Rankings

Southern California’s top all-time play-by-play voices; It’s a who’s who list of some of the best ever!

 

 

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Halberstam

When the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Southern California in 1958, Los Angeles became a Major League city in more ways than one. In time, LA would surpass Chicago as the nation’s second biggest metropolitan area. Sports in the area would begin to swell and excel.

In 1958, SoCal had one pro team, the NFL’s Rams, who had moved west from Cleveland a dozen years earlier in 1946. The Rams had won one NFL title in 1951. But the NFL then wasn’t what it is today. Baseball was still America’s national pastime.

University of Southern California football was dominant. Of their total of eleven national championships  the Trojans had already won four titles when the Dodgers switched coasts. Otherwise LA was known for the Rose Bowl, played continually on New Year’s Day. Its popularity was built by the NBC Radio Network, beginning when it aired the Rose Bowl nationally for the first time in 1927.

It can be said that network radio then had the equivalent power of today’s bundled platform of radio, television, cable and social media. For the first time, Americans heard the same voice simultaneously. The 1920s roared. Millions upon millions listened across our sprawling landscape. The country was pumped. Media visionaries anticipated a changing world of communication.  It would take a century but dreamers were spot on.  

It wasn’t until the Dodgers were already well established that UCLA won its first NCAA basketball title in 1964. The Bruins would go on to dominate college hoops through the mid-1970s. The NHL’s Kings launched in 1967 after the NBA’s Lakers arrived from Minneapolis in 1960. 

Vin Scully talked about how when he settled in LA in 1958, he’d enjoy Chick Hearn’s call of USC football on radio. Chick arrived in SoCal in 1955.

In 1958, MLB was made up of 16 teams. So in honor of SoCal’s sports broadcasters, these are LA’s 16 most popular play-by-play voices:

Criteria – ENGLISH BROADCASTERS

  • Popularity of the primary team these voices covered
  • Time-in-grade of the broadcasters
  • Success of the prime team covered by the announcer
  • How strong was the synonymous relationship between team and announcer?
  • Announcers who did radio in the years before TV, get more consideration than those radio voices in recent years when virtually all games were or are on TV.

Vin Scully (Dodgers)

1)  Who else? If this list was a ranking of the top national sports voices in America, Scully would be number one too. Of his 67 years behind the Dodgers’ microphones, 59 were in Los Angeles where his voice echoed from beaches, car radios and even ballparks, first at the LA Coliseum and later Dodger Stadium. Transistor radios were fans’ best friends then. Vin’s magical word-pictures, infused with apt anecdotes, filled the ballpark. For that matter, when the Mets started in 1962, Lindsey Nelson explained to viewers and listeners back home why we’re hearing this reverberating sound. It was the blessed Scully.

Chick Hearn (Lakers)

2)  Another slam-dunk. Hearn was the Lakers’ first voice and the team’s only announcer for forty years, 1961-2001. His radio/TV simulcast is as well known as his streak for not missing a broadcast, 3,338. When Chick arrived in Los Angeles, he spent six seasons as Voice of USC football and basketball. He’s  remembered as a fast tongued and quick witted broadcaster who described and entertained. The fact that the Lakers were perennial contenders didn’t hurt him either. He covered some of the all-time greats, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor and Shaquille O’Neal. Hearn developed enormous popularity. In later years, he became a caricature of himself.

Dick Enberg (Angels, UCLA and Rams)

3) Los Angeles is where Dick Enberg first showed his extraordinary wares. He began with the Angels in 1969, did years of Rams football and when UCLA basketball was dominant, Enberg presided over taped telecasts of UCLA home games from Pauley Pavilion. Next thing you knew Enberg was the face of NBC Sports. His air work exuded warmth. Marty Glickman told me that when Dick spoke, you can feel the happiness in his face although you couldn’t see it. Scully said he sounded like pioneer Ted Husing whose silky voice and command of the language were enormous .

Ralph Lawler (Clippers)

4)  Ralph was saddled for years with real bad Clippers teams and was tasked with having to sound enthusiastic and promoting the club night after night. It wasn’t until his last few years that Lawler had good material on the floor with which to work. No matter the club’s ineptitude, Ralph always sounded upbeat. His strong voice graced Clippers broadcasts for forty, mostly ugly seasons.

Bob Miller (Kings)

5) Like the names above, all of whom were honored by their respective Halls, Miller’s voice was synonymous with LA Kings hockey and yes, he’s a winner of Hockey’s Foster Hewitt broadcast, emblematic of broadcast excellence. For years, Miller did a simulcast. Owner Jack Kent Cooke hired him in 1973 and he retired in 2017. That makes it 44 seasons. Until 1990, Miller did a simulcast, after which he did television only.

Bill King (Raiders)

6) The late King will always be associated with Northern California for his years calling some Giants games in the 1950s, Warriors basketball for a couple decades and for some 25 years the Oakland A’s. King became  the Raiders voice in 1966. Of the fourteen subsequent seasons during which the Raiders played in Southern California, King sound-tracked Raiders broadcasts with irrepressible and pulsating energy.

Jerry Doggett (Dodgers)

7) The man accepted his role and happily so. While he was a good baseball play-by-player, Jerry paled, as would anyone, to boothmate Vin Scully. But as Vin said, Jerry was comfortable serving as Scully’s sidekick. He’d do his few innings and leave the broadcast with a smile. Jerry was with the club for 32 seasons, beginning in 1956, two in Brooklyn and 30 in Los Angeles. Vin said the two would spend lots of time together on the road.

Tom Kelly (USC)

8) Kelly first called play-by-play of USC football and men’s basketball games beginning in 1961 and was on the Trojan mic almost yearly until 2003. He broadcast the games on radio from 1961 to 1965 and 1973 to 1988, then on TV from 1989 until 2003. Kelly described the action of five USC national championship football teams, five Heisman Trophy winners and 92 first team All-American football players. No more need be said.

Bob Starr (Rams and Angels)

9)  Bob Costas couldn’t have said it more emphatically. Starr was the best radio football announcer he ever listened to and witnessed. “He would walk into the booth with minimal notes, a flip-card roster of the two teams and call a game almost perfectly.” Starr didn’t even need a spotter. He spent 11 seasons with the Rams, 1980-90, and 15 years through two stints with the Angels.

Ross Porter (Dodgers)

10) When Vin Scully casted a wider national net, he accepted an offer from CBS to call NFL games. Two in the booth, Vin and Doggett, would no longer suffice. So the Dodgers hired Ross Porter in 1977. Ross  was hardly a raconteur. He focused on stats and inundated with numbers. Yet, he was a pro who gave it his all and the Dodgers dumped him unforgivingly after 28 seasons without a thankful sendoff. Introducing Porter when he was inducted into the Southern California Broadcasters Association, Vin said, “I had the pleasure and the opportunity to work alongside Ross for 28 years. He fulfills all of the requirements of a successful professional announcer. His work habits and preparation are exemplary.”

Don Drysdale (Dodgers and Angels)

11) The LA native, a Hall of Fame pitcher, was on track to becoming a HOF announcer. He worked diligently at the broadcast craft in various cities. His solid broadcasts were cut short in Montreal where he passed of a heart attack at age 56. Before joining Scully in the Dodgers booth, Drysdale did Angels games with Dick Enberg. In all, the HOFer spent 13 seasons in SoCal. On the network side, Drysdale graced ABC broadcasts for almost a decade as either an analyst or play-by-player.

Bob Kelley (Rams and Angels)

12) He moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles with the original Rams. Kelley was fired-up on-air. A native of Michigan, Bob died way too early, at just 49. He was hired when the Rams were born in 1937 and moved with them to Southern California in 1946. He poured his all into his Browns’ broadcasts before passing in 1965. Kelley did Angels baseball too, first when they were members of the PCL and through their first year in the American League in 1961. Kelley, one of the early football broadcast greats, also hosted a fiery evening sports talk show on radio. Columnist Jim Murray wrote of him: “The dinner hour sports-show made as many people gnash their teeth as cheer.”

Don Wells (Angels)

13) Wells was hired by Angels owner Gene Autry in 1960 as the lead announcer for his co-owned Angles who would launch in 1961. It was tough to go up against Scully and the Dodgers. The Angels wouldn’t make a World Series once  during his stretch. Meanwhile, the Dodgers would partake in three. Still, Wells deserves acknowledgement. He would later serve as a newsman for KFWB. When he retired, he moved to Switzerland where his son lived and where Don passed.

Fred Hessler (UCLA)

14) From 1961-83, Fred was the radio voice of UCLA football and basketball. He called more college basketball Final Four winners than any school broadcaster ever has, ten! Hessler was there during the Bruins golden age of basketball and covered the “Wizard of Westwood,” John Wooden. In the 1950s, Hessler did Loyola football. When KMPC lost the Dodgers’ rights and picked up UCLA in 1960, Hessler took the reins. UCLA hoops were still going through lean times. The station took the basketball so that it could get football. TV coverage in those years was limited. Radio was critical.

Pete Arbogast (USC)

15) Pete’s been USC’s football voice for 26 seasons through two stints. He also did some Clippers broadcasts earlier. Arbo, as some call him, was also the public address announcer at Dodger Stadium. He says he picked up his catchphrase from Vin Scully, “How do you do?” Before using it, Pete asked Vin whether it’s okay to use the phrase that he’d hear occasionally from Vin. Arbogast says that Vin told him: “It’s all yours. I’ll never use it again.” Arbogast also did some USC basketball too.

Nick Nickson (Kings)

16) I debated the 16th and final spot on the best of LA. And at the end of the day, I’m going with Nickson who’s been with the Kings for over forty years. I thought long and hard about a few broadcasters, the Lakers’ John Ireland among them. But Ireland, for instance, has only eleven seasons under his belt. Yes, John called a world championship. Nickson though has more than forty seasons of calling Kings games. Nick and fellow HOFer Bob Miller teamed for a decade on a radio/TV simulcast beginning in 1980. In 1990, when the simulcast was split, Miller was given TV and Nickson radio.

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
1 month ago

I grew up in Las Vegas, where we were truly blessed to get all of these games and announcers on radio and/or TV. I knew early how good we really had it, and not just with Vin and Chick. And that doesn’t even include another marvelous broadcaster, Dave Niehaus, who did the Angels for nine seasons as #3 behind Enberg and the Dons (Wells and Drysdale) before going on to greater fame and probably greater fortune in Seattle; usually Dave did only three innings a game on radio at most, except when Enberg missed a late-season telecast because of Rams… Read more »