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'A Tribute to Frank' on his last day on the air

Wednesday - 3/31/2010, 1:41pm  ET

frank_herzog
Frank Herzog signed off for the final time Wednesday morning on WTOP. (Photo courtesy of Channel 9)

WASHINGTON - A Washington legend spoke his final words on the air Wednesday after 41 years in broadcasting. Frank Herzog, the longtime voice of the Redskins and WTOP anchor, has officially turned off the microphone.

The following is a tribute to Frank from WTOP's Shawn Anderson:

Shawn Anderson, wtop.com

Frank Herzog has pulled a Johnny Carson. I can pay him no greater tribute.

Over the course of four decades, Carson was a true presence in our culture. With grace, intelligence, and a sharp wit, he brightened our lives on a daily basis. He never embarrassed a guest, or himself. He made stars out of many of the people he worked with. And when the time came to walk away, Carson was at the top of his game, at the top of the ratings, and no one in his audience wanted him to go.

Substitute Frank Herzog for Carson's name, and you have the same story.

Frank's accomplishments in his 41-year career are well-documented. There have been just four major professional sports championships celebrated in this city in the past 32 years, and Frank was behind the radio microphone for all of them. He told us it was time for the "fat lady to sing" when the Bullets won the NBA title in '78. "Sonny, Sam and Frank" became as much a part of Redskins history as Gibbs, Riggo and Monk. He worked with and competed against the titans of Washington TV sports - Warner Wolf, Glenn Brenner and George Michael. He mentored James Brown, who's become a superstar.

Yes, Frank was blessed with good timing. But it was how he did his job that cemented his legend.

When Frank was teamed up with Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff in the Redskins radio booth at the beginning of the Joe Gibbs era, the idea was not just to air a game on the radio, but to create an event. Fans were used to a three-person booth while watching Monday Night Football, and the grand experiment was to conjure up the same kind of magic on the local level.

But for Sonny, Sam and Frank to work, you had to break all the rules of football broadcasting. With two Pro Football Hall of Famers with big personalities and strong opinions jostling to get their points (and their jabs) across in the limited time between plays, there was potential for chaos and disaster.

Frank's genius was in managing the chaos. He sacrificed his ego for the sake of the team. Frank's game-calling was, by design, spare and succinct, while he set up his two partners so well that you always got an equal back and forth between Sonny and Sam. Even his signature call -- "Touchdown, Washington Redskins!" -- was born out of his respect for teamwork. The result was as intended - three very knowledgeable guys broadcasting a Redskins game as if they were your friends sitting in your living room watching it on TV with you.

Sonny and Sam provided the celebrity, but it was Frank who created the event.

As much admiration as I have for Frank's TV and Redskins radio work, it's how he's handled the past few years of his career that's earned my undying respect.

Back in 2004, Frank was dealt a severe double-blow. Within the space of a few months, he was let go by Channel 9 and then told he wouldn't be back as the Redskins play-by-play man. The Channel 9 setback was about money. However, no one has ever truly explained why "Sonny, Sam and Frank" were broken up.

So Frank came back to the place where he started his career in 1969, WTOP, and became a news anchor again. The learning curve at WTOP is very steep, and anchors have to learn to do things that take four or five people in TV. Frank was no diva. He dove in with the energy of a kid out of college. He was a font of story ideas. He only worked a couple days a week and some vacation fill-in, but his impact was the same as someone who was here every day.

The surest way to success in broadcasting is to "be yourself" on the air. Frank is as close to "himself" on the air as any person I ever worked with. The funny, friendly guy you listen to on the radio is the same guy I talk to in the newsroom. WTOP's Vice President of News and Programming Jim Farley likes to call him "The King of Empathy." He uses Frank as an example to those starting out in the business as someone to emulate because of his ability to simply have a conversation with you through the radio.

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