Keiter remembered


POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A jack of all trades and a master of all of them as well. Les Keiter was royalty when radio was king and a general of the television medium.

He mentored generations of Hawaii sportscasters, many of whom paid tribute during his memorial service yesterday morning at the Outrigger Canoe Club. The Hall of Fame broadcaster died last Tuesday, 13 days shy of his 90th birthday.

“;I was working on the mainland, playing rock and roll on the radio in 1959 when I was told I was being pre-empted for boxing,”; KKEA 1420-AM's Don Robbs said. “;I couldn't believe they would pre-empt Elvis Presley.

“;It was the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson world heavyweight championship. It was the first time I heard Les Keiter and I became a fan that night. Years later, we did (Hawaii) Islanders games together. I was working next to a legend.”;

“;A lot of people remember his voice, the amazing things he covered,”; said KHON's Ron Mizutani, who emceed yesterday's event. “;We had a different kind of relationship. He was a father figure to me.

“;I would not be where I am today without him. I had interned at Channel 2, waited patiently and impatiently for my break, but came in one day with my head shaved. I told him I was going to be a cop. He said, 'No, you're not.'

“;He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.”;

Much of Keiter's fame was earned a decade before he and his family made Hawaii their permanent home in 1970. It was such that the Philadelphia newspapers ran his obituary on the front page and the New York Times called Lila, his wife of 60 years, to help with theirs.

“;It is a craft, what we do,”; KFVE's Jim Leahey said. “;And he was a master of it.”;

Keiter is enshrined in the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia hall of fame, announced 12 championship heavyweight fights and did the 1968 Olympics for Mutual radio.

“;I asked him about the most memorable event of his career,”; Honolulu Quarterback Club member Mark Zeug said. “;He went on and on about the 1968 Olympics, not about the Games but about his broadcast partner, Jesse Owens.

“;We figured that, as the emcee for the Quarterback Club, he introduced over 3,000 guests and he treated everyone with the same respect. And the stories he could tell.”;

Keiter was as engaging off-camera as he was on. The remembrances were of his humility, despite being on a first-name basis with sports legends, and of a photographic memory that allowed him to work without a script in the days before TelePrompTers.

“;Our desks were next to each other,”; retired KHON newsman Ray Lovell said. “;One time, he left his script at his desk and I ran after to give it to him. But it was too late, the red light in the studio was on.

“;He didn't need it. He was doing the entire script, including the scoreboard, from memory.”;

Keiter loved to play golf — son Marty was the longtime pro at Kapalua — “;and I had great times with him in the cart,”; sportscaster Russell Shimooka said. “;I'd watch him be in the sand, have three or four putts, but when I'd ask what he had for the hole, he'd always say, “;Put me down for a 5, kid.”;

It matched the number of children he and Lila had.

“;The love and respect has been overwhelming,”; daughter Cindy Keiter Reilly said to the some 200 in attendance. “;Thank you for embracing my family.”;

Keiter's ashes were scattered beyond the reef, at a surf spot called “;Old Man's.”; With the same perfect timing that Keiter had on air, a set allowed the outrigger canoes to ride the waves back to the beach.