The Long Count Broadcast Surfaces

By The Fight Film Collector on January 30, 2019
The Long Count Broadcast Surfaces
Graham McNamee announced both the 1926 and 1927 Tunney-Dempsey fights for NBC.

The matching radio call with the Long Count film is no revelation, but it offers a fresh perspective—to both see, and hear, the highlight of this classic fight…

Gene Tunney vs. Jack Dempsey II
Solders Field, Chicago
September 22, 1927
Graham McNamee NBC

Film & Broadcast Sync

“The legendary battle of the Long Count between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney had been recounted and retold during many intellectual debates, heated arguments and bar fights for nearly a century. Motion pictures of the knockdown dramatically captured the famous seventh round and have since become part of boxing lore. However the blow by blow descriptions that millions across the country heard is an obscurity.”—Frederick V. Romano

The film is famously shown in slow motion. The sequence begins nearly a minute into the seventh round. As he had done throughout the fight, Challenger Jack Dempsey advances toward Heavyweight Champion Gene Tunney. As Tunney throws a left, Dempsey counters with a right that catches Tunney to the head. Tunney, likely phased by the punch, fails to see Dempsey’s looping left hook and straight right. Both punches connect, and Tunney is staggered. He falls to the ropes where Dempsey continues his attack. Tunney’s knees give way under a crushing left hook and a right sends the champion to the canvas. Dempsey wrote that he hit Tunney with all the punches he’d been throwing in his sleep over the previous year. Referee Dave Barry gestures for Jack to follow the rules and go to a neutral corner, but now it was Dempsey who appeared stunned and amazed at what had just happened. Barry delays the count—at least a few seconds go by, or for many boxing fans, a near eternity. Dempsey walks directly behind the champion, then looking up, Dempsey finally complies with Barry and steps away. The referee turns toward the fallen champion, and ignoring the call of the timekeeper, restarts the count at One. Through the count, Tunney sits up holding the lower rope. At three he glances at the referee, otherwise he is still. His condition is a mystery. At eight, Tunney pulls his feet under and stands at nine. For the remaining two minutes Tunney retreats, unsteady at times, with Dempsey in pursuit, charging and swinging mostly at the air in front of Tunney’s head. Dempsey tries again and again trap to the champion, but Tunney manages to stay just out of reach. The round ends. Tunney shoves Dempsey away. The fight continues through the scheduled 10 rounds and Tunney retains the title. 

Theater audiences witnessed films of the fight in the days and weeks following the event. “The Long Count” as it came to be called, created one of boxing’s greatest controversies. Did referee Dave Barry’s delay of the count save Tunney from a knockout? Over the years, the film of the seventh round would become boxing’s version of the Zapruder film, a movie watched over and over, with every frame analyzed for what happened and what might have been.  Those first theater-goers, however, watched in silence. 1927 was still the era of silent films.

While the film remains a silent witness, the battle itself was heard by millions as it was broadcast live on radio around the world. The fight was announced by legendary sports commentator Graham McNamee. McNamee was a pioneer in radio who specialized in baseball coverage. In 1923, he was hired to call the Harry Greb and Johnny Wilson fight, but came away dissatisfied with the established formalities of commentary, where by describing events as a casual viewer, describing the action in past tense. This was akin to telling a story. McNamee began adding more personality to his delivery, describing not just the action as it happened, but embellishing or “coloring” the drama of the contest and describing the atmosphere inside the venue. He amped up his tone, sometimes breathlessly shouting the action. McNamee conveyed that he was just as thrilled with the action as the fans listening. This style came to be called play-by-play.

McNamee announced both the 1926 and 1927 Tunney-Dempsey fights for NBC. It’s been written that the second fight was especially dramatic, and it was reported that between seven and ten radio listeners were so caught up in the commentary that they suffered heart failure. 

NBC did not record Tunney-Dempsey broadcasts. In fact most radio broadcasts of the 1920s were never saved. Radio was still a live medium, and recording technology, primarily disc-cutting, was limited. Recording discs could only capture a few minutes at a time. With the LP and recording tape decades away, it was impractical to document countless hours of broadcasts.

Over the years I’ve reached out to fellow boxing collectors and asked if they knew anything about a recording, but nothing was ever verified. While doing a search a few months ago I came across lecture notes by Matthew Barton, a curator at The Library of Congress. He referred to a, “surviving radio broadcasts from 1927 … the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney long count heavyweight title fight … one of the reasons that we know just how long the long count was is because it was recorded.” I contacted Mr. Barton and it turned out he’s a very knowledgeable boxing fan. We discussed the recording, and he referred me to several radio historians who may be able to help with a copy. One source came through.

The existence of the broadcast turned out to be an open secret. The second Tunney-Dempsey air-check was indeed recorded—or more appropriately, it was pirated. With borrowed disc-cutting equipment, engineers at a small blues record label called Paramount of Port Washington, Wisconsin, captured McNamee’s broadcast on ten separate 78RPM recording discs.

According to radio archivist Louis V. Genco, “Paramount was a small, Wisconsin-based operation notorious among collectors today for the indifferent quality of its recording work, even as it recorded material by artists who are now very much in demand. Paramount (not Paramount Pictures) did not own its own recording studio until 1929, and up to that date depended on facilities rented from other companies, mostly in the Chicago area. On the evening of the fight, engineers cut and recorded the broadcast on a total of ten discs, each covering one round of the action with McNamee’s call. The sound quality is hollow and distant, leading to the conc that the recording was made by simply placing a microphone before a radio tuned to a station carrying the broadcast, most likely one of NBCs Chicago outlets.”

A limited number of copies were replicated and distributed, sold poorly, and the recording faded into obscurity. It’s unclear how many complete sets still exist. Along the way, a transfer of the audio was made for preservation.

With both audio and fight film in hand, I wanted to bring the two sources together to complete the movie. Matching exclusive sound and picture, referred to as “rubber sync,” is something of a challenge. The film was taken with hand-cranked cameras that varied in speed. The footage (I have a print of the 1927 theatrical release) does not show the entire three minutes of round 7. As for the audio, it’s low fidelity, but the recording is stable, and it captures the entire round. McNamee’s voice is prominent, with the crowd in the far background except during peak moments of action. Once loaded into a video editor, I looked for cues where the action, sound and commentary lineup—the opening bell, the crowd responding to key moments of action, and the referee’s count, were all clear reference points. McNamee’s narration was less help than I thought. His delivery was not particularly smooth. His speech halts at times, as if trying to find the right words. He’ll pause, perhaps distracted, then chase the action again, sometimes matching, sometimes lagging behind. My goal was to sync film and audio to where McNamee was likely responding and speaking, just like anyone at the fight or watching the film might respond.

In 1940, the ban on the interstate distribution of boxing films was lifted. The Long Count was seen by a much larger audience than when it was first released, including the eyes of a new generation. Watching the knockdown sequence in true-life speed, specifically from the time Tunney hits the canvas to when Dave Barry begins counting, appeared more of a technicality, than enough time for a groggy fighter to recover. As a result, the controversary declined, but it has never died. The spectacle is actually with the count itself, the drama of Barry’s dramatic tolling of the count, with Dempsey waiting in the wings, and Tunney’s Zen-like posture, making the world wait fourteen long seconds.

The matching radio call with the Long Count film is no revelation, but it offers a fresh perspective—to both see, and hear, the highlight of this classic fight. There’s a thrill in watching this film with the live sound. McNamee’s excitement is contagious. His call of the action, though rough by today’s standards, is enjoyable for that very reason. Unlike our perspective, with the film burned into collective memory, we hear a man describe this historical event as it unfolds in front of him, just a few feet away from the microphone. He has no idea what’s going to happen next, nor the impact of those three minutes for years to come.

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Tunney vs Dempsey II 1927 - "The Long Count" Fight & Radio Broadcast

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  1. john pressman 03:14pm, 08/14/2019

    Thrashem, yes they changed the rule regarding a fighter PROCEEDING to the furthest neutral corner in the event of a knockdown.  Dempsey got confused and went to the WRONG CORNER.  He did not stand over Tunney but waited in the nearest corner. Tunney did knock down Dempsey in the 8th and immediately walked to the correct corner as the referee began his count.  It was Dempsey’s confusion that caused “The Long Count”.

    Robert, yes, possibly even the Dempsey who fought Brennan and Carpentier was already past his peak.  Aggressive fighters have shorter careers than defensive fighters.  I also believe that fighters have to stay busy to stay sharp.  Few experts realized that Sonny Liston had only fought three founds in the three years before he met Ali Clay).  He was used to one round knockouts and expected one more.

  2. Robert 02:06pm, 08/14/2019

    I think the truth is that Dempsey was never close to being the fighter he was after he beat up Willard. After years of hard,hard struggle and hundreds of fights that victory filled his every dream and he no longer was the hungry panther who fought his way to the top.He fought many times leading up to the title fight and then did not fight again for 14 months and unfortunately for him found Hollywood and the soft life.And by the time he fought Tunney he was nothing more than a good club fighter.

  3. thrashem 06:09am, 06/20/2019

    I believe in 1926 they changed the knockdown rule, where you had to go to neutral corner. Prior to that fighter could wait over his opponent on the canvas till his knee left the ground and nail him again.
    So, I can see fighters getting a little anxious and refs having to hold fighter back and talk him to neutral corner.
    Yah, Capone was in his heyday!

  4. john pressman 06:39pm, 06/19/2019

    I idolize Jack Dempsey.  Had my 12th Birthday party in his restaurant, I still have the menu from that day, along with his autobiography that he autographed to me.  That being said, Dempsey wasn’t Dempsey anymore after a three year layoff in Hollywood and Europe. One can make a case that even the Dempsey who fought Gibbons and Firpo was no longer at his peak.

    Gene Tunney was a new style of fighter, one whom Dempsey had never met before who could move AND punch. Jack feasted on the ponderous “White Hopes” of the teens. His ferocious style made these tall. slow guys like Fred Fulton, Carl Morris and Jess Willard easy prey. Tunney represented a new era in boxing, that unfortunately by style and rustiness, Jack was unable to cope with.

  5. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 08:25am, 02/01/2019

    There is a YouTube clip of Harry Wills fighting Firpo and Paulino Uzcudun. Don’t know how old Wills was at the time, certainly not prime, but a man in his mid 30’s or a little older isn’t exactly ancient. Take a gander at this video and tell me if you think Dempsey or Tunney would not be able to beat Wills. A lot of the black fighters that Wills feasted on and made his name on were past it or much smaller as well. Kid Norfolk was only about 5’9” and 180 or so pounds when Wills beat him and Sam Langford was little more than an overstuffed middleweight. Anyone that thinks Dempsey or Tunney were incapable of beating Wills is seriously delusional. Could Wills have beaten Tunney or Dempsey on the right night or in his prime? In fighting anything is possible especially with heavyweights, look at Douglas vs. Tyson. Sorry, but I am not buying into the myth that Harry Wills was some kind of Superman in the boxing ring.

  6. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:47am, 02/01/2019

    Oops, Mickey Walker beat Bearcat Wright, not Jimmy Walker. Talk about a Freudian slip. hahaha.

  7. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:45am, 02/01/2019

    Oh, he never fought a black fighter thingie. Good grief, CHANGE YOUR TUNE. There was more money to be made by fighting white fighters and at that time there were probably more rated white contenders. Of course there was some racism involved because more than a few of white paying customers didn’t want to see a bout featuring a white fighter vs a black fighter. I think a lot of how great those black fighters back in the day of Dempsey and Tunney were is PURE HYPERBOLE. No one is denying that fighters like Tiger Flowers, Kid Norfolk, Sam Langford, and Harry Wills were good fighters but they weren’t exactly Gods. Don’t forget Jack Sharkey beat Harry Wills all over the ring. Granted Wills was 38, but he showed nothing in that fight. I have watched clips of Kid Norfolk and Sam Langford and quite frankly, while good fighters, they certainly didn’t live up to the hype you read about them. Little Jimmy Walker took on and beat a huge black heavyweight named Bearcat Wright. Point is that Dempsey would have demolished Wills, and Tunney would have easily outpointed the big guy. Also you had people later on claiming Marciano avoided Nino Valdez. WHAT? Marciano would have beaten the Cuban with no problem. CHANGE YOUR TUNE, it is old and worn out.

  8. FrankinDallas 07:52pm, 01/31/2019

    Remind me again how many black boxers did Tunney fight? Oh, right, that would be ZERO. None. Nada.

  9. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 04:43pm, 01/31/2019

    Tunney was “protected?” You gotz to be kidding me. Fighting Tommy Gibbons, Tommy Loughran, Georges Carpentier, Harry Greb in multiple bouts and Dempsey twice is a “protected fighter?” Tunney was more light heavy than heavyweight and yet he outboxed Dempsey for 20 rounds. Tunney probably didn’t lose more than a two or tree of those 20 rounds to Dempsey. Greatest light heavy of all time IMO.

  10. FrankinDallas 03:06pm, 01/31/2019

    Wake me up when you wind the film of Greb-Tunney I. Would love to see the destruction of that protected bicycle riding runner.

  11. don from prov 12:49pm, 01/31/2019

    “unlike 2 ton Tony Gallento and Marciano fight” ?????????

  12. don from prov 12:47pm, 01/31/2019

    Great post for those who love the history of boxing.
    Dempsey was a predator who had fought by certain rules his entire career.
    That he reverted, or tried to, to then in the 7th round is no shock.

    My favorite left hook exploding stalk, stun, and kill (nod to TS) beast of all time.

  13. Bobby Peru 11:12am, 01/31/2019

    I know this much…I know what the film clearly shows….Dempsey was desperate to get Tunney out of there and his best chance was to stand over Tunney and hammer him as he was struggling to get to his feet as he had done when he slaughtered Willard in Toledo! Don’t think for a minute that he didn’t know the difference between the furtherest and the nearest neutral corner. He was clearly hell bent on being as close as possible to the stricken Tunney so he could cop that Sunday on his tormentor that he clearly felt he was entitled to….and that was his undoing! To hell with this sports deification horse shit! He should have fought Wills and yes Goddammit he should have knocked the shit out of Jack Johnson too….but he didn’t ....did he?!

  14. Harvey 09:11am, 01/31/2019

    Thanks for posting this. And gentleman before you comment it would be good for you to know something about this fight.
    It was a championship fight, how could anyone not know that, and Jack wanted it to be 10 rounds. After his long layoff and previous loss to Tunney, when he lost the title again over 10 rounds, he did not wish to have a 15 round fight. And Mr Peru who ever you are calling Dempsey dumb fuk shows your immaturity.
    When Tunney knocked Dempsey down later in the fight the somewhat suspect referee Dave Barry, a Capone buddy, started counting right away, he did not wait for Gene to go to a neutral corner. Your comments show that stupidity is often not the problem but ignorance is. There are many bios of Dempsey and Tunney available that describe in full the somewhat suspicious nature of this fight. Best not to comment when you don’t know what you are talking about.

  15. thrashem 07:24am, 01/31/2019

    Nice to see this old footage. If a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear it. Good job a syncing audio to film. Rule changes an eagerness may have cost Jack the fight, but that is one large ring. Figure it is 24’x24’, that’s huge in today’s standards. When does a fight end in 10 rounds? Must be a none title fight.
    Tunney legs didn’t seem that shaky when he got up and there may have been a 2 second difference, unlike 2 ton Tony Gallento and Marciano fight.

  16. Bobby Peru 12:48pm, 01/30/2019

    Great find! Still….Jack screwed himself…..neutral corner?! WTF are you yellin’ about?!...neutral my ass! Jack thought he would be able to stand over Tunney as he got up as in days of yore with Willard and cop a Sunday….dum fuk!

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