- Bill King in 1969
LONGTIME SPORTS FANS throughout the Bay Area miss Bill King. He was the longtime radio voice of the East Bay's pro teams. He worked for almost a half-century here in Northern California, mainly behind the microphone of the A's, Raiders and Warriors. He broadcast a collective 73 seasons for those three teams, an astounding record of endurance.
King had an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, but his interests away from the games were varied and he took advantage of many of the cultural and recreational diversions the Bay Area had to offer.
King spent the last 40-plus years of his life living in Sausalito. Like many waterfront residents, King loved to sail. Residents and fellow sailors along the Sausalito docks often saw the bearded King padding around the docks in his bare feet or in sandals while working on his beloved 28-foot wooden-hulled ketch, "Varuna."
"I got the sailing bug when I was in the service in Guam, just after the war while working on the Armed Forces Radio Network," King said. Twelve years later King left his Midwest broadcasting roots to try and make it in California. He first thought was San Francisco because, "It seemed like the perfect place for me to get in plenty of sailing."
When he took his boat out on the water, King was usually joined by his wife Nancy, a cat named Hank, and an eclectic group of friends. Longtime Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli who served as one of Bill's bosses for 21 years joined in on occasion, as Mieuli was liked to go out on the bay and beyond in a catamaran he kept docked in nearby San Francisco.One of King's best friends, Tom Meschery, a burly forward on the Warriors, also joined in on occasion. Meschery was born in Manchuria during the war after his father escaped Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. King became fascinated with Russia and the two would spend hours on the road talking about Russian poetry, history and literature.
But for a man who was so busy broadcasting sports and traveling about 80,00 miles a year, it was sailing that gave King probably the most time to decompress and refresh. His favorite moments came when he, Nancy and his pals boldly ventured up or down the Pacific Coast for several weeks. On one memorable trip, King anchored "Varuna" off an island near British Columbia and he recalled being shaken out of sleep one morning by the roaring sound of running water.
"I walked out on the deck and saw this stunning array of waterfalls coming out of the cliffs near the water," King said. "The scenery was incredible and I had never felt such peace. As we were getting ready to go I looked at Nancy and then asked her, 'Why, why are we leaving this place?'"
King was a patron of the arts who enthusiastically supported the local ballet and opera companies in San Francisco. At his memorial service in October of 2005 at the Oakland Arena two dancers from the Michael Smulin Ballet Company performed a stunning 10-minute exhibition.
In the 1980s, King also took up painting. From time to time King might bring a folder to the ballpark and proudly display some of the watercolors and oils he had painted of landscapes near his digs in Sausalito.
"Wally Haas (the former A's owner) used to have these art retreats up in western Marin and I enjoyed taking part in them," King said.
King's interest in all things Russian sparked him to try and learn how to speak the language, and that effort paid off during a sailing trip to the Baltic Sea back in the 1970s.
"I had a working vocabulary of perhaps 600 words, so when we got off the boat and went to the outdoor market to get some food for the rest of our trip, I didn't have a major problem speaking the language," he said. "But it drove the Soviet authorities crazy, because they were following us wherever we went and couldn't believe that we would have the temerity to not only speak their language but to also try and get around on our own."
King's passion for the written word also got him briefly into teaching, as he substituted several times as an instructor for a course in Russian literature at the College of Marin.
Whenever people talk about Bill King, it's usually in reference to some memorable radio call of his, such as the "Holy Roller;" the last second play by the Raiders that won a game against San Diego, or perhaps it's of a last-second, game-winning jump shot by former Warriors superstar Rick Barry in a big game against the rival Lakers.
Those who listened to King's broadcasts and understand the craft of sportscasting still consider him one the finest to ever grace the airwaves anywhere, and certainly at the top of the list among local announcers.
At the service in Oakland four years ago, there were many local sports luminaries attending who extended heartfelt tributes to King. Al Davis, former Warrior coach Al Attles and A's broadcaster Ken Korach all had glowing things to say about their good friend, but also mixed in funny stories and anecdotes about his variety of outside interests.
No doubt King was considered such an elite talent in his field because he was so well-rounded with a rich life that extended far beyond sports and broadcasting. So it's not surprising that those who knew him well would often refer to him as the quintessential renaissance man.
Bruce Macgowan, a Marin native living in Fairfax, is a broadcast journalist covering professional and college sports in the Bay Area for more than 25 years. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.