Football Fans Fight for Cronkite

Sep 30, 2010 9:57am

ABC News on Campus reporter Ashley Jennings blogs:
Game day. Students and alumni clad in burnt orange fill the streets surrounding Darrell K Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.
But while most enjoy pregame tailgates and traditions, senior broadcast major Barbara Friend stands on a street corner handing out free T-shirts with Walter Cronkite’s face on them.
“We want Walter,” Friend chants to the crowd passing by.
For the past eight years, the University of Texas has premiered the same broadcast commercial on the JumboTron during sporting events and in its NCAA ad for those watching at home. Featuring the voice of alumnus Walter Cronkite, the ad displays the University of Texas clock tower while Cronkite bellows “Get your horns up” at the end of the scene. A staple for home football games during the third quarter, Friend says it’s one of UT’s biggest traditions.
A year after his death, the school now has a series of five new commercials featuring the voice of singer Barbara Conrad.
Conrad, also an alumna of UT, has been referred to as “one of the foremost builders of voice both in the U.S. and abroad,” according to the Briscoe Center for American History. She’s performed leading opera roles at Teatro Nacional in Venezuela, New York City Opera, Vienna State Opera and numerous other open houses throughout the world. Conrad sang at the White House for Lady Bird Johnson’s 75th birthday as well as for Pope John Paul II during his visit to New York in 1995. 
Friend says she means no disrespect to Conrad or the new commercials, but students need their “Walter fix” at games.
“The lack of the [Cronkite] commercial at the game just brought the energy way down,” Friend said. “Even after our win students were so disappointed. I don’t want to leave my last year feeling that way.”
Longhorns noticed the absence during the first home game against Wyoming. Friend then created a Facebook group called “Fight for Cronkite” that accumulated over 1,900 friends alongside a petition aiming to gain 5,000 signatures.
Their ultimate goal? To get the commercials back on the JumboTron for football season. “I don’t think any of us expected such publicity and peer support,” Friend said.
Although Friend’s group of followers gained recognition from media and the UT Athletics Department, including women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky, not all the students at UT got hooked by the hype. Cody Permenter, a sophomore journalism major, says fans were overreacting and disrespecting Barbara Conrad.
“Cronkite was the voice for a time, now it’s Conrad, so what’s the big deal?” Permenter said. “I don't think one's achievements have outweighed the others, both are equally deserving of being recognized.”
UT athletic administrators ran a portion of the Cronkite commercial at last Saturday’s game against UCLA, leaving out the last statement “What starts here changes the world.” While some fans say “it’s too little, too late” Friend says she’ll take what she can get.
“Walter Cronkite, at a game, he just lights up the crowd — it’s incredible,” Friend said. Photo courtesy of Caleb Fox/The Daily Texan

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