Although he is 90 years old, Walt Harris' voice is vibrant and strong.
He spent about 40 years in the broadcast industry, and if you were a roller derby or wrestling fan between the late 1940s and early 1970s, chances are you heard or saw him call the action.
After attending Pacific Lutheran College in Tacoma, Wash., Walt enrolled in a broadcast school in Beverly Hills. He was recruited by a radio station in Albuquerque, where he spent one winter, then worked in Tacoma before moving to San Francisco in 1949 and beginning his broadcasting career with KFRC.
"When TV came, that was the end of radio. The owner of KFRC owned Channel 2 and I was the first one he talked to -- the first employee," Walt said. "I was the announcer for 'Dell Courtney's Search for Songs,' with a cast of singers and an orchestra, and I did the 'Morning News at 6:30,' in addition to roller derby and wrestling."
He remembers the days when roller derby drew a crowd of 55,000 at the Oakland Coliseum. The rink was set up in the middle of the infield and the game was broadcast to more than 100 stations in the U.S., he said. He interviewed many of the hard-blocking skaters, among them Buddy Atkinson Sr. of the Pioneers, who talked about his intense rivalry with Charlie O'Connell of the Bay Bombers. Watch the interview and read comments left by viewers at www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRqMRtSFCWQ.
"I would do the first part of a broadcast, then hurry down to the rink to do interviews at half-time, and run back up to announce the second half," Walt said. "Roller derby was a real crowd pleaser and a ratings success."
According to a KTVU story in 2004, Walt is credited with helping modify some of the roller derby rules to make it more "telegenic." Under his influence, "jammers" (the only team members that can score points) were made more identifiable by wearing helmets with stripes.
I asked him if he ever heard anything about roller derby matches being fixed.
"Nobody ever talked about it," he said, "and I never asked. It didn't matter to people."
In about 1972 or '73, Walt said he began producing and directing San Francisco Giants games. Willie Mays was gone by then, but Willie McCovey was still playing and they often rode the bus from the hotel to the ballpark together. Walt retired in 1986.
Life is much slower for him these days. When I asked him what he does, he said ruefully, "I'm going out of my cotton-pickin' mind. I lived too long."
He and his wife, Carmel, celebrated their 90th and 88th birthdays on May 21 and May 14, respectively, with what Walt called "the biggest wingding in my life."
On June 10, they will have been married for 62 years. They lived in San Jose before moving to Danville about seven years ago.
"I golfed a lot when I was younger," he said. "I played at Peacock Gap in Marin County and was in a golf foursome with John Raitt, a Broadway singer that was good friends with Bing Crosby. Bing flew up just to introduce our foursome that year."
Walt said he doesn't recall the names of all the celebrities he met over the years, but he well remembers that Merv Griffin was one of the first people he worked with in television.
There was a correction in my last column. My May 15 Around Danville column regarding The Fallen Heroes Celebrity Golf Tournament on June 13 at Diablo Country Club should have stated that tournament proceeds will be used to benefit the families of California law enforcement officers and fire service personnel who lose their lives during the performance of their duties.