Seven Questions for Former UNLV Broadcaster Ken Korach

Korach on working alongside a Rebels legend, his long tenure as the radio voice of the Oakland A’s and the most emotional night of his career

Photo by Michael Zagaris

Photo by Michael Zagaris

It’s been a decade since you called your last UNLV basketball game. Do you miss it? 

I miss doing the games and the people you hang out with, going to practice and the associations you make. But I don’t miss the travel. Up to that point, I had done 22 years of college basketball, starting in Northern California in 1982, and I really wanted to know what an offseason would feel like. I probably haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would. But there’s nothing like a close college basketball game that comes right down to the wire and 15,000 fans are screaming—you’ll never replace that feeling.

You started with the Runnin’ Rebels in 1992, the year Rollie Massimino replaced Jerry Tarkanian as coach. What are your memories of that tumultuous period?

Those were very difficult times. Obviously, the town was divided. But [Massimino’s] first team got off to a great start; that was the J.R. Rider team, and there were some players who were holdovers from the Tarkanian era, and they were 16-2 and I think ranked eighth or ninth in the country. And then it fell apart quickly. Then as we moved forward, all of us who were close to the program were just hoping there’d be some stability, and it took a long time for that to develop. There was a lot going on off the court at a time when, in a perfect world, you’d just like to focus on doing the games.

Who’s the most talented Rebel you saw play in your dozen years behind the mic?

J.R. Rider. He was an incredibly gifted talent, but unfortunately, unfulfilled potential. I thought Shawn Marion was the greatest and most relentless offensive rebounder during the time I was there. Nobody played harder. … You know, [UNLV] had some very talented teams back then. It’s easy to kind of write off that whole era because of all the uncertainty and all the coaching changes. But they had some excellent players.

Your longtime UNLV basketball broadcasting partner was the late Rebels great Glen Gondrezick. How much did you enjoy that partnership?

It was wonderful. He was an amazingly supportive partner. … There was never a time when I felt that we weren’t in this together on the air. And the thing about Gondo was he really understood the role of a color [commentator] on radio, which is really difficult, especially in basketball, because the action is so fast. He knew when to get in and get out; he knew how to be succinct. And he worked hard at it, he did his homework, he was prepared, he got to know the other teams and coaches.

I miss him so much. That was so difficult to get that call when he passed away. Boy, I couldn’t have asked for anything more than to have spent those 12 years with him.

Favorite Gondo story?

[Laughs.] In the famous UNLV-North Carolina Final Four game in 1977 [which the Rebels lost 84-83], Gondo fouled out. When you look at the stats from that game, the foul column was very one-sided. Well, Irv Brown was a legendary [college basketball] official who did a bunch of NCAA tournament games, including UNLV-North Carolina, and he [later] became an analyst and did a lot of our games on TV. So whenever Irv Brown walked in the arena, Gondo would turn and walk the other way. [Laughs.] That was a hurt that I don’t think he ever got over till the day he died.

Most memorable moment at the Thomas & Mack Center?

When I did my last game [in March 2004]—and I had no idea they were going to do this; it was an unbelievable gesture by the people at UNLV—they called me out to midcourt during one of the timeouts, and they announced it was going to be my last game. There was a huge crowd, about 15,000 people there—UNLV was playing BYU—and I got a standing ovation. That was the most emotional single moment of my career. Because you never know when you’re doing the games if you’re making that kind of connection with people. I can tell you, I was in tears.

You’re about to start your 19th season doing radio for the Oakland A’s—only the late, great Bill King had a longer tenure in the booth with the organization. What’s been the secret to your longevity?

Boy, you’d have to ask other people, maybe my boss. I have to say this: I’ve worked for some amazing people who have allowed me to be myself. And I think certain broadcasters fit in certain markets, and the Bay Area has been a wonderful fit for me in terms of being accepted there. Having spent 10 years with Bill—I got paired with an iconic individual, the most revered broadcaster ever to work in the Bay Area, and he reached out to me from the first game we ever did. He endorsed me. I’ve often said that if our fans felt that Bill King thought this guy was OK, then maybe he’s OK.

Last year, you paid tribute to Bill King with the biography Holy Toledo: Lessons From Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic. What was your motivation to write the book?

I was approached by a publisher three or four years ago about writing my own story, and I just felt at the time that it wasn’t something I wanted to do or that I was ready to do, and I still feel that way. But it did kind of spark something in me, because I’ve always had in the back of my mind the thought that I would like to write a book someday, but I always thought it would be daunting, intimidating.

Then when I thought more about it, if I was to write a book, Bill King would be the perfect subject. Because not only did we spend 10 years working together, but I spent 30 years listening to him before that. Nobody had written a book about Bill, and he was such an iconic figure—it’s almost impossible to separate Bill’s career from the history of sports in the Bay Area. He spent 47 years working in the market, doing the Raiders, A’s and Warriors at the same time. And then he had all these other incredible interests: He was a world-class sailor; he was a world-class impressionist painter; he was an expert on Russian history. He had this amazing diversity, a one-in-a-million character.

What do you think Bill would’ve thought of the book?

He would’ve thought I was making much too big a fuss of him. He deflected attention and was very self-deprecating, and he’d say, “Why would you write a book about me?” But I hope it would’ve brought back a lot of great memories for him, and to hear the stories from so many people who were wonderful friends of his. Not to name drop, but people like Rick Barry and Al Attles and John Madden and Jason Giambi—some of the greatest names in Bay Area sports history. I think he’d be touched that these people felt the way they did about him.

Back on May 9, 2010, you called a perfect game by A’s pitcher Dallas Braden. Would that be the highlight of your broadcasting career?

I don’t know. Certainly, in that ninth inning, my stomach probably was churning as much as it ever has, because you definitely want to get that right. It was probably as focused as I’ve ever been. But I’ve been through some wonderful moments with the A’s. The 20-game winning streak in 2002—Miguel Tejada’s home run to win the 18th game; his single to center in the bottom of the ninth to win the 19th game. I’m so grateful to the producers of Moneyball that they included those calls in the movie. … So it’s hard to separate some of the calls, but there’s no question that the last out of Braden’s perfect game might stand out among all of them.

What’s the one ballpark any baseball fan should visit at least once in their lifetime?

Right now I would say Fenway Park. In the American League, it’s the only park [remaining] where you could close your eyes and imagine what it was like a century ago—as you’re walking up the runway from the dugout to the clubhouse, you can really imagine the players who walked that runway 60, 70, 80 years ago. It’s not my favorite park to work in or my favorite city—it’s near the top of the list—but if you have an appreciation for the history of the game, that would be the one to visit.

What makes a successful sports broadcaster?

This is a very subjective business—one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. But I’ve always felt the only thing that I could control was how hard I worked and how professional I was. People are going to have opinions about how you call a game or your voice, but I was never going to compromise my preparation; that was going to be the most important thing. You can say whatever you want about me, but hopefully you’ll appreciate that I’m prepared and I’m hopefully going to do a professional, responsible job of calling the game.