Bay Area Broadcast Legend Bill King Dies
The Raiders radio voice was silenced last week when Bill King passed away from complications encountered during hip surgery. He lent a lot of class to that organization. Like all home team announcers, he was somewhat biased, but I think he was actually more evenhanded than most.
Bay Area Broadcast Legend Bill King Dies
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Bill King, longtime Bay Area sportscaster who was the radio voice of the Oakland A's since 1981, died Monday night.
King died after complications from surgery.
Known for his trademark beard, his call of "Holy Toledo," and his colorful lifestyle, King was behind the mike for some of the most memorable moments in Bay Area sports history.
King was believed to be 78. The lack of knowledge of his exact age was one of the many quirks that made King one of the great characters in Bay Area sports.
He was the voice of the Warriors from the time they moved to San Francisco in 1962 until 1983. That tenure included the team's only NBA championship in 1975.
In 1966 he began broadcasting Raiders games and stayed with that franchise through the move Los Angeles in 1982. He gave up the Raiders job in 1992, before the team returned to Oakland, to concentrate on baseball.
His call of the famous "Sea of Hands" pass from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis in a 1974 playoff, is considered one of the greatest play-by-play accounts ever.
He also was at the mike for the "Heidi Game," against the Jets, the "Immaculate Reception" by Franco Harris in Pittsburgh and the "Holy Roller" against the Chargers, three memorable moments in Raiders history.
With the A's he teamed first with Hall of Famer Lon Simmons and then Ken Korach. He broadcast the three straight World Series appearances (1988-90) as well as Rickey Henderson's steal of third to set the all-time stolen base record.
King, who broadcast college games in the Midwest following World War II, came to the Bay Area in 1958. He did some broadcasting for the Giants, joining Simmons and Russ Hodges in the booth, as well play-by-play for Cal football and basketball before joining the Warriors.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
The man behind the mike
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
There should have been a book about Bill King. A great, thick, fascinating, hilarious, overwhelming book written about the life of a man who lived several of them.
The author should have been Bill King, as told to anybody he wanted. And maybe, because he was a stridently private man when it came to the subject of Bill King, there is a book somewhere, just begging for a publisher.
More's the pity if there isn't, though. He was eye-searingly brilliant in so many ways that his story would, if properly told, be a biography for the ages.
He was a great broadcaster when there were great broadcasters all over the place, and when they weren't called broadcasters at all but announcers. He was without question one of the two or three finest basketball announcers ever, almost surely the finest football announcer ever, and a very good baseball announcer in his prime.
And no, this is not the time for you Chick Hearn or Al McCoy or Joe Tait fans to rise up and defend your guy. They knew how good King was, and they said so, often. If you say your guy was better, you speak from ignorance, or you weren't lucky enough to hear King. Your choice.
And that doesn't even get into that he was a breathtakingly literate, cultured and erudite man who just happened to look like the Czar Nicholas II, wear the chest-harness microphone (to keep his hands free) like a stevedore, drive cars with millions of miles on them that predated even chrome, and dress like the Ancient Mariner. If he had socks, he kept them around only for special occasions.
Frankly, to call him a renaissance man does more justice to the Renaissance than it does him. He was a character because he had character, not because he developed one for career reasons.
King, who died Tuesday of complications from surgery at the age of 78, was a master of the art, one of the very few of his or any time who could not only keep up with the play but see what was going on away from the ball and describe it so well that you were better off in your living room than at the arena.
His was the authoritative voice of the Warriors, Raiders and A's, going back 43 years, and the only reason he did not become nationally known and admired was that he wouldn't shave his beard to appease television producers. He didn't want to, and he didn't have to. He was the best source on '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s sports in the Bay Area, as well as opera, Russian history, and the kind of diet that often charged the air with a faint sulfurous haze. It became a hilarious staple of his broadcasts with a series of partners, all of whom say freely and that they never had a better boothmate.
And he was fearless. He said what he saw, not what he was told to say. He was accurate always, and he was witheringly critical when it was required. Listeners knew they were getting the straight deal every time, because he not only wouldn't lie to gussy up a player's profile, he couldn't. He wasn't trained that way, as so many broadcasters are now. He loathed homers, announcers who tart up the home team because they think they are providing a service, because being a homer requires an essential dishonesty he could not abide.
Mostly, though, he was fun, which is the whole reason why there still are sports on the radio. He swore at official Ed Rush when the Warriors lost a critical call in a game against Seattle. He described breathlessly how the officials told Raiders coach John Madden to "get his big butt off the field" after the "Holy Roller" play in San Diego. "He does" was King's classic follow-up that few people remember.
He had a hundred memorable calls, maybe even a thousand. He did more than 10,000 games in his time, and because he spoke quickly yet clearly, he had time for every one of them. He simply had chops you just don't see or hear anymore, and because so much of his best work wasn't saved, it can't be re-created and made a required class in every university with a broadcasting major.
Now this is about the point that King would have left, having no time for this sort of over-the-top rave about him or his work. You couldn't get him to talk about himself if he'd been Churchill's whist partner during the Battle of Britain.
King had time for everything except people telling him how good he was, because (a) he already knew, and had other things to do with his day, (b) had a Midwesterner's inherent discomfort with praise, (c) he assumed you were supposed to be good at your job, even if it was one that involved no heavy lifting, and (d) he considered himself a lucky enough man without being told he was good at being lucky.
He was generous, though, to anyone who had a question, or information on a new restaurant, play or book he hadn't frequented, seen or read yet, or a player or coach who just didn't get something, or more likely, one who could educate him. He was a sponge for information and ideas, and a resource of extraordinary depth and breadth. He knew you couldn't be the latter without the former.
Maybe he has that book among his effects. Maybe all the stories he told before, and the hundreds more he never got to, are somewhere in his study, or on his boat, or in storage somewhere. Maybe he has one new way to entertain and enlighten us even now that he's gone.
But it would be like him to just go, as much he might have wanted to stay awhile longer. He never lingered over goodbyes, because he always had a new place to be. It is the gift and the curse of the ravenously curious to always think of what's next, and to head that way at top speed.
He wouldn't have had time to read the Bill King book, anyway. He lived the movie, and the book couldn't possibly have done it justice.
Wow. That was kind of shocker. Condolences to his family, the fans and the Raider organization. This is a really tough year for that team.
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