. His broadcast career led him to working in five different states and winning major awards for his work.
Throughout his broadcasting career Hart covered multiple sports, but was fortunate enough to focus on his passion, Major League Baseball.
“I always wanted to be close to, in and around Major League Baseball since high school,” Hart said. “I have a tremendous love of baseball because of the history it represents in America. You can track the history of the country through baseball for the most part. It’s just a tremendous game where you have to rely on each other.”
Hart spent the majority of his broadcasting career in York, Pennsylvania, where he worked as host of the program Sports Talk on WSBA Radio. Located about 50 miles away from Baltimore the station was associated with the Baltimore Orioles, while also airing the Baltimore Ravens and Penn State football.
From spring training to broadcasting live from Memorial Stadium, then Camden Yards to covering the 1993 All-Star Game, Hart was able to cover every aspect of Orioles baseball because of the huge following in south central Pennsylvania. Hart said his station “could get me anybody I wanted,” when it came to interviews as his show gained more and more popularity.
Through all the interviews with various Hall of Famers, attending some of the biggest sporting events, and witnessing countless incredible sports moments, Hart points to Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 of 1995 in his time covering the Orioles for WSBA as the most memorable moments of his broadcasting career.
Baltimore Orioles’ great Cal Ripken Jr. tied and then surpassed Lou Gehrig’s record for the most consecutive games played at 2,131 straight games.
“When they lowered that banner from across the way at Eutaw Street on Sept. 6, 1995 of 2,131 I got chills,” Hart said. “It was just a 45-minute delay because Cal was running around, down the first base line, going across the outfield, coming up the third base line. He was being congratulated, accolades like crazy. In my years in studying baseball history, I honestly never thought that record would be broken, never in my wildest imagination. What Lou Gehrig accomplished was just unbelievable. Then Cal, three years later in Sept. 1998 took himself out of the lineup. He played in 2,632 consecutive major league games. You would have to come up to Major League Baseball today out of high school and hope that you get no injuries and pray that you have manager or mangers through the years, who are to not top pull you from the lineup and I think Cal was quite fortunate from that aspect. That night (Sept. 6) was unbelievable. There were 600-700 credentialed members from the media in Camden Yards.”
Hart said seeing Ripken Jr. enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2007 was probably his next biggest moment as a broadcaster as he got to see and cover a player throughout his entire career. A career in which a young player transformed into one of the best in the game, broke what seemed to be an insurmountable record and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It was the largest crowd ever that saw anybody enshrined in Cooperstown,” Hart said. “Eight-three thousand people in a community of 2,100 or 2,200 people. It was a sardine can in Cooperstown. That just gave me chills as well because I got to see this one player come up as an 18 or 19-year-old and be a success and he was a class act.”
Although Hart has many fond memories and saw much success in the sports broadcast world, he also saw his fair share of hardships.
On Dec. 13, 1977, while covering University of Evansville athletics for WGBF Radio in Evansville, Indiana, Hart got word of a plane crash shortly after he got home from work. He came to find out the plane was carrying the University of Evansville basketball team. Of the 26 passengers and three crewmembers, there were no survivors from the crash.
Hart and his coworkers covered the story for the next 36-48 hours straight and worked as the world’s main source on the crash.
“We were feeding the world—Chicago, New York, London, Australia, everybody—about that story,” he said.
Hart received awards for his diligent work in covering the Evansville tragedy, but with the loss of people he had worked closely with and built strong relationships with, he said the awards didn’t matter and still mourns those losses every December.
Even though broadcast has many advantages, Hart will tell you, “It’s not all peaches ’n crème.” After new management took over at WSBA in York, Pennsylvania, Hart was told that, “sports doesn’t sell on the radio,” and he was tasked with finding a new outlet after 25 years.
This led Hart to Memphis in 2005, taking a job with D1 Sports Radio Network as a co-anchor of the show the ACC Conference Call. Only a year after working there, the paychecks had stopped coming in. Hart and the other anchors and producers went seven weeks without pay. Since there had been no solution to the payment issue, all of the workers decided to take a week “vacation” at the same time. Upon returning the following week, all of the studios had been gutted and every piece of equipment had been sold.
This is when Hart decided to transition away from the broadcast industry. He explained that the distrust and instability of the business was just too much and he wanted to share his experiences in the field.
In 2007, Hart began teaching speech classes at the U of M. Under the support of Dr. Dan Lattimore, dean of the University College at Memphis, Hart developed a baseball in America class in 2008.
It began as a live class only, but as it became more and more popular Hart, who also teaches classes on American cinema and family communication, was asked to develop an online version of baseball in America as well. Baseball in America has become so popular among students that normally every class is filled within two days of the start of registration.
“I never though it’d be that popular,” Hart said. “I’m very pleased and now I’m always looking for new things and new Ideas to share from the formation of this baseball team to where are we going with the game, where are we going with the playoffs and where we are going with expansion in Major League Baseball if we have that. I like what I’m doing now. I’m sharing hopefully, some knowledge with the students so that they can get a better grasp of the game of baseball and what it has meant to America. That’s the bottom line to me”
Now that baseball in America has become so successful, Hart said he is very interested in developing another class, which he thinks can be just as popular among the students, if not more so.
“Ideally down the road, with its popularity and with the humongous amounts of money behind it, I would like to develop a course of College Football in America from the socioeconomic standpoint,” he said. “I mean we are rich with football country here. What our U of M Tigers have done is just fantastic, but look at the SEC look at the Big 10 look at the Big 12, look at the Pac-12 and all the history behind those. College football is a multi-billion dollar industry. I would like to do some thing on that and I think it would do well.”
Before becoming a University of Memphis professor, Curtis Hart spent many years working in sports radio.