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In keeping with our traditions during Boston Marathon Week, we posted this story today, April 7, 2024. With the 128th Boston Marathon coming up on April 15, 2024, we are proud to post this tribute to the one and only Larry Rawson, the Voice of the Boston Marathon for the past 50 years. We thank Ian Eckersley for his wonderful writing and suggestions from Bill Rodgers and Jack Fultz for Ian and me to catch up. A special thanks to Jeff Benjamin for getting us all together.

Larry Rawson – 1 Man, 26.2 miles, 50 years of Boston Marathon broadcasts

Larry Rawson, the Voice of the Boston Marathon, this year celebrates 50 years of calling the iconic event initially for radio, then television. He shares some insights and reflections with runner/writer from Australia, Ian Eckersley, a long-time Boston aficionado, two-time Boston Marathon finisher, and former television sports broadcaster.

By Ian Eckersley **

It all started way back in 1974 as a serendipitous ‘fact-checking’ moment at the finish line of the Boston Marathon during the infancy of its broadcast days. Yet 50 years later, broadcaster and commentator Larry Rawson – The Voice of the Boston Marathon, the esteemed Patriot’s Day race that magnetically attracts over 30,000 runners worldwide – racks up an extraordinary milestone on April 15.

But after all, when you’ve grown up in the shadows of the famous Newton Hills and attended Boston College, where else is Lady Luck likely to send you but out into the thick of Boston Marathon action each April as the eyes, ears, and voice of the 128-year-old event?

In between—in case you weren’t aware—there have been a few major professional detours to globally significant events and institutions such as the Vietnam War (as a Captain and forward artillery observer seeing frontline action against the Viet Cong) and a successful career on Wall Street (helping to build high-yield bond departments for Lehmann Brothers and Morgan Stanley).

Larry says the lead-up to his amazing half-century of Boston broadcasting is a “true pinch me” moment – where he allows himself a rare indulgence into the ‘ultra-marathon’ journey of his Boston Marathon love affair and the many things about the event that have morphed and transformed on his watch.

I’m excited because it’s 50. I really am. I admit it’s a big number, and it’s a privilege to have been so deeply involved in such an iconic event for so long,” says Larry.

“I mean, in our country, to be perfectly honest with you, it’s hard to last a long time in broadcasting, especially television, and I’m grateful that the audiences, ESPN, and my fellow commentators have stuck with me and have continued to want to listen to me and to work with me and to the work I put in.”

Larry Rawson, photo courtesy of Larry Rawson

Yet for Larry, the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same.

As he’s done for most of the previous 49 broadcasts, initially for radio and various television networks, including ESPN since 1976, he’ll arrive in Boston from his home in Naples, Florida, five days before Patriots Day. (He originally pitched the idea to PBS to televise the marathon in 1978, and they raised the money to fund it with a one-hour nationwide same-day telecast in 1979.)

Like a Michelin-starred chef, he will have been contemplating, researching, and preparing a new, appetizing sports broadcast ‘creation’ for weeks, using ingredients tried, tested, and proven over the years—“I always try to create a few ‘Wow’ moments with facts and figures and information that people haven’t heard before or might not hear elsewhere.”

But by the time he hits Boston, he’s on the hunt for some extra spices or a final layer or two to add unique flavor to each year’s race – maybe even a bit of different garnish from last year’s call and the year before.

The origin of those pieces of pizzazz could originate from any continent in the world, especially those lands whose runners have supplied the dominant Boston Marathon runners in recent decades—from Kenya and Ethiopia for every year except two, since 1991, in the men’s event. (The outliers were Eritrean-born American-raised Meb Keflezighi in 2014 and the extraordinary and idiosyncratic Japanese-born Yuki Kawauchi in 2018.) The African women have been slightly less omnipresent, winning all but nine races since ’91.

Larry’s final ingredients aren’t sourced from Boston Public Market—they’re more likely to be around the hotels, the streets, and even around the finish line, where athletes, their agents, coaches, training partners, and marathon-running ‘intelligentsia’ might be hovering and buzzing around.

“I’ll be trying to talk to the agents, coaches, and other people in the know to see if there is anything interesting I can glean from them about the top 15 Kenyans and Ethiopians who could be pushing the pace and in the hunt for victory at the business end of the race, plus other elite athletes from outside the USA,” he says.

“While there’s always some familiar African runners (previous winners Edna Kiplagat and Evans Chebet have returned again in 2024 chasing more Boston blue and gold glory) I also want to know about the lesser known Kenyans and Ethiopians and who might be a new rising star. For a variety of reasons, their background can often be a ‘bit thin’, so I rely on human intelligence and people who know them to help me prepare to create a narrative and paint a picture for race day.

“In terms of overall preparation, firstly, we as a broadcast team want to ensure that we’ve got the basics right about the runners and wheelchair athletes, including name pronunciation. But I want to know that ‘back story’, some lesser-known slices of their story that will have general interest.

“I was fortunate to travel to Africa 20 years ago, and the history and trajectory of African runners in endurance events are fascinating and extraordinary. But then I ask, ‘What has made them so truly dominant over the last 30 years?’ What are the reasons and factors behind their success, and what has their journey to Boston looked like? I think it’s important for our audience to hear and understand that.”

Maybe it’s also important for the audience to hear and understand why Larry Rawson has continued to be a fixture of the Boston Marathon for 50 years and what motivates him to keep doing something consistently and to an incredibly high standard. But you won’t hear that story from Larry himself.

“It’s not about me—it’s never been about me, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always said, ‘I’m like the doctor trying to deliver a healthy baby on the day of the event.’ The passion for the marathon, Boston, and sharing athletes’ stories is still there, and the hunger to share stories on air and to bring insights is still there. It’s always been this way—it’s just the way I am,” he says.

“As for being able to recall stats and facts – that’s not something I ‘train for’. I certainly prepare and do a lot of research and homework before any broadcast event, but I’ve always been a math guy … stuff just sticks in my brain.”

While there have been many constant features of the Boston Marathon, including being the Voice of the Boston Marathon, some things have changed for ‘Dr. Rawson.’

Like Year Zero (1974) whereas, a former star miler at Boston College, he became an accidental broadcaster where he felt compelled to correct factual errors that were being broadcast about Irish-born race leader Neil Cusack, bailed up the hapless engineer-turned-rookie commentator at the finish line and suddenly had a microphone thrust under his nose and was able to competently fill a 45-minute radio slot with local knowledge and general distance running and training insights.

Bill Rodgers won his first BAA Boston in 1975, setting a then AR of 2:09.55, the first of his four victories in Boston! Photos courtesy of the Boston Athletics Association

That led to becoming a ‘real broadcaster’ and Year One (1975), where he found himself in the back seat of a Rolls Royce, no less, between the media truck and the lead pack, calling the 1975 race for radio as a little known local runner named Bill Rodgers burst from obscurity for his first of four Boston victories.

Bill Rodgers, en route to his 1975 BAA Boston Marathon victory, stopped for a drink, tied his shoes, and ran a 2:09.55 AR, photos courtesy of BAA.

And there was the year when Larry swapped the Rolls Royce for the back of a motorcycle on one of the colder marathon days. He sat backward, facing the runners, wearing a headset and microphone, calmly painting a picture of the unfolding race and the roadside color over the cacophony of sound. According to renowned Boston historian and co-commentator that day, Tom Derderian, who was more fortunate to be in the comfort of the warm studio, Larry made a colorful on-course correspondent.

“ I asked him: ‘Larry, Larry, what do you see?’ He spoke clearly over the roar of the motorcycle and the shouts of the crowd. I think he was suffering out there in the weather. He may have been shivering, but we never heard that in his voice. He is a professional and an endurance athlete, so he never complained and beautifully captured the sights, sounds, and unfolding events of the race,” recalls Tom.

So, while many things have changed about how and where he does his commentary, there seems to be one constant for the man himself: a wonder and admiration for everything, that is, the Boston Marathon and, more broadly, athletics. For Larry – it appears almost as if he’s like a young child seeing the event for the first time. It’s the wonder of human athleticism, big event performance, the awe in the power of the mind to push the body to exhaustion, and sometimes beyond that keeps him energized.

Larry Rawson, photo courtesy of Larry Rawson

Whether it’s the Boston, New York, or Chicago Marathons (he’s called 46 and 17 of those, respectively, for a total of 113 World Marathon Majors), the summer Olympics, the 100-meter track final (of which he’s called seven), or 50 years of NCAA meets, Larry still seems to keep his mind and eyes fresh and fascinating, which he hopes is reflected in his commentary.

While each Boston Marathon has been unique in its own way, like any broadcaster, there are a few ‘babies’ (broadcasts) for ‘Dr Rawson’ that stay with him and burn brighter in his vast memory: his first ‘official’ call in 1975 (Bill Rodger’s first famous Boston win); the Salazar-Beardsley ‘Duel in the Sun’ in 1982; the 2013 race and the Boston Bombing; the ‘comeback year’ of 2014 with the tear-jerking, courageous win of America’s own Meb Keflezighi; and the memorable 2018 event (wind, rain and freezing cold) won with kamikaze frontrunning tactics by Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi – “Somewhere in the next 5 or 10k, somebody’s gonna hand this gentleman a piano to carry. This is too fast,” said Rawson in his commentary, as Kawauchi scorched through the horrendous conditions, at one stage at world record pace! (Kawauchi beat a classy field by over 2 minutes in a win that no one predicted – Rawson’s mind boggled at the Japanese runner’s tactics as it did for everyone on the day!)

And there’s familiarity and constancy in the tributes of peers, which have flowed thick and fast on the eve of his broadcast milestone:

Bill Rodgers (Boston Winner 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980):

“Larry has always been one of the most informed broadcasters of marathon coverage in the US. In the early days of Boston broadcasting, the locals didn’t know much about marathons, especially those involved in the TV coverage. Thank God we had Larry Rawson to reach the public intelligently and insightfully!

Having been a competitive athlete during his Boston College student years, he knows and understands athletics, whether the mile, sprints, field events or the marathon. He’s reached the highest level of broadcasting for sport, having called multiple Olympic Games.

Amby Burfoot (1968 Boston Winner):

“As a former New England runner, Larry has always strived to report the sport with complete integrity. Every year, He has always worked hard to present his broadcast in an interesting, insightful, anecdotal manner to draw in new viewers who didn’t know much about marathons and track and field.”

Amby Burfoot, Coach Bill Squires, Bill Rodgers, 1975 Boston M champ, photo from Bill Rodgers

Jack Fultz (1976 Boston Winner)

“Larry is excellent at what he does and has been great for keeping our sport available, accessible, and relevant to our ‘fringe fans and spectators’ – those who might not know the history and backgrounds of current athletes, especially the Kenyans and Ethiopians. We always chat at Boston yearly, and I look forward to doing that again in 2024.”

BOSTON – APRIL 19: Jack Fultz crosses the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston on April 19, 1976. Fultz was the winner (Photo by Joe Dennehy/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The compliments and respect for Larry are graciously accepted and deeply humbling—although The Voice repeats his familiar refrain: “It’s not about me.”

Yet his peers beg to differ with The Voice – just this once. Come April 15, they believe that this time, the spotlight should shine for a brief time on Larry Rawson in recognition of his professional service to the event before pivoting back to the 30,000 runners, officials, volunteers, civic officials, and spectators who, as always, will be the heart and soul of the 128th Boston Marathon.

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