The phrase “living legend” gets tossed around a lot but there is no better way to describe Ernie Baur, long-time D.C. news and sports director and producer. In this fun and story-filled interview, Andy O. and the 14-time Emmy winning reminisce about the go-go years of local television programming and the diverse personalities that made it so special.
Born and raised in a Bethesda that has long-since faded from memory among the concrete and steel buildings of today, Ernie attended our Lady of Lourdes until 8th grade. In 9th, grade Ernie attended Good Counsel (hitchhiking to and from the all-boys Catholic school), and ultimately graduated from the co-ed high school right behind his house, Bethesda Chevy Chase.
Deciding that more school was not for him (“I went to Montgomery College for about an hour and a half”), Ernie Baur was grilling steaks at the local Bonanza when his first break in broadcasting came as a part time copy boy at Channel 9. His prowess on the football field playing with the station crew team in the local flag football beer league game earned him an invitation for a paid internship. This would be just the beginning of the important role football would play in his life and career.
Among the news anchors that Ernie ran copy to in those early years at Channel 9 was Sam Donaldson, who would go on to fame as a dogged reporter covering the White House for ABC. “Donaldson, he was a heart attack waiting to happen. He did everything to the last minute . . . what a character. You know he auditioned once… at channel 7 and we didn’t hire him. The opinion of the group was this guy’s a jerk and yeah, I’m not gonna argue. He was high maintenance but a great broadcaster. He’d always come up to you and say ‘I’m surrounded by incompetents everyday’.”
But it wasn’t just on the news broadcasts where Ernie learned his craft. As stage manager of the Saturday morning Ranger Hal show “I used to run the puppets, Hal did the voices. You get behind the screen and you put your hand up you’re Marvin Monkey, Dr. Fox, Oswald Rabbit.” And, of course, Ernie has a story or two about trying to do the show after a few late nights at The Dancing Crab.
While brief, Ernie Baur got his first directing break at Channel 7, working with another DC broadcasting legend Ed Walker on AM Washington, pairing Walker with Ruth Hudgens. But Channel 9 wanted him back and they sent a very special envoy to recruit him. “Fortunately for me…the person that they hired to replace me was awful, so awful to the point that they came back to me and they had Gordon Peterson take me out and say we need to get him back. Jim Snyder was a news director Ben Schneider and John Baker was a producer they’re the ones that said ‘Look we gotta get Ernie back okay and whatever it takes and so Gordon got me back.” And it was at Channel 9 the Ernie met Lucille, his wife of 43 years.
Of course, one of Ernie Baur’s great contributions to DC broadcasting lore is his work with NFL football and creating “Redskins Sidelines.” But that is not the only “sidelines” Ernie worked – for 15 seasons (and including 6 Super Bowls) Ernie worked as the “glove man” – the sideline guy who wears big orange gloves and indicates timeouts on the field. “Yeah I did it for “The Catch” the famous play in 49er history by Dwight Clark (in the 1982 NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys). I was there for that.”
Glenn Brenner, the quick-witted and beloved sportscaster started out as the “third-string” sports anchor on Channel 9 but within a year was the “guy.” And, the rest is history. As the “Warner Wolf Show” morphed into “Redskins Sidelines” once Wolf had left the station. Once Sonny Jurgensen joined “Sidelines”, the format was set and its popularity grew among Redskins fans.
Many of the behind-the-scenes stories of “Redskins Sidelines” have passed into Washington broadcasting lore. Sobriety of the hosts and the guests could sometime be an issue per Ernie. “So now here’s the deal — Monday was the night we did (the show) at 7:30 that was the players day off … all those guys will get there around 2 and the guests would get there around two so now there are five and a half hours into you know having a good time and now we have the guests come on and he’s pie-eyed . . . Glenn would say ‘I see you stopped at the malt shop to have some malt’ and then that’s why they named it the Malt Shop.”
Through changes to time and format “Redskins Sidelines” morphed into a year-round version called “Sidelines” and Ernie talks at length about the most famous (or infamous) “Sidelines” show, the “Guy LeGuy” show. “So now we have eight six feet of snow and the audience can’t get there and the Caps are stuck in College Park but we still have to do a show. So, I gathered everybody in the station to be in the audience and you see in the audience Pat Collins, Susan King, Andrea Mitchell is there and couple of the engineers but we have no guests. So first comes out Gordon (Barnes) and then Sonny. So now we were scrambling . . .so Gordon Peterson God bless him and wanders around we said why don’t you come on so he comes on and he comes on as Guy La Guy, the world-famous the Venezuelan hockey player, he’s an American imitating a Venezuelan hockey player with a Swedish accent okay . . .and you know it’s tough to be a hockey player Venezuela because the ice keeps melting… then so we ask for questions from the audience and Chris Gordon raises his hand and (asks Peterson) ‘How long have you been Guy?’. . . Gordon Peterson says you know of all the things I’ve done this is what I’ll be remembered for Guy La Guy.”
Yet another hallmark of Ernie’s career was the launch of Home Team Sports. It was an opportunity to create a 24/7 local sports networks and Ernie jumped into it with a passion. “(I knew) it’s a good idea… you’ll never hear us say we’re pulling a crew because of a robbery ok we do sports…we went from zero to… everything in three months I’ve never seen anything like that.”
After more than 50 years in the business, Ernie Baur has an established place in Washington, D.C. broadcasting history. From his early days working kids’ shows and Sunday morning community broadcasts (“Mass for Shut-Ins” and “The Jewish Hour (really a half-hour)”) to directing the news at 6 and 11 for more than 13 years on Channel 9, Ernie is truly one of the pioneers of local television news and sports and someone who makes “Our Town” the special place that it is to so many.
We hope you have enjoyed this all new episode of Our Town with Andy Ockershausen and Ernie Baur. We invite you to listen to each new episode of Our Town as they roll out over the next several months. You can subscribe to the Our Town podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or if you complete the subscription form in the sidebar to the right, you will be notified by email when the next episode appears here on the website.