Radio Announcer: 1929-46
One of pro football’s pioneer announcers, Winnie was the voice of the Packers when their games were first broadcast on radio and helped build the team’s vast statewide fan base. Thanks to his untamed exuberance and dramatic flair, Winnie turned many of his listeners into fiercely loyal, lifelong Packers fans. Although this was before anyone could watch the games on television, Winnie’s captivating play-by-plays painted images almost vivid enough to seem real.
Winnie worked for WTMJ radio station in Milwaukee during the 18 seasons he broadcast Packers games. During that period, the Packers won their first six NFL championships, all under Curly Lambeau. In fact, the Packers won their first title in 1929, the same year Winnie first called their games.
In 1938, he wrote in a Milwaukee Journal story that he broadcast his first Packers game on Nov. 3, 1929, when they played the Minneapolis Red Jackets on the road. Winnie also wrote that he broadcast the Packers’ late-season games on their Eastern road trip that year highlighted by their pivotal victory over the New York Giants. However, he said he did so from a studio, not a press box, reconstructing the games from reports he received by telegraph.
Winnie’s biggest thrill, he often said, was calling the Packers’ last-minute, 17-14 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears from Wrigley Field in 1935.
Winnie was so popular with Packers fans, it wasn’t unusual for him to receive extended ovations, not unlike those given to the players, when he was introduced with them publicly. When the Packers were toasted with a banquet in Green Bay after winning the 1936 NFL title against the Boston Redskins, Winnie spoke to the crowd and re-enacted his call of the Packers’ first touchdown, a 48-yard Arnie Herber to Don Hutson pass. John Walter of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wrote the next day “the audience rocked with pleasure.”
While broadcast booths were generally one-man shows in Winnie’s time, he had a spotter he called “George,” who was at his side during the last 14 years of his broadcasts. George was Winnie’s wife, Evelyn, and the nickname was one he gave her when they were college sweethearts. Interestingly, women weren’t welcome in the press box when “George” was accompanying her husband to the games, but she got away with it anyway.
“As one of the founders of the Packers, although only remotely connected with them at this time, I would like to testify to the great value your broadcasts of the Packer games were in stimulating interest and building up attendance during those early trying days,” Dr. W.W. Kelly, former president of the Packers and one of the members of the franchise’s original executive committee, wrote to Winnie shortly after his retirement as an announcer. “Your contribution to our success in your personal interest and encouragement of the individual players must never be forgotten.”
Winnie stepped away from the microphone on Dec. 28, 1946, roughly a year-and-a-half after becoming station manager of WTMJ. He continued to work for the radio station and subsequently WTMJ-TV in an administrative capacity until his death. In addition to broadcasting Packers games, Winnie was the voice of the University of Wisconsin football and basketball teams for 16 years and the Triple A Milwaukee Brewers for six years. He also broadcast a six-day-a-week sports show called “Sports Flash” for 18 years.
Born Aug. 17, 1906, in Racine, Wis., although he grew up in Milwaukee. Given name Russell Griffith Winnie. Died March 30, 1956, at age 49.
- By Cliff Christl