In the final installment of a two-part series on the Los Angeles Kings first play-by-play announcer, Jiggs McDonald, who will fill in for the legendary Bob Miller on tonight’s Fox Sports West telecast when the Kings skate at the BB&T Center against the Florida Panthers, McDonald shared his thoughts on how hockey has changed since 1967, and more on what it was like to work for the Kings first owner Jack Kent Cooke. He also talked about his career after leaving the Kings, and about filling in for Miller.
LOS ANGELES — More than fifty years after he broadcast the first Los Angeles Kings game, Hockey Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer John Kenneth “Jiggs” McDonald will call one more when the Kings skate into the BB&T Center on February 9 to face the Florida Panthers, filling in for another Hall of Famer, the legendary Bob Miller, who is working a reduced schedule this year after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery last season and more recently, suffering a mild stroke during the 2017 NHL All-Star weekend.
During the Kings celebration of their 50th Anniversary last October, McDonald spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty about his time with the Kings, which you can read in part 1 of this series. In the second and final segment, he also shared his thoughts about how things have changed in the National Hockey League over the last 50 years, about his career after he left Los Angeles, and about returning to the Kings broadcast booth for one more game.
To be sure, hockey has changed rather dramatically over the years, and, as one would reasonably expect, over the course of fifty years, there has been a great deal of change in every aspect of the game, both on the ice and off.
McDonald lamented the fact that a lot of the changes have made the jobs that broadcasters do, not to mention other members of the media, a lot more difficult.
“[Fifty years ago], you could walk into the dressing room and sit down and talk to a player,” he said. “You could also do that in the hotel lobby, on the bus, after practice, with a tape recorder in your hand or not. Nowadays, if you’re in a hotel lobby, a player might walk up to you and say, ‘hey, good to see you,’ and you start to talk about whatever. Immediately, [the team’s public/media relations staff] will come up and ask, ‘what are you doing? You didn’t ask me about talking to him. It wasn’t OK’d. It wasn’t cleared. What did you talk about?’”
“If I wanted to talk to a player today, I’d have to go through [the team’s media/public relations department] in order to make sure I had the go-ahead to talk to that individual,” he added.
Indeed, much has changed in the NHL and the Kings are no exception.
“It was a great era, an altogether different era,” said McDonald. “I’m looking at the current [Kings media guide]. There’s page after page of people who work for the organization. We had one coach, Red Kelly, an equipment guy and a trainer. We had a secretary who handled both [general manager] Larry Regan and Red Kelly’s work. We had one guy and a secretary in public relations and that was it.”
“Game presentation? There was no such thing, except that there was an organist who knew that when the whistle blew, he was to play ‘Go Kings Go,’ [and John Ramsey, the public address announcer],” added McDonald. “But there weren’t commercials and television timeouts or the kind of scoreboards we have now. It was an entirely different entertainment experience. Game presentation, or whatever you want to call it, just didn’t exist back then.”
The game itself is also dramatically different.
“Other than the fact that the game is still played on ice, a 200-by-80 foot surface, the size and weight of the puck, the height and width of the goals—all that’s the same,” McDonald noted. “But from there, every piece of equipment, from helmets to the skates, to the way skates are sharpened, progress from the old, wooden sticks to what they have in their hands today—the tour of the dressing room and the equipment room [at Staples Center] opened a lot of eyes. ‘Wait a minute! They do what?! They’ve got this for video?’”
“They’ve got every accommodation,” McDonald added. “It’s all about making sure the player is comfortable. But not only the player. His wife and family are accommodated and comfortable. If the players’ have happy wives and kids, you should have a productive hockey team.”
As reported in part 1 of this series, after five years broadcasting Kings games, McDonald worked behind the mic for the Atlanta Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Florida Panthers. He also worked three Olympic Winter Games and for Sports Channel America. He also did play-by-play for Major League Baseball’s New York Mets. But he is best known for his 13 seasons doing play-by-play for the New York Islanders, who won three Stanley Cup Championships with McDonald behind the mic.
McDonald recalled getting the job with the Kings.
“I’ve told a lot of people over the years that I got the job because I worked cheap, but I couldn’t have been more surprised or thrilled when I got the call from Jack Kent Cooke, [the Kings’ first owner], that the job was mine after a long process in choosing me out of some 120 applicants.”
“The move to Los Angeles paid off for me, not here, but in other markets,” he added. “It would’ve been nice to stay here but that wasn’t to be.”
While he was thrilled to be hired by Cooke, McDonald was not so thrilled with the way he was treated by him.
“There was the interference [from Cooke]—the way he wanted the broadcasts to be,” he said. “Let’s just say that they didn’t have to be totally factual regarding what was going on. We were still trying to sell tickets and I wasn’t happy with the approach that he was looking for.”
“But what it came right down to was dollars and cents,” he added. “I had a number in mind and I knew what [Los Angeles Lakers legendary broadcaster] Chick Hearn was making. I knew that I wasn’t Chick Hearn and I knew that it wasn’t the basketball team I was doing. But I felt that a hockey broadcaster, in this market, should be making a little bit more than he was offering, and I knew what other broadcasters were making in smaller markets.”
McDonald decided that he had to stand up for himself.
“I thought that I had established myself after five seasons and that I should be in a certain category,” he noted. “He disagreed, so I resigned. He made what he called his ‘firm and final offer.’ But then he scolded me for not giving him the opportunity to talk to the sponsor, Atlantic Richfield (now Arco).”
“It turns out that Atlantic Richfield was paying 6/7ths of my salary, 6/7ths of my per diem, 6/7ths of my hotel rooms, travel, and we flew commercial [flights],” he added. “But he gave me what he said was his firm and final offer, so I took him at his word and said, ‘no thanks.’”
The next stop for McDonald was the Atlanta Flames (now the Calgary Flames).
“The opportunity to move to Atlanta came along with an expansion team,” he said. “They were closer to home, closer to family back in Ontario, and it was a whole new start. But it was the same thing: going to another market where I had to do missionary work on behalf of the game of hockey and the National Hockey League [as he did with the Kings].”
After 37 years behind the mic, McDonald retired…sort of.
“I retired in 2004,” he said. “Going into the lockout, I could see the freight train coming down the tracks. I was at that age, and I didn’t need to sit around for a whole year, wondering if I was going back to work. My contract was up with the Panthers, so it was the perfect time to pull the plug. I had a year to cut the cord.”
“I sat out the year, but when they started up again in 2006, I got a call from MSG [in New York],” he added. “Howie Rose did Mets radio, and he also did Islanders television. That’s a pretty full year. The Mets were going to the playoffs and [the Islanders] needed a guy to start the hockey season for them. They also had a new analyst in the booth, in the person of Billy Jaffe. They asked if I knew Billy and if I would be comfortable starting the season. I said, ‘yes, I think I can do that.’”
“I’m not exactly sure how many games I did, but the night that the Mets lost to the Cardinals, I was in the car, on my way to Florida the next morning. That was it. But at the end of the season, the Islanders weren’t going anywhere, as far as the playoffs were concerned, and the Mets were starting the next season, so Howie missed another two or three games, at that point. He thought, ‘I’ll go over to baseball early,’ and it turned out that his contract was up at the end of the hockey season, as well.”
Indeed, McDonald isn’t quite retired just yet. Not with one more game to broadcast tonight, anyway, and even he alluded to the fact that he might not be able to resist if another team comes calling sometime down the road.
“It was Howie’s idea to put me in the booth,” he noted. “He always said that it was my chair and always would be, but I said that I was keeping his chair warm. He replied, ‘no, I’m keeping your chair warm.’ He was the one who was the big proponent of me doing the games he couldn’t do, and when his contract was up, he said that it worked well. That’s gone on [for awhile], and we got into the situation this year with the Mets getting into the playoffs. I ended up I doing 23 games last year.”
“At the end of hockey season, Howie decided that he would give up hockey,” he added. “MSG hired Brendan Burke. I’ll do one Islanders game in January (the Islanders honored him prior to that game), and then the Kings game, and I suspect that’ll be it.”
Speaking of that game, McDonald said that the Kings contacted him about filling in for Miller a few weeks before the season started.
“It was just a quick question, if I was interested in doing a game,” he recalled. “The idea was that I had done the games in the first season and now, to do one in the 50th season. That would be nice.”
McDonald emphasized that he is honored to have been asked to broadcast a Kings game again. But he also pointed out that it is much more than an honor. It’s a real job.
“I’m going to approach it as if it was the first game of a new career,” he said. “It’s not just an honorary thing, stepping in and not knowing who the players are, or what’s going on on the ice, or across the league. I’ll be prepared. You don’t just show up and do the game. You’d better be prepared.”
Spoken like a true Hall of Famer.
LEAD PHOTO: The Los Angeles Kings first play-by-play announcer, Jiggs McDonald. Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein. Courtesy Los Angeles Kings/NHL.
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