Thanksgiving Throwback: 1921 A&M v. UT College Football Radio Broadcasting Game Launch


From three yards and a cloud of offensive high-octane dust, from manual dashboards in skating fields to 160-foot jumbotrons in football cathedrals, and from leathers to state-of-the-art polycarbonate helmets technology – football has changed dramatically since the first game between Rutgers and New Jersey four years after Lee surrendered at the Appomattox courthouse.

And Texas, the football-obsessed state that it is, can claim one of the game’s greatest innovations: radio broadcasting.

In the early 1910s, an employee of the Texas Fiscal Agency built facilities at each university designed to teach radio transmission to engineering students.

At the University of Texas, this evolved into brief broadcasts of weather and crop reports. The man behind the shows, physics professor Leroy Brown, built his own equipment and, in 1917, taught the university’s first radio-focused course. Similar developments have taken place at College Station.

At the start of World War I, this UT-Austin equipment was used for more critical purposes.

The ability to convey a message, almost instantly, was a revolutionary innovation for mankind and a boon for the American way of life – well, for everyone except for the once titanic messaging industry whose modern iteration is the United States Postal Service.

Before radio it was telegraph and Morse code, and after that it is, of course, television and the Internet.

But in radio, these two Texan universities were at the forefront of media development and experimentation.

It turns out that the opportunity for experimentation presented itself on the grill.

A year and a half before President Calvin Coolidge gave the first nationally broadcast State of the Union address, the legendary rivalry between the University of Texas and Texas A&M University provided the first introduction of the revolutionary communication method.

In 1921, Berry Whitaker’s Longhorns faced off against Dana X. Bible’s Aggies – who start the 12e Man tradition a year later – for the first place in the Southwestern Conference on Thanksgiving Day. The year before, UT went 9-0 and beat every team they faced except in their 7-3 win over A&M.

But what would be the peculiarity of the game, the broadcast, was originally intended simply to convey the final score. Instead, human ingenuity has taken root.

Schedule for the 1921 Aggies-Longhorn Thanksgiving Day football game (Beverly Alford)

Bible, who would later coach the Longhorns 16 years later, and a student, Harry Saunders, assigned abbreviations to all possible game scenarios. These abbreviations were then relayed by WA Tolson, Frank Matejka and a group of others to several radio stations via Morse code, which would then announce in-game action, albeit slightly delayed, via the relay station system. amateur.

And so was born the first radio broadcast of a football match.

Prior to the 1921 rivalry match, UT had lost just one game – a 20-0 beating at the hands of Vanderbilt – and A&M lost one to Louisiana State University and tied Rice. With the tight finish from the previous year, another nail bite was on the horizon.

In the end, one can imagine the broadcaster horribly relaying the final score by saying: “As God is my witness… I thought someone would score a point.

The contest, aptly positioned as the last game of the season, ended in a 0-0 knockout draw, dragging and burning the barn. Today’s Big 12 fans – used to the reverse problem of fenders so porous they make the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush look like Ellis Island – could not stand.

Indeed, the most notable thing to come out of this game was radio and play-by-play broadcasting.

Maybe even a straight line can be drawn slightly between the Thanksgiving Texas v. A&M of 1921 and WKRP’s infamous turkey execution. After all, both were broadcast on the radio.

With the tie, A&M supplanted UT as the Southwestern Conference champion, then defeated Center College of Danville Praying Colonels in the Dixie Classic, the precursor to the Cotton Bowl.

For decades football and radio have been closely linked. College football Saturdays wouldn’t be complete without fans from any team marching to Mecca to their respective football temples, lulled to the sounds of pre-game talk shows on portable radios.

And the radio wouldn’t be complete without the captivating verbal transmission of a team’s methodical yet effective march on the pitch for a winning touchdown.

A match made in heaven – well, made in heaven Aggie: Kyle Field.

But it takes two to tango and this momentous achievement would not have been possible without their formidable rivals, the Longhorns. Both deserve thanks for their role in changing the game that has captivated millions of people, whether from the stands, their couches or their cars.

Special thanks to the Texas State Historical Association for providing information on this achievement.