Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers may not know George Wasch’s name, but they are undoubtedly familiar with his work. Wasch was the original Executive Producer and Director of Blazers Broadcasting, from its inception in 1978 until his retirement in 2003. His career spanned the euphoria of post-championship Blazermania to the beginning of the Jail Blazers era, and everything in between. Through it all, his job was to bring the Blazers to your living room, and in the process, he helped build an operation that became the gold standard among NBA broadcasts.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Wasch to discuss his memories and the history of the Blazers Broadcasting empire he helped build.
The Trail Blazers were one of, if not the first professional sports teams to bring broadcasting completely in house. In the early years, from 1970 through the championship season of 1977, select games were shown on KPTV, with the team having no real control over the operations. Everything changed in 1978, when owner Larry Weinberg and General Manager Harry Glickman decided to do things differently, and chose Wasch to head the new venture that was Blazers Broadcasting.
Wasch knew the team’s front office, having worked with them during his time with KPTV. He started there in 1953, and was among the first employees of the station, the first in Portland, after returning home from a tour of military service in Korea. Television was in its infancy, and he found that training in the air force as a flight engineer helped familiarize him with the new medium. After years of producing content for the station which included the Portland Buckaroos, Portland Beavers, college football and basketball, and select Blazer games, he was approached by Glickman to lead the new project.
Weinberg and Glickman were interested in closed-circuit television, which Wasch was familiar with from his days at KPTV. The Blazers began showing home games at the old Paramount Theater, and it was a rousing success. Road games were broadcast on location, transmitted back to Portland on KPTV. Wasch and his crew traveled with the team and it was his job to get everything set up at opposing arenas—sometimes a difficulty. “In the early days, a lot of teams didn’t have very good production facilities,” he recalls. “We had TV mobile units in the back of a bread truck”. Eventually, all games, home and away, were broadcast live, first on KPTV, then KOIN and finally KGW, before the onset of cable.
Wasch worked closely with Glickman during those early years. When asked about his experiences working with the GM so closely, he noted, “Harry Glickman is just a fine man. He knew what was going on all the time and was very encouraging and very appreciative of everything we did. In addition to our broadcasts, we had some really good sponsorships, so we were delivering a lot of good revenue back to the company”.
Things turned up a notch when billionaire Paul Allen purchased the team in 1988. Of Allen, Wasch stated, “He wanted me to have all the stuff that would make it the best broadcast, and we were voted many times as having the best broadcast”. For Allen, that meant cutting the check, which he was not afraid to do. For George, having Allen on board was like “dying and going to heaven”.
Early in his ownership, Allen returned from a trip to Europe fascinated with a new camera angle he saw while watching a game overseas. The over-head angle is captured through a “Hot Shot” camera, which is placed under the scoreboard at center court. Allen approached Wasch about the new technology, probing, “If you had that could you put it to good use?” As George recalls, “That’s like asking me if I wanted a year’s supply of Hershey bars”.
Wasch did his research and found the distributor of such cameras in the states. However, there was a problem. The distributor only leased the cameras, they wouldn’t sell them. He relayed the news to Allen, who emphatically pronounced, “we don’t lease”. Undeterred, Wasch once again contacted the distributor, and was able to convince him to sell him the camera. When he informed Allen, the Blazers owner issued his edict: “go ahead and get it”. “It wasn’t any further than that,” said Wasch.
By the 1996 Olympics, another new technology arrived: remote controlled basket cameras. The maker of the new cameras contacted Wasch directly about adding them to his repertoire. Despite an effort to go through the proper channels at that time to get final approval (which did not include going through Allen directly), Wasch could never get a solid answer from the front office. However, during a visit to the control room before a game, Allen found himself in conversation with a representative of NBC, touring the facilities, and the NBC rep expressed surprise that the Blazers didn’t have basket cams. Allen, who wasn’t yet aware of the new technology, got the scoop from George and quickly decided that they were a necessity, telling him “get ‘em”, right there on the spot.
Wasch worked closely with many colorful figures over the years: every TV broadcaster from Jimmy Jones through Mike Barrett, including the legendary Bill Schonely and Mike Rice. He has nothing but fond memories of all those he worked with...even the players, who he told me were always very accepting of the job he and his crew had to do, and were more than willing to help out in order to help make Blazers Broadcasting what it was and continues to be to this day.
George Wasch laid the foundation of what became a nationally-recognized model of success in the broadcasting community. While he himself may not have achieved mainstream stardom, working on the other side of the camera, there’s no doubt that everyone involved was able to thrive because of his hard work, talent, and vision.