Interview: Eli Gold

Famous Sports Broadcaster Eli Gold was born in Flatbush.

By Palmer Hasty

Since beginning his broadcasting career over four decades ago in 1972 as a sports reporter with the Mutual Broadcasting System, Brooklyn native Eli Gold has worked in every state in the U.S., as well as every major city throughout Canada.

As a note of interest, Mutual Broadcasting was the home of such radio classics as “The Lone Ranger” and “The Shadow”, and was also the broadcasting network that introduced another renowned Brooklyn native, Larry King, to America.

Gold is most notably the voice of the University of Alabama “Crimson Tide” football team, and a famous voice for NASCAR racing events, especially in Florida.

He was named the Alabama Sportscaster of the Year multiple times by the Associated Press and United Press International, as well as by his peers in the National Sportscaster and Broadcasters Association.
In a recent interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, conducted by phone while Gold was cruising along Alabama’s Interstate-59 on his way to a broadcasting job in Birmingham, Gold talked about his love of travel and his dreams of becoming a sports broadcaster at an early age while growing up in Flatbush.

BE: When and where in Flatbush were you born?

EG: “I was born in 1953. We lived on East 19th Street between Beverly and Cortelyou. We lived in an apartment building. When I was 10 we moved to the Midwood Section where we lived in a two family house on Avenue I and East 22nd Street. I lived in Brooklyn until I was 23 years old.”

BE: What was the neighborhood like back then?

EG: “Flatbush was a nice area in those days. Typically it was a mix of ethnic groups, predominantly Jewish, Italian, and Polish. It was a clean, safe neighborhood. Regretfully, I’ve gone back since then and it’s not the same. I guess the whole world has changed .”

BE: What was your childhood like there?

EG: “As kids we played a lot of box baseball. That’s when you use the squares on the sidewalk. You had to hit a certain square in order to pitch, well, it had an intricate set of rules and I think box baseball was unique to the streets of Brooklyn. We of course played stickball in the streets using the sewer caps for second base and home plate with this car as first base and that car for third base. We did all the normal kid stuff; going to movies and the local deli. We often went to Di Fara’s Pizza on the corner of Avenue J and 15th Street for a slice. I think Di Fara’s is still there.”

BE: Where did you go to school?

EG: “I went to Elementary school at the Bialik School on Church Avenue. For a very short period of time I went to Yeshivah of Flatbush high school but that was clearly not for me. I transferred to Midwood High School. Although I did graduate from Midwood High, I didn’t attend very often. I confess I was not a model student, and I tended to cut school a whole lot.”

BE: From what you told me it sounds, ironically, like cutting classes turned out to provide you with the opportunity to prepare yourself for your award-winning career as a broadcaster?

EG: (Gold laughed)…” I guess you could say that. ”

BE: Did anyone at work ever ask you why you weren’t in school?

EG: “When someone would ask me, ‘Shouldn’t you be in school?’, I’d tell them I went that morning and when I showed up at the office early I would say my classes were late that day. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew that being at Madison Square Garden arena and the corporate offices was a far better approach for me to take than to sit in a classroom reading out of a textbook about the Bolshevik Revolution.”

BE: So you knew you would be a sports broadcaster at an early age?

EG: “Absolutely. Late at night I would listen to the great sportscasters like Mel Allen and Red Barber announcing the Yankee and Dodger games instead of going to sleep. I’d get under the covers, turn on the transistor radio and put that little ear piece in my ear and eventually I fell asleep listening to Mel and Red Barber broadcasting.  I can remember every night during baseball season my mother would come to the bedroom door and say: ‘Alright, turn that radio off and go to bed!”

BE: You said you were selling peanuts in Madison Square Garden when you got what you considered your first opportunity to connect with your dream of becoming a broadcaster. Can you tell us something about that?

EG: “Well, we couldn’t afford to go to Madison Square Garden, we didn’t have the money. My dad had cancer and passed away when I was very young, so it was just my mom and I and we just didn’t have the disposable income. But I was a super spectator.
So I realized I had to figure out a way to get into Madison Square Garden on a near every night basis, and have them pay me to do it.”

BE: So you started working at the Garden?

EG: “Yes. I went down and signed up with the Harry M. Stevens Company, the concessionaire at Madison Square Garden. I started selling peanuts. I was legally too young to sell beer and the hot dog thing was too darn heavy, that was too much work. I wasn’t really there to make money anyway, I was there to watch the events…and sell as much product as I could.”
“So I said, hell, I’ll sell the peanuts. They were a buck a bag and peanuts would sell themselves at a ball game. I had time to stand in the aisle and watch the Ranger’s game, or whatever was going on that night.”
“That’s how I fed my insatiable appetite for sports. At one point I sold some peanuts to some folks who worked for the Madison Square Garden Corporation. I didn’t know who they were, they engaged me in conversation and I told them I was a student and wanted to be a sports broadcaster. ”
“A guy by the name of Allen Rubenstein handed me his business card after I sold him some peanuts. After a little conversation he said: ‘Give me a call’.”

BE: Did you call him?

EG: “Of course! I was hired as an office boy. I told him I didn’t want to get paid, I would work for free. I was living at home and no expenses to speak of… I told them all I wanted for income was a pass that would allow me to come into every event at the Garden…I’d stand in the corner out of everybody’s way.
So they gave me an employee’s pass and it didn’t matter if it was the Knicks or the Rangers, or a track and field meet, or even the circus…whatever it was.”
“I started doing a little play by play in my little cassette machine, or I would stand in the corner without the cassette machine and do the play by play to myself…and I made it a point to go up to the blue seats, the top bubble, and meet the broadcasters for all the teams for that evening’s event.”

BE: With a job like yours it sounds like you would have to enjoy traveling?

EG: “That also started when I was young. As a teenager I used to take the bus to Montreal, Boston, and Pittsburg. I had to be there in person. I’d call my mother on a pay phone and tell her I was watching the Rangers/Canadians game and she’d say; ‘Oh, you’re at the Garden?’ And I would say, ‘No mom, I’m in Montreal.’”
“To this day I still love to travel. What better way to make a living? It’s hard work though, a lot of sacrifice and it requires tons of preparation.”

BE: What about your family?

EG: “They’re great about it. I’m Jewish and married to a woman who is Catholic, and our daughter was raised Catholic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to miss, or leave early on a Christmas day because I had to do an NFL game the next day. This is the life I’ve chosen for myself and I have no regrets whatsoever.”

BE: So you’ve done a great deal of broadcasting in Florida?

EG: “Oh hell yea…I’ve done NFL and NHL games…NASCAR races…sports car races…Alabama football games…I’ve done umpteen hundreds of events in Florida.”

BIF: How many is umpteen hundred?

EG: “A whole heck of a lot…I’ve done NASCAR off and on in Florida for 40 years. I’ve done the Daytona Speed Weeks…the Rolex 24 Hour Race…I’ve done races at Sebring…down in Homestead…I’ve done the National Hockey League in Tampa. I’ve done tons of events in Florida. Over the years I’ve been to the length and breadth of Florida talking my fool head off.”

Photos: Eli Gold: Wikipedia