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SPORTS : Experience Calls

April 21, 1991|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an era where the multi-sport professional athlete is recurring (see Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and D.J. Dozier), Ken Wilson is a multi-sport announcer.

But Wilson, the new Angel play-by-play voice for KTLA and SportsChannel, combines an unlikely duo of sports: baseball and hockey. Wilson spent the fall and winter calling games of hockey's St. Louis Blues, has won an Emmy for his work with the Chicago Blackhawks and called the 1986 Stanley Cup finals for ESPN.

To the surprise of many people, Wilson considers baseball the harder sport to announce.

"For a broadcaster, hockey is basically describing action between commercials," Wilson said. "It's sort of one dimension of your abilities--play-by-play, description. I'm not saying everyone can do it, or it's easy, but the requirements are names and numbers, action, action, action. That's it.

"Baseball requires that you describe action, but that only happens periodically through the course of a broadcast. There are other dimensions--storytelling, relating non-action periods to action periods, setting the scene for the action that's about to happen or not happen, more opportunity to talk about players and strategy.

"You're required to make three hours interesting, even when there may only be 20 minutes of play-by-play described action. You're required to use many, many talents. It's more challenging, and I'll always enjoy the challenge."

For Wilson, that challenge began in 1969, when fresh out of the University of Michigan he landed a job in Honolulu to broadcast a variety of sports. From 1970-72, he called the games of the Pacific Coast League's Hawaii Islanders. In his first year with the Islanders, then the Angels top farm club, Wilson shared announcing duties with Al Michaels, now of ABC.

In Hawaii, Wilson also announced high school and college football and basketball, hosted a radio talk show and was the sports anchor for the NBC affiliate.

When the American League added two teams for the 1977 season, announcing positions opened up not only with the expansion Seattle Mariners but with the Angels as well, as then-Angel announcer Dave Niehaus accepted a position with the Mariners. Wilson interviewed for both jobs and was hired by Seattle.

From 1977-82, he witnessed some of the worst baseball played anywhere. The Mariners finished last in the seven-team American League Western Division twice and sixth two other times.

"There were a lot of losses (551 to be exact, against 366 wins) and a lack of interest," recalled Wilson. "But it was wonderful to be in the major leagues."

Still, Wilson did call some memorable games, including eventual Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry's 300th pitching victory and the longest game in Angels history (a six-hour, six-minute, 1982 20-inning game won by the Angels, 4-3, and Fenway Park's longest game (a six-hour, one-minute, 20-inning affair in 1981, in which the Mariners defeated the Boston Red Sox, 8-7.)

Following his stint with the Mariners, Wilson relocated to the Midwest, calling many sports for several outlets in the mid-1980s.

"I was the guy who you would see call (horse) show jumping on ESPN one night, and then boxing on Channel 32 in Houston the next," Wilson said.

During that period, Wilson stayed in baseball, first with the Cincinnati Reds while they were struggling, and later with the St. Louis Cardinals, while they were laying claim to being the National League's team of the decade.

Wilson remained with the Cardinals through last season, where he had the opportunity to call then-Dodger Fernando Valenzuela's no-hitter against St. Louis, a moment Wilson also considers among the highlights of his career.

Wilson describes his baseball announcing style as "enthusiastic, but laid-back."

"I view baseball as a leisurely, kind of game that you like to digest typically in a little more casual atmosphere than most of the other team sports," Wilson said. "What I try to portray is my love for baseball and respect for the game. My journalistic background comes into play a lot, in trying to be fair and even-handed with teams and players, understanding what they go through."

Wilson's enthusiasm extends to the Angels' pennant chances.

"The Angels have an opportunity to be as good as any team in the American League," Wilson said. "I love the starting pitching, the power and run production in the middle of the batting order.

"I love the attitude. They have a wonderful mix of personalities and great leadership and not just Dave Parker and Dave Winfield. They have a very nice mix of what it takes to be a winning team."

The Angels face the Seattle Mariners Tuesday on SportsChannel and the Oakland Athletics Friday on KTLA. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m.

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