Wilbur "Bill" King (October 6 1927 - October 18 2005) was one of the most prominent sports announcers in San Francisco Bay Area history, widely recognized by his distinctive handlebar mustache and beard and his broadcasting catchphrase "Holy Toledo!"
King was best known as the radio voice of the Oakland Athletics baseball team for twenty-five years (1981-2005), the longest tenure of any A's announcer since the team's games were first broadcast in Philadelphia in 1938. Earlier in his career, he had been a member of the San Francisco Giants' original broadcasting team (together with Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons) when the Giants moved west from New York in 1958, had called University of California football and basketball games, and had served as the longtime radio play-by-play announcer for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders football team and the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors basketball team.
Franklin Mieuli, the owner of the Warriors upon their transfer to the Bay Area, had worked with King on Giants baseball on KSFO and the Golden West Radio Network, serving as executive producer for the broadcasts.
King was not shy about disagreeing with the referee's calls during the course of his play-by-play work, and was a notorious ref-baiter. In his most infamous incident, he used an expletive on the air to describe a referee's call, and the Warriors were charged with a technical foul. He may be the only professional sports announcer ever charged with an infraction during the course of play.
Perhaps King's most famous call came during the Raiders' infamous Holy Roller game against the San Diego Chargers on September 10, 1978. In the final seconds of the game, Raider quarterback Ken Stabler fumbled the ball forward, and tight end Dave Casper grabbed it in the end zone for a disputed, game-winning touchdown. King's description:
The ball, flipped forward, is loose. A wild scramble. Two seconds on the clock. Casper grabbing the ball. It is ruled a fumble. Casper has recovered in the end zone. The Oakland Raiders have scored on the most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play. Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it's real. They said yes, get your big butt out of here. He does. There's nothing real in the world anymore. The Raiders have won the football game. The Chargers....they don't believe it. Fifty-two thousand people are stunned! This one will be relived forever!
Former Athletics announcer Greg Papa, who worked alongside King for thirteen years, says of King:
Bill is without a doubt the best radio play-by-play announcer I have heard in all of sports. His energy, preparation, his thoroughness, his word choice—he is without peer.
The most memorable tributes were from Greenwald, Ken Korach, and Raider owner Al Davis. In his speech, Korach mentioned that King had three rules in his broadcasts. He hated it when an announcer mentioned a "grand slam home run," because saying "home run" was redundant; he disliked the usage "early on," believing that the word "on" was unnecessary and grammatically incorrect; and he never liked to be thanked by his broadcast partner when he "tossed" to him for his innings. Korach said, "sorry partner, but thanks for everything."
Al Davis gave arguably the most commanding and entertaining eulogy. When he first met him at Raider training camp in 1966, Davis didn't know what to make of the small-statured King with his handlebar mustache and beard, who was sitting shirtless on a blanket and holding a yellow pad making notes of what the players were doing on the field. "You've got to be kidding me!" Davis said. "What could this little fella possibly know about football?" Noting that it's a rare day when all three Oakland teams are represented in one room, Davis said, "To think it was Bill King who brought us together. Bill King never played for the Oakland Raiders, nor did he play for the Los Angeles Raiders. Nor did he wear the famed colors of silver and black. If he had worn them, he would have worn them with poise and with pride and with class, because he was a star." Davis added that King gets a cloak of immortality, because time never stops for the great ones. He said it was his dream to have a sold-out stadium seating 1 to 2 million Raider fans, all listening to the voice of Bill King.
Bruce MacGowan of radio station KNBR also gave a moving speech about how he met King through Lon Simmons and even worked as a Raider statistician in the early 1970s. He once asked King for a ride home and noted how beat-up King's car was. On the drive to Marin County, MacGowan noticed that there was a draft, even though the windows were rolled up. To his dismay, he discovered there was a hole in the floorboard by his feet. MacGowan asked how long King had been driving his car. King replied, "I just got it a week ago. No sense in paying more than $250 for a car."
Besides the tributes, there was a Bill King "uncensored" segment which really opened up some eyes as the audience heard King's off-air banter with his broadcasters, which included some rather colorful language. The best segment was the actual audio call of the "Mother's Day" incident from the Warriors' game at Seattle on December 6, 1968. King was outraged by poor officiating from official Ed T. Rush in his rookie season. After several calls had gone against the Warriors, King took off his headset, turned off his microphone, cupped his hands and yelled a certain expletive at Rush. Unbeknownst to King, the crowd mic was on and Bill's insult went over the airwaves. The Warriors were assessed a technical foul and owner Franklin Mieuli later had to pay a fine to the Federal Communications Commission for the incident.
Years later, King would receive a Mother's Day card from Ed Rush with a note saying, "Nice to share a moment with you from the past—and by the way, do you know how hard it is to buy a Mother's Day card in December?"
As noted in the San Francisco Chronicle,
King was believed to be 78. The lack of knowledge of his exact age was one of the many quirks that made King one of the great characters in Bay Area sports.