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A Day with Nick Charles
A Day with Nick Charles
Published by Swampy Meadows
A Day with Nick Charles

BEVERLY HILLS (MI) -- Longtime CNN Sports Tonight co-anchor Nick Charles passed away on Saturday at the too-young age of 64. The great Joe Posnanski made the world aware of Nick’s condition back in March with this post:


And Joe Pos eulogized Nick better than anyone else possibly could here:


Nick and his partner Fred Hickman basically created the daily sports news show of record with CNN Sports Tonight. Sure UD grad (and former CNN employee) Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann later redefined the milieu with their smartass humor on ESPN’s Sports Center, but Nick and Fred planted the flag first when Ted Turner launched CNN back in 1980.

On the air, Nick and Fred seemed like the kind of guys you would want to have a brewski (or several) with and talk sports. It was for that reason that I immediately thought of them when my friend Judy Hoffscher of Ketchum Advertising, the Program Chairman of the Pittsburgh Radio and TV Club called and asked if CNN would be willing to supply a speaker for their monthly meeting. Larry King had recently hosted Larry King Live from the Soldiers and Sailors Home in the Oakland section Pittsburgh (his Producer was a native), so we decided to go in a different direction and the PRTC was delighted to host Nick and Fred. As far as I know, there was to be no money involved, just plane fare and a free rubber chicken luncheon for their trouble.

On the appointed day I sat outside the Delta terminal at the new and improved Greater Pittsburgh Airport, waiting to ferry Fred and Nick to the PRTC luncheon “Dawntawn” as the Yinzers would say. The doors opened and out walked Nick.

No Fred.

Nick apologized profusely for his partner’s absence. I assured him that it would not be a problem. Nick continued to apologize all the way to the Golden Triangle. I finally convinced him not to worry, everything would be fine. In between mea culpas, Nick and I talked sports and he was as easy to chat with in person as he appeared to be on air. Nick loved boxing, so as we walked from the parking lot to the hotel where the luncheon was being held, the subject naturally turned to the great Muhammad Ali and the should-have-been-great Mike Tyson, both of whom Nick knew very well. What immediately struck me about Nick when I first met him was that he wasn’t much taller than me. With his broad shoulders and impeccably tailored suits, I figured Charles was at least six feet tall. Nope, he was maybe 5’8”.

When we entered the luncheon, Nick started in with the apologies once again. Judy assured him it was fine and that was the end of it. Nick was at ease meeting and greeting people, talking about Pittsburgh teams and players with many of them. The man knew how to work a room. When it was time for his speech, Nick was fantastic, regaling the crowd with stories from the world of sports and the characters he had met. It was over too soon as was the drive back to the airport so that Nick could catch his flight back to Hotlanta -- he had a show to do that night!

That’s it…a day with Nick Charles. But what a day!


The opportunity to meet a few celebs presented itself over the years at CNN. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like we got to hang out every night in the Green Room at Larry King Live, but it happened. Nick Charles was right up there with the late John Holliman as the most down-to-earth CNN personality that I encountered in my 10+ years working there. Immediately after the Gulf War in 1991, Holliman came to Detroit for a speaking engagement and spent the morning in the CNN Sales Office in the Renaissance Center. John was fascinated with the back room operation, something he had limited exposure to in the CNN Center in Atlanta and he kept asking the staff questions about what we did and how we sold the network. He was humble and genuinely interested in other people, despite the fact that he, Bernie Shaw and Peter Arnett were the three most recognized news people on the planet at that point in time.

Larry King might have the biggest head in show business (literally, his squash is huuuge!) but he, like Nick Charles, really knew how to work a room. The kickoff luncheon for the Adcraft Club in Detroit every year is Ford Day and normally featured one of the Big Three TV Network’s Nightly News anchors. That changed after the pompous Canadian Peter Jennings of ABC News actually admitted to the crowd that he preferred to drive a foreign car because they were better, immediately ****ing-off the sponsors of his appearance. The next year, the Adcraft Club broke with tradition and CNN’s own Larry King was the featured speaker. In his opening remarks, Larry pointed out to the audience that he drove a Lincoln and Ted Turner drove a Ford Taurus (both true), much to the delight of Gerry Donnelly, the Marketing Director of Ford who was seated next to King.

The absolute worst? Elsa Klensch, hands-down. Elsa had been hired to host a fashion show at the Troy Marriott, literally across the parking lot from the relocated CNN Sales Office. She was also to appear at a cocktail party that evening at the home of the organization’s President. Our office had nothing to do with all of this, but we figured it was a great opportunity to merchandise Elsa and her highly rated Style with Elsa Klensch program that aired weekends on CNN to our clients, so we bought two tables at the luncheon. Before the festivities began, I introduced myself to Elsa and she invited me to sit down right next to her. It seems that Elsa had encountered a problem with her room at the Troy Marriott the night before and planned to hit the highway immediately after her speech, skipping the cocktail party for which she had contracted. Elsa wanted yours truly to explain all of this to the President. I know when I am in over my head, so I immediately grabbed my boss and he got Elsa to agree to show up for the cocktail party for 30 minutes -- no longer -- and a limo would be waiting to whisk her to Detroit Metro and a plane back to the Big Apple.

The problem with her room?

The toilet had backed up!

Probably from when the stick she had up her butt fell out.

That’s it “From the Swamp.”
You can email me at: swampy@udpride.com
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By Chris R on 06-28-2011, 01:08 AM
Great anecdotes Swamp. Nick and Fred truly were the pioneers. About the only thing I can compare it to in the early sports days is Warner Wolf on Friday mornings and the Tom Mees days on ESPN.

I dont even count George Michael Sports Machine. All he got paid to do was push artificial buttons on an artificial computer to queue up highlights.
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By Figgie123 on 06-28-2011, 10:05 AM
Warner Wolf! New York CBS. "Let's go to the video tape!" Awesome.
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By Medford on 06-29-2011, 03:16 PM
I remember flipping back and forth b/w CNN & ESPN at 11:00 getting all the highlights, perhaps one would have the highlights you wanted to see early in the show, while the other carried it later and you got to see your favorite team twice, that truly was the hey day of the sports highlight show.

Now it seems every game is on TV, somewhere, highlights are readily available in an instant, the need to catch up w/ a highlight show has kind of passed. Sadly, ESPN hasn't given me much of a reason to turn it into "must see TV" each morning as well b/w the Budweiser Hot Seat, the "who's now" brackets, the presidential brackets, constant focus on the New York/LA/Boston markets, etc... Perhaps I'm just getting older, and didn't notice all the side stuff as a kid, but it just doesn't seem like that show is the same since CNN pulled the plug and fox has never been able to put up a solid competitor.
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