As all of us with a vested interest in the human condition should know, the innards of a computer are naught but a banal gnarl of electronic glands and itty-bitty wire ganglia, roughly the size of, say, a healthy colony of streptococci. Very fragile. Highly breakable. Infinitely boring to watch. Of course, that is not to say that the wondrous tricks performed in there have not done much to the condition of humankind. Colorfully called by such intrinsically American names as IBM 360 or NCR 315 or Univac 1108, these machines have replaced uncounted flocks of lank-haired office girls with pots of silver nail polish in their desks and dreams of Harley-Davidson drivers in their heads. Thousands of myopic bookkeepers arc otherwise employed. This is the age of the electric Scrooge; Bob Cratchit is a hole in a key-punch card, Tiny Tim is a linear digital Tinkertoy.
Scientists were quick to recognize that all work and no play made Jack a dull computer, and from the very start fun-loving experts enjoyed playing ticktack-toe with their machines. Properly programmed, even an early model could counter a human X with its own O, which made for exciting hours in the old systems analysis sanctum until a smart-aleck technician started making his Xs on top of the computer's Os. The machine kept saying, YOU MADE A MISTAKE, but the fellow persisted in cheating until the exasperated computer declared, I QUIT. Since then computers have come to excel at such games as checkers, chess, bridge and guessing election returns before any votes are counted. Last spring a University of Liverpool computer swallowed data for a race among the 12 greatest horses in history and coughed up Citation as the winner. (Horse-racing purists were outraged. They thought the winner should have been Man o' War in a walk.) Silly though it seemed, The New York Times not only published a substantial article on the results, it also ran a lengthy, dignified pre-race dope story about the whole fabrication.
But no one has had as much sport with computers as a genial, portly radio announcer-turned-promoter named Murry Woroner. He is the man who has answered the question: Can a brash young paper boy from the Bronx rise from a job as a staff announcer in a tiny coal-mining town in Kentucky to become the broadcasting czar of computerized sports events with his own small office, meager staff and eensyweensy studio over a bank in a suburban Miami shopping center? The answer is yes.
It is Murry Woroner who last year brought to our wondering ears, via radio and computer, the All-Time Heavyweight Tournament and Championship Fight. He reduced 16 magnificent fighters (from John L. Sullivan to Muhammad Ali) to key-punch perforations, fed them into a National Cash Register 315 computer and let them fight—the bareknucklers vs. the gloved sluggers, the rigid standers vs. the dodging dancers, the quick vs. the dead. From the computer readouts, he produced breathless blow-by-blow broadcasts, peddled the tapes to 380 stations the world around and, after 15 elimination bouts, let it be known last December that Computer Fighter No. 004 ( Rocky Marciano) had knocked out Computer Fighter No. 002 ( Jack Dempsey) in the 13th round of the finals.
One would think that such artificially, if artfully, inseminated excitement might lay a big soft electronic egg; but one would think wrong. For some reason, both listeners and advertisers—who placed $3.5 million worth of commercials around the series—loved it. So did Murry Woroner, who has just begun to compute for sport, and profit. Two weeks from now Woroner Productions Inc. will proudly present its computerized, scripted, taped and sold All-Time Middleweight Tournament and Championship Fight. The 15-week run will open with a bout between Carmen Basilio and Marcel Cerdan. Again, there are 16 contenders, ranging from Kid McCoy to Emile Griffith.
The forthcoming tournament is one of the most astonishing marketing successes in radio history. No less than 650 stations have signed up, the most ever to buy an independently produced series of programs. The Ford Motor Co. is sponsoring half of the series nationwide, and the best guess is that some $4.5 million in advertising will be sold with the middleweights.
Murry Woroner is delighted. In his minuscule office over the South Miami Federal Savings and Loan, one wall is a large window with a view of the parking lot, but on the opposite wall is an enormous map covered with colored pins. Murry waves at the map and says, "Just look at that! There's not a section of the country where we don't have a middleweight pin. Now that can't help but give a man some jollies."
There will be more jollies to come, apparently. Woroner is already working on an All-Time Computerized College Football Championship for next fall, an elimination tournament between the best teams of the century. It might drive the Galloping Ghost through key-punch perforations into the Seven Blocks of Granite or blast Doc Blanchard into the off-tackle circuitry of Bronko Nagurski. "This mythical thing seems to turn people on," says Woroner.
But his potentially jolliest deal of all is not mythical. Starting next fall Woroner's athletic analytical engine is planning to perpetrate a weekly electronic version of a game between two National Football League teams that will actually meet each other later the same week. The deal was initiated by the highly successful NFL Films Company and Murry was delighted to enter the partnership. "This," he said, "could open the doors at the U.S. mint. Everybody'll want to buy it. Of course, we're going out on a limb. If we miss every game by seven or eight touchdowns, our computer credibility will be in trouble. But if we come close, or say we hit one right on the nose—hey, can you imagine then what would happen?"
At 43, Murry Woroner is a well-respected professional who has been in broadcasting since the late '40s. After tours with stations in Harlan, Ky., Amarillo, Texas and WAME in Miami, he started his own production company in 1964. And though he might covet the fortune to be made in television, he is one of those delightful anachronisms in the business who positively adores the creative potential to be found in a few million imaginative ears. "Radio is a wonderful medium," he says. "It is the real medium of imagination. It's magnificent what you can do with it!