Bill King: He'll Be Missed
More than anyone I’ve ever known, King lived his life as he wanted, oblivious to what others thought. Away from the park, he drove a battered car and lived on a houseboat, and he seemed to feel that anything invented after about 1950 was of no consequence, a category that included inter-league games.
Communicating with him could be a problem because, though he had a telephone, he had no answering machine or cell phone and, of course, no e-mail. He regarded the Internet as an abomination and often chided broadcast partner Ken Korach, only half in jest, about his use of it – though he didn’t shun the information Korach gained that way.
He was a man of principle, even when it cost him. At the start of his Bay Area broadcasting career, he did sportscasts on both radio and TV that were amazing, because he would do as much as 15 minutes strictly from memory. But the station management at KTVU decided that he could not continue unless he shaved his beard. King refused, and he never did TV again.
The beard became his trademark, but at that time, a man who had a beard was regarded as weird or a rebel or both. I probably don’t have to tell you who else had a beard at that time. The last time we talked, at an A’s game in the last week of the season, King recalled the first time he had seen me, in 1962, when I was working for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. “We (Warriors) were training at Aptos and I looked across the court and saw this man with a beard and wondered who he could be.”
Bill was a man of great loyalties, including to the owners who hired him. Franklin Mieuli was a friend from the moment King came to work with the Warriors. His loyalty to Al Davis was so strong that he continued to broadcast the Raiders games when they moved to Los Angeles, not concerned that many of his listeners had been alienated by the move and might transfer that feeling to him. He loved Walter Haas, but, of course, we all did.
He was a man of great cultural interests who would talk at length on subjects like the ballet or Russian history. The one subject he didn’t discuss was himself; only occasionally, would he share broadcasting experiences from his past. He was especially secretive about his age. Korach and I were trying to figure that out earlier this season. I guessed King at about 72. Korach thought he was 78-79 (he was 78) because he had uncovered evidence on the dreaded Internet that showed King broadcasting on Guam for Armed Forces Radio during World War II – something else King never mentioned.
He was a man who could be comfortable in shorts and sandals or in black tie, and that spread applied to his eating habits, too. He was known for his love of fine food and wine, but in the broadcast booth, he ate some revolting concoctions. In his Chronicle piece on King, David Bush quotes A’s broadcaster Robert Baun about King eating popcorn with hot dog condiments mixed in like a salad.
WITH IT ALL, he was the best announcer I’ve ever known. He not only conveyed the excitement of the games but did it without being the “homer” that so many announcers are. You have only to listen to other announcers, especially those from the midwest, to realize was a rare and wonderful quality that is.
King first got his reputation doing the Warriors games, and there are many who think that was the best thing he did. My friend George Karsant always wished that King would come back to the Warriors one more time, but King’s interest in the Warriors waned when Mieuli sold the team.
Bill never wanted to work with a color man on basketball because he felt he could do it all, and he was right. He had a breath-taking ability to see everything that was happening on the court. He not only would tell you who had the ball but where the defenders were and who was cutting toward the basket, in position to take a pass. Listening to him often gave you more information than actually watching the game would have.
All that information could be exhausting, as well. Discussing the Warriors after a Giants game in the ‘60s, Russ Hodges complained to me, “Bill King talks faster than I can listen.”
Meanwhile, King was also evaluating the referees, always to their detriment. The league couldn’t punish King but they did fine the Warriors frequently. Mieuli paid the fines and never tried to tell his friend to let up.
I became close to King when I was assigned to the Raiders beat in 1967, one year after King had been named announcer, and I was amazed by his preparation. In those days, announcers didn’t have the game videos that are so prevalent now, so King would prepare for games by going over the play-by-play sheets for previous games of the opponents. Even the exhibition games. With his incredible memory, he had all that information stored.
One example stands out in my mind: The Raiders were playing the Denver Broncos, and the Broncos had a fourth down coming up late in the game. King searched his memory bank and remembered that, in a similar situation – in an exhibition game! – the Broncos had run a fake punt. He told his listeners that they might do it this time, too, and sure enough, the Broncos did.
He prepared so well that, when he saw a team line up, he knew what the tendencies were in that situation. He never used a spotter because he knew every player on the field. When a pass was thrown, he could tell listeners instantly who had caught it, who was defending and where the ball was. That was why, when the games were televised, fans would often turn down the television sound and listen to King (and Scotty Stirling) on the radio.
At that point, King was juggling football and basketball broadcasts. When the Haas family bought the A’s, Roy Eisenhardt and Wally Haas decided their first move should be to sign the two Bay Area icons, King and Lon Simmons, to do their broadcasts.
King met with Eisenhardt and Haas for 4 ˝ hours, a meeting King described for me when I interviewed him for “Champions,” and discovered he was talking to two fans. “Here I was, supposedly auditioning for the job, and Wally was bringing up specific broadcasts of mine,” King remembered.
For three years, King did three sports. Then, he dropped the Warriors and later the Raiders to concentrate on the A’s, for whom he broadcast 25 years.
At the start of his A’s career, King struggled a bit in adjusting to the slower pace, after football and basketball, but he soon got into the flow of the game. To the end, he remained a sharp observer, and his post-game wrapups were classics. If you needed to know what was important, it wasn’t necessary to listen to the game broadcasts. Just check the wrapup.
THERE’S LONG been talk that King was a Hall of Fame broadcaster, but the problem has been in deciding which sport should honor him. I have a solution: Put him in all three Halls. He deserves it.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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