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Looking back at 75 years covering Columbus sports at NBC4

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Simply stated, Columbus loves sports. We’ve watched Columbus grow from a college town into a professional, championship city.

The story of NBC4’s sports department starts simply with one man: Jimmy Crum.

Nothing about James W. Crum was subtle. He joined WLWC-TV in 1954, just a few years after this station became the first to broadcast an Ohio State football game live from Ohio Stadium.

Celebrating 75 years of Local 4 You at NBC4

Crum did it all, from his boisterous sport coats to his bold commentaries. As the sports director at WLWC, which later became WCMH, Crum personified the golden era of local television. He called Ohio State basketball games during the 1960 national championship run and interviewed virtually every sports star of note, including Bobby Knight.

Most importantly, Crum helped raise more than $20 million for Easter seals and other charities. In the 1960s, he co-founded Recreation Unlimited, a summer camp for people with developmental disabilities.

After more than 40 years in his role, Crum retired in 1994, paving the way for award-winning broadcasters like Doug Lessells and Dave Maetzold to take the reins.

“Much like you don’t replace a Woody Hayes, you follow Woody Hayes,” Lessells said. “You don’t replace a Jimmy Crum, you follow him. But I was very excited and I look back on it and it was one of my greatest memories in this business.”

NBC4 was there for stories like the rise of Columbus native and world boxing champion Buster Douglas. We tracked the remarkable career of Columbus’ own Jack Nicklaus, including the growth of his Memorial Tournament into a PGA Tour staple. Logan’s Katie Smith became the all-time scoring leader in women’s professional basketball history.

The city’s growth is also reflected in the rise of the Columbus Crew in 1996, followed soon after by the Blue Jackets. While the Jackets have struggled over a quarter century, the Crew has been a mainstay in American soccer, winning their third MLS Cup last December.

With its familiar music, Football Friday Nite and NBC4’s passion for high school sports has produced cutting-edge coverage for decades.

“I mean that theme song. It took a life of its own,” Lessells said.

“Bands wanted to play it. It was really an iconic part of central Ohio Friday nights,” Maetzold added.

Perhaps the biggest star of FFN was Athens’ Joe Burrow, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 2019 and is now the Bengals’ prized quarterback.

“If you ask anybody about Columbus, Ohio and sports, with all due respect to the Blue Jackets and the Columbus Crew, it’s still Ohio State football,” Maetzold said.

Hopalong, Woddy, Archie, Eddie. Their names lead the hundreds of stars who’ve graced Ohio Stadium and our airwaves. NBC4 has covered the championship highs and the high-profile setbacks. Every fall, it’s one of the most followed storylines of the year in Central Ohio.

And today, the NBC4 sports team is as strong as ever. In fact, current sports director Joe Nugent might have been destined for this. When he was seven years old, he met the man whose job he’d later occupy.

“We hope that you’ll continue to enjoy Channel 4. I’ve been blessed to be in the right spot at the right spot,” Crum said in his final sign-off. “A great station and a great staff and to be in one of the greatest cities in the United States – Columbus, Ohio. Thank you Columbus. We love you.”

You can watch Jerod Smalley’s look back at NBC4’s 75-year history of covering sports in Central Ohio below:

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