Frank Chirkinian grew up in Philadelphia the son of immigrants that fled the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s. His father took his mother’s name off of an immigration displaced persons list, and having never met her previously, they stayed together for the rest of their lives having two children – Sarah and Frank. His father made the most of their new lives settling in NE Philadelphia and opening a dry cleaning business that served the growing family well right through the depression.
Frank was expected to follow into the family dry cleaning business, but his interests in the entertainment business pulled him in a different direction. After attending the University of Pennsylvania in 1950, he took an assistant director’s job at the WCAU where he quickly rose through the ranks assisting in the production of a variety of local programs including musicals and cooking shows.
His talents in those early years didn’t go unnoticed, and by 1958 he was tapped by the CBS to assist the network in developing its sports coverage in the Philadelphia area. His first task was to produce the 1958 PGA Championship was at Llanerch Country Club near Philadelphia. The decision to produce this network show evolved from the meeting with the PGA of America and CBS at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia and would set the stage for the many innovations in golf that would emerge from the creative mind of Chirkinian in the ensuing years. Frank was just 32 at the time, and his coverage of that event was limited to just 6 live cameras, but it made such a great impression on the network he was tapped again to produce 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley.
It was in 1960 that Frank finally made the transition from being “at loan” to the network to full time producer/director, and would go on the produce and direct the network’s coverage of tennis, football, basketball and, of course golf… a career that spanned almost half a century and that spawned many television innovations including the first-time use of blimp in sports coverage, the advent of the camera towers seen today and the golf tournament scoring system.
During his career, he won five Emmy awards, two Peabody awards, was elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photos originally donated by Frank Chirkinian, Jr.
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