BANGOR, Maine — George Hale missed just one University of Maine football game this season, even though he didn’t man his usual spot in the broadcast booth.
“The one I missed was because my granddaughter got married. She refused to move the wedding [date],” joked Hale, who began his relationship with the University of Maine in the 1950s.
Hale was the radio play-by-play man for the Black Bear football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball teams at different times throughout his career and he also handled television play-by-play chores from time to time.
Hale has also broadcast countless high school games while affecting thousands of lives.
“I was standing in the Sea Dog one day and this girl came flying down from the back and gave me a big hug,” said Hale. “I had no idea who she was. She was around 25. She told me she’s wanted to give me a hug for so many years because when she played in the basketball tournament, I said such nice things about her. It’s fun to run into people who played years ago and who come up to talk to you. And I got a free hug out of it.”
Because WABI-TV Channel 5 (CBS) lost the UMaine broadcasting rights to WVII Channel 7 (ABC), the charismatic Hale had to miss out, as a broadcaster, on Maine’s first-ever outright Colonial Athletic Association championship, which earned the Black Bears their first home Football Championship Subdivision playoff game.
He admitted that he misses broadcasting the games with color analyst Walt Abbott but he has taken it in stride.
“You do miss it to a degree. But the reality of the situation in this business is that there are young people coming along who are doing good things. I’m happy for them. I’ve done my thing. I don’t dwell on it,” said Hale.
The 82-year-old Hale still keeps his hands in sports while also sharing the microphone with Ric Tyler on the George Hale/Ric Tyler talk radio show on WVOM 103.9 FM every weekday morning from 6 to 9 a.m.
Every Friday at 5:45 p.m., Hale offers a sports commentary on WABI-TV 5.
“I enjoy doing it. It’s probably the last horse out of the barn. I pick a subject that maybe nobody else is doing. Something I think I might know something about although that’s debatable at times,” he quipped.
“I’ll do that as long as they want me to do it. It’s fun for me,” said Hale.
Hale’s remarkable 60-year career in broadcasting has provided him with a lengthy list of highlights.
He has been behind the microphone at seven College World Series and the 1965 Tangerine Bowl football game in Orlando, Fla., between Maine and East Carolina.
“The College World Series were fantastic,” said Hale. “The Tangerine Bowl always sticks out in my mind.”
He exercises four or five times a week and is happy to be working these days, especially in light of his recent health issues.
He had a surgical procedure in November 2012 and had hoped to be back at work before Jan. 1, 2013.
But he contracted a blood infection that “ravaged me” and left him wondering “if I would make it back out or not.
“I was in two hospitals and three rehab centers between November and February,” said Hale, who eventually returned to work in April. He said he feels great now but will be on antibiotics for the rest of his life.
“He scared the daylights out of us. We thought we might lose him,” said Tyler.
“We held the seat open for him,” said Bruce Biette, the vice president and chief operating officer of Blueberry Broadcasting, which owns WVOM-FM.
Hale, who is in several halls of fame, said serving as the chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Board and the Maine Harness Race Commission has been extremely beneficial for his gig with Tyler.
“Being in Augusta all those years gave me real good insight into how government works,” said Hale. “By talking to senators and representatives, I know where they’re coming from and how they submit and advertise their bills.”
Tyler and Hale have the utmost respect for one another, although they have their share of on-air disagreements.
“Ric is a real pro,” said Hale. “We have these fake battles. At least I think they’re fake. It’s a lot of fun.”
“It’s more than a pleasure to work with him, it’s a privilege,” said Tyler. “He could have run off to a bigger market like a lot of talented people do. But something kept him in Maine and we’re all better for it. We’re lucky we have him.”
Biette said Hale is an “institution in the market. He has seen a lot and has perspective. He’s also a prince of a guy with a great sense of humor and a delight to have around.”
Hale loves what he does and has no plans to retire any time soon.
“As long as somebody asks me to do it, listeners respond to us and I’m healthy, I’m going to keep going,” said Hale.