Pittsburgh sports legend Stan Savran dies at 76
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Pittsburgh sports legend Stan Savran dies at 76

His parents were observant Jews in an “idyllic 1950s life” who kept kosher and expected the same from their children.

Stan Savran (Photo courtesy of his family)
Stan Savran (Photo courtesy of his family)

Stan Savran was always a sports junkie.

Growing up in Mayfield, Ohio, a working-class suburb 12 miles east of Cleveland, Savran spent his formative years rooting hard for the then-lowly Cleveland Indians, a flame that was fanned by sports-fanatic parents who constantly monitored game scores on radio or TV.

During Father’s Day weekend in 1962, a local newspaper picked Savran, then 15, to serve one game as an honorary ballboy for the team. The Indians swept the Yankees in the series; Savran scored a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle and the entire Yankees line-up that he kept his whole life.

But a pivotal moment came in Savran’s senior year at Mayfield High School. Faculty members were set to play a school-sponsored baseball game and needed someone to announce the players. They chose Savran, an accomplished athlete who had lettered in football, baseball, track and basketball.

Mayfield loved the show.

Karen Savransky, Savran’s younger sister, remembers a teacher asking Savran after the game: “Have you ever thought about a career in sports journalism? You know a lot about sports and you have a big voice.”

“One of those lightbulbs just went off,” Savransky said.

The rest is history.

Stan Savran, a Rust Belt Everyman whose encyclopedic knowledge and friendly, fellow-fan delivery carved his storied, five-decade career into the Mount Rushmore of Pittsburgh sports broadcasting, died peacefully June 12 at his Upper St. Clair home after an 18-month-long battle with lung cancer. He was 76.

Born Stanley George Savransky in Cleveland on Feb. 25, 1947, Savran was the eldest of four children — and the only son — of Jack and Marilyn Savransky, who worked hard to provide a middle-class upbringing for their children.

Jack Savransky drove a bread delivery truck and later became a contractor. Marilyn Savransky died of cancer at age 53.

Savran, who stayed in Ohio through college, shortened his last name when he started his career in broadcasting, his family said. To them, he remained a Savransky.

Jack and Marilyn Savransky were observant Jews in an “idyllic 1950s life” who kept kosher and expected the same from their children, Karen Savransky said. Savran went to Hebrew school six days a week, and when he became a bar mitzvah in 1960, “it was like a wedding.”

Stan Savran (Photo courtesy of family)
Savran showed an early knack for writing, authoring hand-penned, 10- to 15-page “Hardy Boys”-style mysteries when he was just 11 or 12, his sister remembered. He also played the clarinet, eventually switching to baritone saxophone and playing in a swing band during college at Miami University in Ohio.

Growing to nearly 6 feet, 3 inches, and with broad shoulders that bulged in a 46-L suit, Savran was built for football. But talking about sports became his calling card, and he knew it.

Savran took his first job after college in Lawton, Oklahoma, selling ads for a fledgling radio station. One day, his sister remembered, Savran told his boss that he had sold a big ad for the station’s sports talk-show.

“But we don’t have a sports talk-show,” the manager said.

“You do now,” Savran quipped.

After Oklahoma, Savran moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he served as the voice of The Ohio State University football, and to Orlando, where he worked as a World Football League announcer.

In 1976, he responded to an ad in a broadcasting magazine and came to work in radio in Pittsburgh, then starting its renaissance period as the City of Champions. Savran worked at WWSW-AM, then KQV. He went over to WTAE, where he worked from 1981 to 1991, often paired with anchor Sally Wiggins. He also hosted a WTAE AM radio show following the late broadcaster Myron Cope’s slot.

Savran would serve, at one time or another, as the voice of every major Pittsburgh sports institution.

In 1991, broadcaster Guy Junker started the sports talk show “SportsBeat” with co-host Bob Pompeani, shooting for cable station KBL TV in a loaned KDKA studio in Pittsburgh. When the show switched to WPXI TV a year later, Savran replaced Pompeani — and the legend began.

“SportsBeat” ran for 18 years on KBL and what eventually would become AT&T Sportsnet, making it the longest-running show in the Pittsburgh market.

Junker left the show in 2003, with Savran continuing solo for another five years. The duo reunited from 2008 to 2011 on an ESPN 1250 AM radio show.

The infamous tagline “Stan, Guy — love the show,” something fans continued to say to Savran and Junker for years after “SportsBeat” went off the air, was coined by WDVE radio personality Jimmy Krenn, Junker said. “Oh, you’re the one!” Savran would reply to fans, in his typical, selfless manner.

“(Savran’s) knowledge, even before I met him, was better than anybody’s,” Junker told the Chronicle. “I don’t know if photographic memory is a thing. But, if it is, Stan had one.”

Savran only used a teleprompter once, Junker said — for the final “SportsBeat” show the duo did. Savran instead relied on notes he scribbled on yellow-paged notepads he stored in his briefcase. In the early years of KBL, Savran was fueled by a love for Pittsburgh sports — and lots of coffee, co-workers said.

When it came to stats and team line-ups, Savran was the Google search engine before Google was a thing, Junker joked.

Savran could call up, from memory, obscure teams’ full line-ups from years earlier. He rarely covered high school sports on the air but, when the WPIAL championships came around, Savran hosted and co-hosted shows on the games, and cited players, backstories and stats with the best of them.

“SportsBeat” guests were legendary.

Pittsburgh Steelers Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris, then, later, Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis. Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Coaches Bill Cowher, Joe Paterno and Mike Tomlin. Broadcast legends like Cope and Mike Lange.

“It was pretty much a ‘Who’s Who’ of Pittsburgh sports,” said Roger Lenhart, who produced “SportsBeat” from 1997 until the show ended two decades later in a North Shore studio.

Lenhart said Savran’s reputation stretched beyond western Pennsylvania. Sports icon Reggie Jackson stopped in Pittsburgh to do an interview with Savran on “SportsBeat.” Savran also interviewed heavyweight boxing champ Muhammed Ali.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” Lenhart added. “Stan remembered everything. A lot of guys, they have one sport they know well. With Stan, it was unbelievable what he would remember.”

Gina Weiss started at KBL — a cable station she described as “the little engine that could” — as an intern in 1992, shortly before Savran replaced Pompeani on “SportsBeat.” She worked as a production assistant on “SportsBeat,” then started screening phone calls for Savran and Junker. Weiss later became the show’s executive producer.

“I was nervous because Stan had quite the reputation — he was very dedicated, very knowledgeable, very tough,” Weiss told the Chronicle, when asked about her first encounter with Savran.

“I was kind of afraid of him.”

Weiss, often the only woman in the operation, quickly gained Savran’s trust, though, with her dedication to “SportsBeat” and a hard-edged work ethic that mirrored his own. The show was never just a “boys’ club,” she said.

When Weiss started her unpaid internship at KBL, she struggled financially and sometimes hardly came up with enough money for bus fare to the studio.

“Stan picked up on it, probably because he was so good at reading people,” she recalled. “He insisted on buying me dinner every night after ‘SportsBeat’ so I would have at least one good meal a day and not live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“Stan had such a big heart and was a generous man.”

Savran spent Christmas Day and Thanksgiving at Junker’s house every year. The two men attended Weiss’ wedding in October 2020, and even did a “porch tour” show of “SportsBeat” in Weiss’ native Windber, near Johnstown in Somerset County.

“’Stan, Guy, love the show’ — they were iconic,” Weiss said. “Stan was an iconic figure.”

Savran also influenced a whole generation of Pittsburgh broadcasters, said Chris Mack, a Penn State University broadcasting alum who produced Savran’s and Junker’s show on ESPN 1250 AM in 2008 and 2009.

“The culture that sports helped generate in Pittsburgh — as a teenager, as a young man, it was attractive,” said Mack, who grew up in the 1990s in the Pittsburgh suburb Baldwin. “I thought, ‘This is the cool thing to do, be on the radio, be on TV and talk about sports.’ And Stan and Guy were the epitome of that.”

“Anybody who worked with Stan over the last 20, 25 years, they’re going to have great things to say about him,” he added.

Savransky, a retired legal affairs director for the District of Columbia Bar who now lives in northern Virginia, said her older brother was a workaholic — but never made a fuss with family about his career.

When COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, Savran would take part in regular Zoom calls with his sisters. Occasionally, Savransky said, he’d mention an award or something similar, then quickly would brush it off.

“He was so modest, he never talked about himself,” she said, citing the family’s humble Midwestern roots. “You didn’t brag, you didn’t boast, you just didn’t do that. And that’s how he was. He had a wicked, self-deprecating humor.”

“He had a job that was his dream: sports,” she added. “It was the best job he could ever have. And he worked hard at it.”

Vicki Hirsch — Savran’s youngest sister, a retired elementary school teacher who has lived in Los Angeles since 1984 — sometimes would tune into Savran’s radio shows from California through the I Heart Radio website.

She said her family has been shocked by the myriad tributes and loving responses to Savran’s death.

“We were overwhelmed,” Hirsch said. “We knew he was fairly famous and that people knew who he was. But, we didn’t know about the outpouring of love the city had for him.”

“We really had no idea the depth of affection the city had for him,” Savransky added.

Lenhart put it simply: Savran’s family “didn’t realize how many people Stan touched.”

A week before he died, Savran was told the cancer had spread all through his chest. He had little time left and was instructed to start hospice care at home, Savranksy said.

“Oh,” Savran joked with the oncologist who delivered the news. “I was hoping to do the Steelers this fall.”

Savran’s funeral took place June 21. He is buried in Homewood Cemetery.

In the end, it was his family who stayed closest to Savran.

“’Til the bitter end, he was our brother,” Hirsch said. “The memories we have of him will be of our big brother, Stanley George Savransky, not of Stan Savran. And he remained true to himself ‘til the bitter end.”

There was the love he shared with Pittsburgh and its people.

“Someone passes, people don’t sit there and bad-mouth them,” Mack told the Chronicle. “But Stan made everybody feel, when he was talking to them, that they were his best friend in the world.”

And, then, there was “SportsBeat.”

“Stan was respected by both fans and athletes,” Junker said. “He was very good at asking the difficult, elephant-in-the-room questions. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. And he did not pull punches.”

Junker remembers, one year, flying back to Pittsburgh International Airport after he had been away from his family for a week at Pirates spring training in Florida.

At the airport, Junker’s young son ran to Savran first. The two walked hand-in-hand to baggage claim.
“He was just like my big brother,” said Junker, who was nine years younger than Savran.

“There’s hardly a day that goes by where someone doesn’t say to me, ‘Love the show!’” he added.

“In that, Stan lives on.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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