Ken Korach is a SoCal boy who grew up like many, listening to Vin Scully on Dodgers and Chick Hearn on Lakers. He graduated U.C. Santa Barbara and took a conventional route to his first Major League gig. After stops of progression along a twenty year course, he made it to the A’s radio booth where he’s currently enjoying his 23d season.
Korach worked at small stations hosting music, doing sports, production, talk-shows, voiceovers and news. He also did Sonoma State football and basketball, a DII program, an hour north of San Francisco.
The friendly Korach scratched out a living at hardly minimum wage. To pay the bills, he also worked at a golf club, a clothing store and did some ad sales. In other words, he paid his dues. Heck, his first fulltime baseball job, doing A ball, paid him all of $750 a month. Tough figuring out the finances on those penurious dollars, even 35 years ago.
While he’s known for his baseball in a busy play-by-play market like San Francisco-Oakland, he’s done lots of football and basketball too, notably UNLV hoops in the day. It was just when one legend succeeded another, Rollie Massimino followed Jerry Tarkanian.
When he finally made it to the big leagues fulltime, he worked in Oakland with the eccentric and irreverent Bill King, a renaissance man who was wildly loved and greatly admired in Northern California. King was best known for his work with the Oakland Raiders in the Al Davis era and doing simulcasts for the Golden State Warriors. King always wanted to do Major League Baseball and finally got his chance in 1981. For a while, King actually did three teams, Raiders, Warriors and A’s; defying the limitations of calendars, unreliable airline schedules and the exigencies of time. It would be unthinkable today.
Ask Korach about his ten years working alongside King and he’ll fill your day with tales about this fascinating enigma of a man who enjoyed the opera and fine dining but wouldn’t invest more than $250 for a personal vehicle. In fact, one of his notorious cars had a gaping hole right through the floor of the passenger seat upfront.
King was so inspiring that Korach authored a book on him, Holy Toledo!
Mickey Morabito, the Oakland A’s Director of Travel, who’s been with the ballclub for almost 40 years calls Korach a “good dinner companion.” Mickey says that “In this age of eat and run, Ken is Bill King like; in his enjoyment of a good dining experience!
Today, the A’s radio broadcast will run commercial free in honor of the one year anniversary of King being honored posthumously with the Ford Frick Award by the Hall of Fame. Special guests will be honored.
I had an opportunity to interview Ken.
What was you first taste of doing big time sports?
I landed my first big market job in 1985 in San Francisco. KCBS was a giant of a station. It had acquired the rights to San Jose State football. Silicone Valley was revving up then and the station wanted an imprint of sorts there. So for me it was an opportunity to get visibility in the Bay Area.
After getting experience doing baseball, basketball and football, you set your goal on working the baseball rungs. You did AAA baseball in Phoenix beginning in 1986 and then found a home in Las Vegas in 1989. In 1992, you started doing some part-time work with the White Sox and in 1996, you get your big break with the A’s. Elaborate.
The legendary Lon Simmons had worked with Bill King in the A’s booth for 15 years. The two were the best crew ever and loved by fans. Following a long career, Lon moved on after the 1995 season. So at that point, the team was looking for a #2 to Bill; someone who was humble if not a bit docile, an announcer who would make a legendary if not quirky broadcaster comfortable. I think I got the gig because in the interviewing process, I made it clear that I grew up listening to Bill and was in awe of his work. So if there was a tiebreaker, that might have been it. I was there to support him not build my resume by dramatizing the middle three innings I would be assigned.
It worked out beautifully. Bill embraced me. Others noticed and the A’s family accepted me too.
What did you learn working with Bill King?
What rubbed off the most was his passion and preparation. Never compromise on homework. Bill was very much his own man. He brought his emotions to every broadcast. It was his visceral connection with listeners, an authenticity. He also loved life and had diverse interests. It exposed me to lots of them.
Remember, that most of the time we worked together Bill was already in his 70s. He could have mailed it in but he never took anything for granted. His preparation was thorough.
After Bill passed, the dynamic changed.
I was the lead guy and we hired Vince Cotroneo who still works with me now. King passed away on October 18, 2005. I still miss him on-air and off. We spent so much time together doing a myriad of things. There were times during those first couple of years after his death, where I’d be on the team bus thinking about all sorts of things that I would love to have shared with him had he still been there!
During the short career of Dallas Braden, he pitched a perfect game on Mother’s Day, 2010. What was the experience like for you calling it?
I don’t believe that I actually used the words perfect game until the 8th inning. I would say it a lot earlier now if I had another chance to do it. I have to admit that I probably danced around the actual words perfect game because it just kind of seemed to be working for a while. People talk about superstitions. Now, I think announcers say it regularly.
Tell us about your participation in the acclaimed movie, “Moneyball”
Yes, I was lucky enough to have a small part in the movie. I still get residuals. My wife kids me, saying we just got another $22 from Sony Pictures and I’ll say, great we can have dinner tonight! They used my actual audio. They wanted authenticity. I actually acted a scene for (Bennett) Miller and to show you my ability as an actor, no one has ever seen it because it’s on the proverbial cutting room floor somewhere in Hollywood.
Relate a regrettable experience, a horror story, that occurred through the years.
While working part-time for the White Sox, I actually forgot to do the fifth inning when I was wandering the halls of Camden Yards. All of a sudden, the engineer comes racing down the hall of the press box shouting, “Ken you’re on the air!” Well, I think we missed four or five pitches by then. Those are the times you see your career passing before your eyes.
How do you prepare for a broadcast?
I learned from the late Dick Enberg to give the audience a reason to care. I try to tug on emotional strings. In baseball, preparation is from the field up to the booth, not the other way around.