By MARK HARTSELL
On March 9, 2011, the Library of Congress announced its acquisition of John Miley’s vast collection of sports broadcast recordings made prior to 1972. The Miley Collection represents the largest and most significant collection of sports broadcasts in America. The recordings will join the vast collections housed at the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va. The materials will be cataloged, digitally preserved and made available to the public in the Library’s reading rooms on Capitol Hill, and on its website.
Deanna Marcum, head of Library Services, wasted no time. She read the story, put down the newspaper, picked up the phone, dialed 411, got a number and placed a call.
An Indiana man, according to a story in the New York Times, had amassed in his basement a huge collection of historic sports broadcasts and wanted to find it a permanent home.
Robert Dizard Jr., then deputy of Library Services and now the Library’s chief of staff, had seen the Times article one Sunday in late 2006 and told Marcum the Library should take a look at the collection.
“I picked up the phone as soon as I read it,” says Marcum. “I thought, ‘Well, by now it’s Monday. He’s probably had hundreds of calls.’ But as it turns out, I think one other person called on Monday. We were right there at the beginning.”
And, four years later, right there at the end.
The recordings provide the soundtrack to a lifetime of history-making moments: the final game of the Brooklyn Dodgers; the fourth quarter of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance in 1962; the heavyweight title fights between Joe Louis and Billy Conn; the Babe-besting 61st home run hit by Roger Maris in 1961.
The collection also offers a hall of fame of the greatest sportscasters ever to grace the airwaves: Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ted Husing, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully and Bill Stern, among others.
“The Miley Collection of sports broadcasts perfectly complements the Library’s broadcast holdings,” says Matthew Barton, curator of Recorded Sound at the Library.
“It’s a wonderful collection of the best in sports, professional and amateur, local and national, and also a rich and worthy tribute to the sports announcer’s art.”
Miley grew up in Southern California and, later, Evansville, where his dad worked for an oil company. “He was an old-time petroleum guy,” says Miley, now 80. “He knew how to find oil.”
Miley always loved to listen to sports on the radio. He sprawled on the living room floor, following crackly, barely audible broadcasts of games tuned in from far-away stations.
“Are you listening to static?” his mother would ask.
In 1947, his parents gave him a wire recorder, and he began to record broadcasts—though he had no plans to build a collection.
“I began recording things not with the idea that I was going to save them,” he says. “I thought I might just want to listen to them again tomorrow or the next day. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden in 1962 I began in earnest to save.”
That year, Miley, who earned a degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma, found himself in West Texas working for Gulf Oil.
Miley secretly always wanted to be the guy talking into the mike, not the guy listening. So he volunteered for KECK radio in Odessa to provide—free of charge—play-by-play of basketball games at Permian High School, the school made famous decades later by the book and movie “Friday Night Lights.”
His wife, Carole, taped his broadcasts, which he saved. “That led me to begin to save other things,” he says.
A collection was born.
Miley, working largely by himself, slowly built his collection, taping games, purchasing recordings, making trades, getting broadcasts from the archives of leagues and networks.
The collection got a big boost in 1977, the accidental beneficiary of a bit of misreporting in a story about Miley in The Sporting News.
The writer concluded the piece by providing contact information for readers interested in joining the John Miley tape network. The John Miley what?
“I didn’t know I had a tape network,” Miley says.
He did now.
Miley got offers of help from around the country from kindred spirits armed with tape recorders and a love of sports radio.
If Miley wanted someone to record a broadcast of, say, a Dodgers game on the West Coast, he could call on a newfound colleague and provide him with tapes, envelopes and postage.
“I developed a tape network in 1978 that really spurred my collection on to much greater heights,” he says. “It just multiplied unbelievably.”
Miley also made important purchases.
He and a friend once drove 950 miles from Evansville to Schenectady, N.Y., and returned home pulling a trailer filled with 2,500 7-inch boxes of tapes preserving some of sports history’s greatest moments—Maris’ homer, Jim Bunning’s perfect game, every World Series game from 1957 to 1979.
The haul included a meaningless mid-September contest between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in 1966—the significance of which wasn’t apparent until years after the record button was pushed.
“There was nothing in the game, I would have thought, to save,” Miley says. Except, it turned out, the first major league strikeout by a pitcher named Nolan Ryan, who went on to throw more no-hitters and strike out more batters than anyone in major league history.
Miley’s collection gradually took over the basement—to the chagrin of Carole, who wasn’t pleased to lose such a large part of the house.
Eventually, they came to an understanding: He got the downstairs for his tape collection, she got the upstairs for her doll collection.
“We evened it out,” he says.
In 1990, Miley founded a company,
The Miley Collection, to sell CDs of
his tapes. His children, John III and
Karen, weren’t interested in the business,
and Miley eventually began to
think about a permanent residence for
the collection he spent so many years
“Before I pass away,” he told the Times in 2006, “I need to find the proper home for my collection.”
Dizard, then Marcum, read that line, setting off a chain of events that ended with a large part of Miley’s collection moving permanently from a basement in Evansville to another underground home in a renovated bunker in Culpeper, Va.
Marcum was scheduled to visit her sister in Evansville in a couple of weeks anyway, so she soon found herself walking down the steps to Miley’s basement.
She was impressed. The collection was stored in filing cabinets in a temperature- controlled room and, better still, was meticulously organized: Miley had paid a computer programmer to create an indexing system.
“Usually we go into a place and it’s just chaos,” Marcum says. “The collection is there, but it’s all in the collector’s head. This was beautifully organized.”
Now, Marcum is no sports fan. She has not, she says, ever really watched a sporting event—not one at-bat of the World Series, not one hole of the Masters, not one minute of The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports, the Kentucky Derby.
But she sensed the significance of Miley’s collection. After she returned to Washington, she dispatched David Kelly, the sports curator in the Main Reading Room, to Evansville to conduct a more thorough survey.
“Dave came back just raving about the collection,” she says.
Other parties—Major League Baseball, Bradley University—also were interested, and Marcum sensed over the course of time that Miley wasn’t quite ready to part with his collection.
So she stayed in touch, and in 2007 Miley came to tour the Library. “John just had a great day. He just loved it,” Marcum says.
More time went by, and late in the 2010 fiscal year Marcum had funds available to make a purchase.
So Miley visited the Library again, this time touring the Packard Campus in Culpeper. The facilities wowed Miley, and he decided the Library would be the best home for his lifetime of work.
“There isn’t a word in the dictionary to describe how pleased I am,” he says.
Miley recently got a call from the daughter of Lefty Gomez, a Hall of Famer who pitched for the New York Yankees in the 1930s and ‘40s. She’s in her 70s and wanted to pass on to her children some examples of their grandfather at work.
Did Miley, she asked, have tapes of games in which her dad pitched?
“You could just hear her light up on the phone,” Miley says.
That, he says, illustrates perfectly why the Library is the right home for his collection.
“It just pleases me so much to do something like that,” Miley says. “That’s the main reason I like that the collection is going to the Library of Congress. Someday all of my stuff will be accessible on the Internet, and that just thrills me to death. Not only do I have a place for it forever, but I also have the ability to share it with other people.”
About the Collection
The Miley Collection includes more than 6,000 historic radio and television broadcast recordings of pre-1972 professional and amateur sporting events in every major area of athletic competition including Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Olympic events, Indy 500 auto races, Triple Crown horse races, boxing, golf, tennis, and college football, basketball and baseball. Spanning the years 1920 to 1972, the collection includes a complete collection of the Rose Bowl games since 1939, all seven games of the 1955 World Series and many rare moments in sports history.
In addition to documenting historic games, the archive is an audio gallery of the great sports announcers of the 20th century. The legendary voices of the past include Mel Allen, Red Barber, Harry Caray, Dizzy Dean, Don Dunphy, Red Grange, Ernie Harwell, Ted Husing, Clem McCarthy, Lindsey Nelson, Vin Scully, Bill Stern and Bob Wolff, among many others. There are also important nonsports events among the recordings. In addition, there are audio recordings of television programs for which the video has been lost.
With the acquisition of the John Miley Collection, the Library of Congress now will be able to ensure the archival preservation of a collection that substantially documents the historical record of the nation’s sports broadcast history prior to 1972, when sound recordings were not protected by federal copyright law.
Mark Hartsell is editor of the Gazette, the Library’s staff newsletter.