Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Azar's Attic (2014)

By Rick Azar

"What took you so long?"

That's what I said to Rick Azar when I had him autograph my copy of his autobiography, "Azar's Attic." He was a natural for a locally produced memoir, since he spent much of his childhood in Buffalo and then worked as a popular broadcaster in the area for a few decades.

Azar retired from sportscasting in 1989. It took him a while - a couple of decades, actually - to put it in the effort to get a book written. But now it's out, and it's an enjoyable tale.

Part of the book's charm is that the story of his early years are hardly run of the mill and quite interesting. Who knew that Azar grew up learning how to play the violin? How many people know the story that he spent his early years as an actor? He even gets to drop a few names along the way about his days in New York at acting cattle calls, encountering such people as Ted Knight and Martin Landau.

It took Azar to find his niche in sportscasting, and - come to think of it - he did carry a bit of a dramatic flair to the job. It proved to be a good mix with anchorman Irv Weinstein, a classic tabloid-like radio announcer who moved to the television side. They made stories sound important, which is a much more crucial quality that you might think for television.The two of them worked with weatherman Tom Jolls, who came off as a good-natured counterpart but one who discovered an attention-grabbing gimmick - doing the weather outside. It was great theater when Jolls not only told us it was snowing hard, he showed us. It was something of a precursor to the Weather Channel of today, in which Jim Cantore reports from the middle of the nation's worst weather in a given moment.

Weinstein, Azar and Jolls were a terrific combination, and their act stayed together for about 37 years - the longest-lasting trio in the country, at least at the time. They were always number one in the ratings, and their station arguably hasn't recovered from their departure to this day. There are surprisingly few stories here about Irv and Tom, perhaps because Azar contributed to another book about the news team some years ago.

Once Azar gets through with the warm-up years, he moves into personalities and stories about the area sports scene. They are gentle and filled with good fun. In other words, no scores are settled here, which is fine and appropriate. You hang around for a bunch of years, you talk to all sorts of local and national figures - from O.J. Simpson and Gil Perreault to Arnold Palmer and Arthur Ashe.

By the way, these books sometimes can be a little weak on history and grammar. I can happily report that the facts here are accurate to my knowledge. Azar probably was used to writing for television, which is much different than for a book. But the transition to print went quite well. 

The "what took you?" issue is one of the few problems in the book. There isn't much in here that couldn't have been written 20 years ago, and it's easy to wonder how many people remember Azar's work on the air at this point. Remember, you have to be close to 50 now to remember O.J. Simpson's great season in 2003. It also would have been interesting to read more about what Azar has been doing since retirement, and what he thinks about the state of television sports today. That might have filled out the book, which can be read in no time.

Still, those who remember Azar's on-air work or are interested in the era, certainly will enjoy "Azar's Attic."  I didn't have many dealings with him over the years, but he was always nice to me and qualified as the proverbial "class act." The book is a nice keepsake of those times for all concerned.

Four stars

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