Remembering NBC Broadcasting Pioneer Mac McGarry

By Jim Handly
|  Thursday, Dec 19, 2013  |  Updated 6:46 PM EDT
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Broadcasting pioneer and longtime host of

Wendy Rieger

Broadcasting pioneer and longtime host of "It's Academic" Mac McGarry passed away Thursday, Dec. 12. News4 anchor Wendy Rieger remembers the legend.

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A Tribute to Mac McGarry

After more than 20,000 contestants and 200,000 questions, "It's Academic" host Mac McGarry retires.

A Look Back at Mac McGarry

Mac McGarry has been a staff announcer with NBC-WRC since 1950. A look back at his career on air.
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Since 1950 Mac McGarry has been a broadcast institution at NBC in Washington.

In the formative years, his first title was announcer -- "Mr. Station Break."

Mac moderated or hosted dozens of TV programs with names such as “In Our Town,” “Montage,” “Mac McGarry's Summer Comedy Club” and “Capital Timeline.”

He was a pioneer. In the beginning, everything was live and, as he called it, "strange." During the early 1950s after the Today Show at 9 a.m., the station signed off until 3 p.m., coming back on the air with Kate Smith singing.

Mac’s most memorable show, and the one with unmatched staying power, was “It's Academic.” Over the decades Mac quizzed thousands of students from around our region and beyond. Some names and faces that would later become famous from Hillary Clinton and an astronaut to "Perry Mason."

Mac and Altman Productions came up with the questions to stump students in the studio and at home every Saturday morning. Technology has changed the way students learn and communicate, and the questions always kept up with the times.

Like a fine wine, Mac's sense of humor got better with age. In fact, so did his memory. In his final years he could rattle off baseball stats and names of world leaders who’ve graced Studio A.

While most of us were just waking up on Saturday mornings to watch, Mac was always spot on, never missing a beat.

Some of his favorite days with WRC were in radio as a drive-time announcer in the big band era interviewing big names.

Even after retiring he would come back to NBC every week to listen to favorites with friends from when radio ruled. And on “It’s Academic,” the good ol’ days made for his favorite kinds of questions. One of his expert fields was classic Broadway shows and musicals.

As NBC4 and the NBC News Bureau grew, so would the list of names Mac McGarry would remember. His name won't soon be forgotten here and among the millions of Washingtonians who invited him into their homes over the decades.

McGarry, 87, passed away Thursday at his Potomac, Md. home after complications with pneumonia. 

Family and friends will gather for a funeral mass at 11 a.m. Dec. 19 at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations be made to the Mac McGarry Scholarship Fund.

He is survived by his wife Babette and his four children. 

A scholarship fund was created in McGarry's honor. Donations can be sent to:

Mac McGarry Scholarship Fund
P.O. Box 61152
Potomac, MD 20859

WRC President and General Manager Jackie Bradford released the following statement:

"We lost a cherished member of our family tonight. For more than fifty years, teenagers in the Washington area were quizzed by Mac McGarry's pointed questions and sharp wit. His booming yet gentile voice was a familiar sound around the halls of NBC in Washington and on our air. We will miss his presence, his humor, his charm and most of all his friendship." 

"It's Academic" Executive Producer Susan Altman:

"Mac McGarry made "It's Academic" what it is today. He was our host for 50 years, and was probably the only game show host in television history who would occasionally burst into song in the middle of the show. And what you saw on TV was the real Mac McGarry---funny, smart, knowledgeable, and a joy to work with. He was a Washington institution, and he set the standard---not just professionally--but as a human being as well. All of us who knew and worked with Mac will miss him."

 

 

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