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Longtime A's radio voice Bill King dies at 78

10/18/2005 - Oakland Athletics

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Longtime Oakland Athletics radio voice
Bill King, whose signature call of "Holy Toledo!" was a household
phrase for decades in the Bay Area, died early Tuesday from
complications following hip surgery. He was 78.
The A's said King died at a hospital in San Leandro, after
undergoing surgery Friday for an injury sustained earlier this
year.
King was the lead radio broadcaster for the Golden State
Warriors and Oakland Raiders and worked for a time on the San
Francisco Giants' broadcast team.
"Bill was a great friend, a brilliant performer and an
exceptional man," Raiders owner Al Davis said. "I say this with
great admiration and love that Bill becomes one of the people that
I give the cloak of immortality. Time never stops for the great
ones."
At spring training in March, King tripped over some luggage in
his Phoenix hotel room and had been struggling to get around all
season -- missing a number of road games and relying on crutches and
later a cane.
But he reported about the A's with the same fervor he
demonstrated for years covering not only the A's, but other pro
sports teams in Northern California. He joined the A's broadcast
staff in 1981.
"It's a devastating thing," said Ken Korach, King's partner in
the booth the past 10 seasons. "It's almost hard to believe. It's
pretty sad. He just meant so much -- a true icon, a renaissance man,
a one-in-a-million kind of a character, and I mean that in a
positive way. He was one of a kind."
His death came as a shock to the sports community, which
considered King with his carefully groomed curled-up mustache as
much a ballpark staple as the players and the popcorn. He even had
his own bobblehead giveaway night.
King, a native of Bloomington, Ill., had surgery Friday and all
indications were that he would recover. Korach received an e-mail
from King's daughter Friday night that he "came through the
surgery fine."
"I think he was just a member of the family for almost 50 years
in the Bay Area. He was the greatest sportscaster I ever heard,"
Korach said. "He brought an immense amount of passion and
dedication to every broadcast and touched so many people. They
remember certain times in their lives because of him. For over 50
years, he was a constant in people's lives."
A's president Michael Crowley called King "arguably the most
recognizable voice in the history of Bay Area broadcasting."
"One would be hard-pressed to find an announcer who served as
the lead play-by-play voice for three major sports franchises for
as long as Bill," Crowley said.
King was the Warriors' first broadcaster when they moved West
from Philadelphia following the 1961-62 season. He broadcast the
Wilt Chamberlain era and called the games in the team's title
season in 1974-75. Lon Simmons, who was inducted into the broadcast
wing of baseball's Hall of Fame last season and was a former
partner of King's, called him "the best basketball announcer I've
ever heard."
"He was talented, versatile, enthusiastic and, most
importantly, a class act and a great man," Warriors president
Robert Rowell said. "He will be sorely missed by everyone he
touched, including those who never had the opportunity to meet him,
but still benefited from his presence in their homes."
On road trips, King often could be seen studying Russian history
and literature. He also loved ballet and jazz and always had a book
with him on road trips in case flights were delayed.
King was stationed on the island of Guam at the end of World War
II, when he began his broadcasting career with the Armed Forces
Radio Network.
In 1976, King called himself "ageless," saying he wouldn't
stop doing his job just because he was growing older.
King is preceded in death by his wife, Nancy Stephens. His
stepdaughter, Kathleen Lowenthal, drove King to and from his home
in Sausalito to the Oakland Coliseum for games this season.
King also is survived by stepson, John Stephens, of Sausalito
and grandchildren, Julia and John Lowenthal.
Memorial services were pending.
"He just loved the game of baseball and loved sports and did
what he truly loved to do, which was to broadcast games," said Ken
Pries, the A's vice president of broadcasting and communications
who first got to know King while working as an intern for KNBR
during college.
"He was a great story teller. I always told him he should write
a book about all of his experiences with the Bay Area teams.
Unfortunately he never had a chance to do that. I'm sure it would
have been a best seller. It's hard to believe we're not going to be
hearing his voice on the airwaves come next baseball season."