Storm clouds pass, allowing woman broadcaster to go from Turner to NBC

May 12, 1992|By Jack Craig | Jack Craig,Boston Globe

Common sense has prevailed, enabling Hannah Storm to leave Turner Broadcasting and join NBC Sports beginning with Wimbledon late-night reports June 27.

A $200,000 offer to Storm had caused turmoil at Turner, which wanted to retain her but feared that matching the offer would disrupt the pay scale among its sports staff. Storm had been earning $75,000 when her three-year contract expired last month.

Storm is unknown in the 40 percent of American homes without cable, and even fans who are wired in may not be very familiar with her work as host of low-visibility programs such as "Inside the NBA" on TNT and "(Olympic) Games of '92" on CNN, where she also appeared occasionally on the daily 11 p.m. sports roundup program. Her most prominent role was as a host of the Goodwill Games on TBS.

Storm, 29, possesses television presence, which may be hard to define but is instantly recognizable. She is a Notre Dame graduate and daughter of former American Basketball Association commissioner Mike Storen.

The announcement of yesterday's deal, for three years and a total of $600,000, completes a meteoric rise in less than five years.

"I could not find a full-time job in Houston, so I worked there in a lot of part-time jobs with crazy hours on TV and radio," she recalled. "I couldn't even get an agent. It was quite humbling."

Finally, a TV station in Charlotte, N.C., hired her, and 11 months later she went to CNN. "When some folks in Houston saw me, I guess they couldn't believe it," she said, laughing.

What will they think when Storm makes her debut on NBC as host of the Wimbledon wrapup show? That will lead to a larger role -- co-host with Jim Lampley of NBC's late-night Summer Olympic wrapup program to air 12:30 to 2 a.m.

If all goes well, she may become a reporter for NBC's NFL pregame show, similar to Lesley Visser on CBS, although Storm has been almost exclusively a sports anchor. She could fill that role Saturday afternoons, freeing Gayle Gardner to do more features.

Despite 25 years of big-budget TV sports in which networks are always looking for an edge, no woman has become prominent on the air. Perhaps the sorry beginning -- Phyllis George followed by Jayne Kennedy on CBS's "NFL Today" -- has had a lasting effect.

Donna de Varona on ABC is the veteran among women in TV sports and has branched out, but never prominently. Mary Ann Grabavoy has a unique role as an investigative reporter for "ABC's Wide World of Sports" but also is low-profile. On the same network, Cheryl Miller works on college football and xTC basketball, and Judy Rankin of ABC is the only woman who routinely covers the PGA. Andrea Joyce is a weekend sports anchor for CBS. But there are no stars or even pretenders.

Visser is probably the most visible woman, showing up the last 12 months at the World Series, Super Bowl, Winter Olympics and Final Four. Her feature stories are fine, but sideline assignments, where the first rule is to avoid awkward situations, are not career boosters.

Mary Carillo of CBS, who began covering tennis but whose duties have expanded, may be the most highly regarded woman in network sports, and that may be related to her fairly deep voice. Denials notwithstanding, there has always been a general belief that a woman's voice cannot command credibility in major events. Storm has a strong voice.

NBC did retain Gayle Sierens to do play-by-play on the final Sunday of the NFL season in 1987, after which she was never heard from again.

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