UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS
Broadcaster Keiter gave voice to sports
Les Keiter has called virtually every sport -- from baseball, football, hockey, college and pro basketball, to auto racing and even rodeo. He's a walking sports encyclopedia, with stories at hand of times when sports was about competition -- not money, steroids and scandals.
Keiter, who turns 89 next month, is now the toastmaster and emcee at the Honolulu Quarterback Club on Mondays. He still has a strong passion for sports, and a strong connection to all he's told TV viewers and radio listeners over the years.
Among his current-day observations: "The steroid situation is a mess, and it is a shame that Congress is telling baseball what to do." Keiter said he has doubts about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire's chances of making the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As a 9-year-old in Seattle, Keiter believed he would one day broadcast from Yankee Stadium. Thirty years later he accomplished that goal, calling a fight in New York between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson.
Keiter was there for some of the biggest fights in the history of the boxing, calling 14 championship matches, including Muhammad Ali's first title victory over Sonny Liston in 1964 at Miami Beach -- according to Keiter, the biggest fight he ever called. His frequent partner during boxing events for ABC radio was the late Howard Cosell. "Howard Cosell was a pure original. I got along fine with him. He was very knowledgeable and great to work with and knew his sports," Keiter said.
He also covered New York Giants football, as well as the Yankees, Knicks and Rangers hockey, and did re-created baseball for radio when the New York Giants baseball team moved to San Francisco. His re-creations were so popular, many fans had no idea he was not covering the action live.
After New York, Keiter headed to Philadelphia, calling games for the Philadelphia 76ers and Big Five college basketball. He covered the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City for Mutual Radio, working with Olympian Jesse Owens, who Keiter says is the greatest athlete he has ever known. During those Olympics, Keiter called the play-by-play for George Foreman's gold-medal boxing victory.
STAR-BULLETIN / 1979
Les Keiter re-creates a Hawaii Islanders baseball away game for broadcast at home, above. At left, Keiter was the lead sportscaster for WINS radio in New York in the 1950s.
Keiter moved his family to Honolulu in 1970 to run an advertising agency, but found himself back calling sports for the Hawaii Islanders when Michaels left for the mainland. "It was a joy to call the Islanders games. The fans were really into it," said Keiter.
This was not his first stint in Hawaii. In 1949 and '50, as sports director at KPOA radio, he staged major-league baseball re-creations in the afternoons and San Francisco Seals minor-league baseball games in the evenings, with sportscasters Frank Valenti and Carlos Rivas.
In 1971, KHON General Manager George Hagar hired Keiter as sports director at the station, where he worked alongside anchors Bob Basso, B.J. Sams, Barbara Tanabe and Joe Moore over a 20-year-plus run.
Moore started working alongside Les in 1981; the Moore-Keiter team was top-rated for more than a decade. "Les is a true original, a real pro, one of the giants of the sportscasting profession," said Moore, who gave Keiter his nickname of "the General" after seeing him play one on an episode of "Hawaii Five-O."
"I used to call him 'General' around the newsroom all the time," Moore said, "then I slipped one night on the news and called him that. It felt so natural that I kept doing it, and people in the community responded and started calling him that."
Keiter retired from KHON to become Aloha Stadium spokesman in 1994, holding that position for eight years.
This September, Keiter and his wife, Lila, celebrate 60 years of marriage and are expecting their first great-grandchild. They have five children and eight grandchildren. Keiter's 1991 autobiography, "Fifty Years Behind the Microphone" (University of Hawaii Press), is on permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gail Haraguchi, deputy director of Parks and Recreation, shakes Les Keiter's hand after a recent Quarterback Club meeting at the Pagoda.
Video courtesy KHON
A.J. McWhorter, a collector of film and videotape cataloging Hawaii's TV history, has worked as a producer, writer and researcher for both local and national media. His column runs on the first Monday of each month. E-mail email@example.com.