McPeak (left) with broadcasters Merrill Reese and Mike Quick
“I’m in year 22 and I’m still the new guy in the booth,’’ Quick, who took over for Stan Walters before the 1989 season, said. “I’m the baby. Even our engineer Lane (Massey) has been around 100 years (actually 25).’’
The Eagles broadcast family is of course led by play-by-play man Merrill Reese, who is in his 42nd year and was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame, Quick, who handles the color, and a guy you might not know, Joe McPeak, the producer in his 33rd year.
“He’s the absolute best producer in the business,’’ says Reese, of McPeak, who he hired as an intern at the station way back in 1984 when McPeak was a senior at LaSalle College and two years later promoted him to the booth. “A lot of it is in the timing, and Joe is excellent at knowing just when to break in with the live reads.’’
The trio of Reese, Quick and McPeak travel together to away games, have dinner the night before the game usually in the team hotel, have breakfast the morning of the game and then spend hours before and during the game in the booth.
“I tell Cindy, Merrill’s wife, it’s like I’m married to him,’’ McPeak said. “We travel together, we eat together. And we’ve been doing it for all these years, I know all his quirks. I know what makes him tick. But that’s what also makes the broadcast so successful.’’
Words like chemistry and continuity can be overused in sports. In this case, they’re not.
“(Joe) is married to Merrill,’’ Quick says with a laugh. “We’re a family, for sure. And it’s also like a team, a team of misfits. We’re people from such diverse backgrounds. You got Joe who’s an Irish Catholic, Merrill, a Jewish guy, and me, an African American. But we’ve been together for so long that the chemistry is really good. There are so many things that go on during the course of a broadcast, and it’s not just what you hear. And again, that’s where Joe comes into play.’’
For a normal Sunday, 1 o’clock game, McPeak will get to the stadium around 9:30, or so. Reese and the engineers are usually waiting in the booth where the equipment is being put into place. There will also be a package waiting for him which includes all the commercials for that particular broadcast.
“I’ll go over the copy and edit what needs to be edited and then sit down with Merrill and go over all the copy that needs to be read live. Then we’ll just go over the basics, what time the team is being introduced, are we broadcasting the national anthem, when are we going down to the field for the sideline report. We just go over every aspect of the broadcast before we go live.’’
During the game McPeak’s job covers a lot of ground from dealing with his sales department, to working with Massey, the long-time engineer, to keeping in touch with the producer back at the station. And most importantly, keeping the flow of the game and the steady flow of commercials in sync.
“You don’t want it to seem like there’s a big advertising party going on and, oh yeah there’s a game, too,’’ Quick said. “Joe handles that really, really well.’’
McPeak’s first year was 1986 when Reese was “only’’ in his ninth season doing play-by-play and Walters, the All-Pro left tackle, was taking over color duties from former All-Pro linebacker Bill Bergey.
“It was all new to me,’’ McPeak, whose full-time job is the director of corporate sales and marketing at LaSalle, said. “I had never even been on a plane before.’’
After 32 years of flying all over the NFL landscape, McPeak still plays air traffic controller in the booth. And while only Quick has replaced Walters in that time, the production has changed quite a bit.
“It’s changed dramatically,” McPeak said. “When I first started, there were only 3 breaks per quarter. You didn’t have the drop-ins and the billboards and the features. Now, the coin toss is sponsored, time outs are sponsored, all kinds of things are sponsored. Sideline reporting is new. We never had any of that. Then we went from AM to FM that was a big change. It’s just much more of a production now.’’
“You don’t want to interrupt the flow of the game, or the flow between Merrill and Mike,’’ McPeak said. “But the sponsors want their commercials at a good time, too. I can read Merrill and now I’m able to read Mike as well. I can see the expressions on their face and know when they’re ready to elaborate. I’ll let them finish their thought, then I’ll get them the drop-in to read. Again, all that comes with being together for so long.’’
Reese, Quick and McPeak have been in the broadcast booth a combined 97 years. They stay together one more season after this one and it’s an even 100. That’s some staying power for any family.
“Yeah, we’re a little unique,’’ McPeak said. “In this business you don’t see people staying this long. But the career I have had would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Merrill. He believed that a 22-year-old intern had the potential to be successful in the broadcast field. I owe a great deal of gratitude to him. I’ve learned a lot from him not only in the broadcast industry but in life in general.’’
Joe McPeak is in his 33rd year as the producer for the Eagles radio broadcast. He shared some of the lighter and most memorable moments of his years.
“We were debating whether to send Stan (Walters) down to the sideline, thinking he might be able to see better from the field. We’re going off a 12-inch monitor and back then the signal wasn’t what it is today. Merrill and Stan kept their composure and called it the best they could. That was worse than a snowstorm. In the snow, it’s hard to see yard lines, but you could see the game. The fog you couldn’t see anything. It was just a crazy day.’’
“Stan was a great character. There are so many stories.
“Merrill always wants the window open in the press box. We’re coming back from somewhere and we’re in Green Bay the next week and it’s December. Stan says to Merrill, ‘We’re in Green Bay next week, we’re closing that window.’ And Merrill says ‘Stanley, if the window is closed it’s like doing the game from my living room. I need it open to get a feel for the game. And Stan says ‘You want a feel for the game? Come over here and I’ll slap you around, you’ll get a feel for the game.’
“Later that year, late December, and the window is open. I brought a baseboard heater to the game, plugged it in and it was positioned right behind Stan to keep him warm.
“Another time we’re playing the Cowboys at home, and all the calls in the first half are going to the Cowboys. Stan says on the air, ‘Tex Schram (Dallas’ GM) has the officials in his pocket.’ I turn to the right, and Tex is looking at me and pointing at Stan and has his pockets turned inside out.’’
“Stan was a chain smoker and back then you could smoke in the booth. Stan would smoke his cigarettes. Merrill would have a cigar, or his pipe. We’re in Indianapolis and getting ready to go on the air and we smell something. We’re looking around and there’s a trash can in the back of the booth on fire. Stan threw a cigarette butt he thought was out into the trash and it started a fire.’’
“It’s a preseason game in Atlanta and, during the game, Stan turns to me and says, ‘Joe, get me a Coke.’ I tell him I can’t leave the booth in case something happens. So, he says, ‘Fine, I’ll get it myself.’ He leaves the booth and Merrill is doing the game by himself. Time goes by and finally he comes back during a break and says, ‘Joe next time I ask you to get me a Coke, get me a Coke.’ I look at him and I say ‘Hey, Stan while you were away, they tell me the ratings went up in the last 5 minutes.’ He says, ‘Good, let’s see how high they can go.’ And he left for another five minutes.’’ Merrill says to me, ‘Next time, just make sure he has his Coke.’ We saw Stan last year for his birthday and we still laugh about that.’’
“We’re in Pittsburgh and we come back from a break early and we’re at the end of the national anthem. Of course, Merrill wants the name of the people performing the national anthem. So, I lean over to Jack (Edelstein, the booth statistician and famous joker) and ask him who performed the national anthem. He writes it down and I hand the piece of paper to Merrill. And he reads on the air ‘The national anthem here at Three Rivers Stadium was just performed by the Pennsylvania Home for the Criminally Insane Glee Club.’ And Merrill doesn’t realize what he said until after he said it. Ever since then, I read everything before I give it to Merrill.’’