Hank Goldberg, a foundational figure of Miami sports radio, dies at age 82

·6 min read
Eliot J. Schechter/Eliot J. Schechter

Hank Goldberg loved horse racing, football, baseball, boxing and the betting that helped drive those sports’ popularity. Goldberg loved his opinions on all of the above, loved conversations with the stars of the above and loved broadcasting both on radio and television, in South Florida and nationally.

Goldberg spent over half his life in Miami, after coming in the days when boxing champions trained in Miami Beach, Kentucky Derby contenders prepped at Gulfstream and Hialeah and just before all serious Super Bowl conversations included the Dolphins. By the time “The Hammer” left Miami sports radio in 2007, title talk meant “the Heat” and the Dolphins meant “coaching change.”

After decades as a radio and television presence based in Miami, Goldberg spent his last four years in Las Vegas, where he died Monday, on his 82nd birthday.

His death was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Review-Journal said Goldberg’s sister, Liz Goldberg, with whom he had been living, said complications from chronic kidney problems brought his death.

“His voice was one of the building blocks of sports radio in Miami,” said Marc Hochman, host of the Hochman & Crowder show that runs 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays on 560 WQAM and simulcast the last three hours on 790 The Ticket.

And, for someone talking about the things he loved, that voice often seemed...a little angry. Sometimes, rude, especially if he flat-out didn’t just not agree with your opinion, but felt you were ill-informed.

“He enjoyed not being the warm and fuzzy radio friend,” Hochman said. “He embraced being the acerbic radio host.”

“He was as big as they come in South Florida,” said University of Miami football and basketball play-by-play man Joe Zagacki, who worked under Goldberg on his 610 WIOD radio show, with Goldberg on Dolphins radio broadcasts and was his boss as program director at WIOD and sports director at 560 WQAM.

“He was our local news Howard Cosell,” Zagacki said. “He was a great wordsmith. He made you think. I think he set a standard of being right and pursuing stories. He loved breaking stories. And, when he did, you knew he was going to be right because he had such great contacts.”

Longtime listener Orlando Alzugary, now producing his own podcasts at SoundCloud, produced and worked breaking news on Goldberg’s show and considers him “an inspiration to us all in this crazy business.”

“As a member of the media for 32 years, I grew up listening to Hank, who helped inspire me to do what I love to do every single day of my life in this new wave of communication called digital platforms,” Alzugary said.

‘The Hammer’ adapts, survives and thrives

Goldberg. came to Miami as an advertising man in the 1960s and worked in that business into the 1990s. He came out of the “Mad Men” era, and he might’ve seemed a media character out of the 1940s but he learned how to live in each change in the sports media atmosphere.

Though not trained in radio, when given a show with Dolphins Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield in the early 1970s, he turned it into a career launch. Goldberg helped create the modern sports radio show while at WIOD after he took over from Larry King in 1978. He learned how to work the limits of color commentary on Miami Dolphins radio broadcasts (then-play-by-play man Rick Weaver wanted Goldberg to make his point and be done in 15 seconds).

He ghost wrote the syndicated newspaper columns by the first famous national sports handicapper, Jimmy the Greek. He brought NFL gambling talk to cable television doing so blatantly on ESPN in the 1990s and early 2000s what Jimmy the Greek did obliquely on CBS’ “The NFL Today” in the 1970s and 1980s.

“He was the only guy on ESPN allowed to talk gambling lines,” Hochman said. “Any kind of mention of gambling was verboten — except for Hank.”

When the local TV stations decided Sunday nights, especially during the football season, needed more sports, there was Goldberg on WTVJ’s Sports Final.

Goldberg the ad man ended his career on the internet, talking spreads on CBS Sports HQ and SportsLine. He used the same analytic skills he used when doing Dolphins radio color commentary, breaking down matchups with the same knowledge he learned from the NFL insiders he talked to when working for Jimmy the Greek.

Alzugary said, “Hank would fit perfectly into these new gambling platforms that have exploded everywhere. Creating the kind of sports fans in the 2020s that would appreciate his opinions on their investments.”

A Goldberg story that has made the rounds is he fell in love with the action when he hit the daily double on his first trip to the track.

More than a loud, confrontational sports guy

The Newark-born Goldberg loved sports, but nobody who attends Duke and graduates from NYU just wants to be known as a sports guy. Zagacki recalls at WIOD in the early 1990s, he would do sports talk from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., then dived into his Goldberg at Night radio show that allowed him to bring on all manner of non-sports celebrities.

How could such a crusty curmudgeon develop such relationships and sources? Well, as is common, on-air Hank “The Hammer” Goldberg wasn’t necessarily the Henry Goldberg you talked with at a table or in a cab.

Zagacki jokes that Goldberg opened the door for him at WIOD in the most literal sense — running into the 16-year-old in the lobby, finding out the kid wanted to see the program director about an internship and saying “I’ll take you back.”

“He was rough and gruff on the outside at times, but I remember the man who was always there to reach out to me when I needed the right advice and guidance behind the scenes,” Alzugary said.

Zagacki recalls Goldberg telling him one day in San Diego that they would meet Dodgers Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after a Dolphins game. When two women showed up, Zagacki asked what happened to Koufax and Drysdale?

“They’re Koufax and Drysdale because they strike me out every time,” laughed Goldberg.

“Off air, he was generous and funny. Always happy,” Zagacki said. “He went through life looking for the next great story to tell. And he wanted to be part of that story.”