Longtime A's radio voice Bill King dies at 78

Updated: October 18, 2005, 8:53 PM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press