They had a memorial service for Bill King, the announcer for the Oakland As, yesterday at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. The article in the San Francisco Chronicle says the crowd was "estimated at 300." The main speaker appears to have been Al Davis. When Chick Hearn died Cardinal Roger Mahoney presided at the funeral, which was broadcast live on Channel 4 and thousands attended the memorial service at Staples Center. In fairness, those who attended the service for King were a who's who of Bay Area Sports, including Rick Barry, Tony LaRussa and Jim Plunkett, among others. But the fact is that even in the Bay Area, King never earned the celebrity status that other towns lavish on their announcers.
I learned football and basketball by listening to Chick Hearn, but when I arrived in the Bay Area in 1970, I was amazed by King's calls of the Raiders games. He somehow described the position of every player on offense and who was covering him while at the same time describing all the action, commenting on the strategy, and criticizing the officials when he deemed it warranted. You could see it all on the radio; no TV needed. This was all enhanced by a series of last second victories engineered by George Blanda, but to me King was the star. He made the game come alive.
King started broadcasting the Raiders in 1966. He followed them to L.A. and stayed until 1992, when he had a dispute with the production company that had acquired the Raiders' broadcast rights. Joel Myers replaced him. It was as absurd as replacing Chick Hearn with Joel Myers, something that obviously could never happen, right? Right?
King also called the Warriors basketball games for 21 years from 1962 to 1983. His calls were as rapid fire as Hearn's, but were also punctuated by considerable editorializing, including a fabled MF bomb he launched at referee Ed Rush when King thought the microphone was dead. King finished off by being the lead announcer of the As for the last twenty five years. He never wore out his welcome.
King was a Bay Area original who was just too iconoclastic to be a national announcer. He regularly attended the opera and ballet, dined at fine restaurants, and was a Russian history buff. He never had a career on TV because he refused to shave his long moustache or goatee. He famously worked in bare feet or flip-flops and apparently ate all manner of peculiar foodstuffs. He was a curmudgeon, but entertainingly so. He somehow found a way out of broadcasting many interleague games or going to Texas.
On Friday October 14th, King went into the hospital for hip surgery to repair damage from a fall. He somehow died the following Tuesday of complications from the operation. He was 78, but this should not happen.
The As are leading a campaign to have King receive the Ford Frick Award at the Hall of Fame. The Warriors and Raiders also have tributes on their web sites. KNBR Radio, for which King had not worked since he left the Warriors in 1983 has links to audio highlights at the bottom of its home page and seeks support for Rick Barry's nomination of King to the Basketball Hall of Fame. The L.A. Times had a nice article the day after King's death.