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TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

Hessler, the Voice of the Bruins, Had a Nice Run

February 05, 1993|LARRY STEWART

There was a time when Fred Hessler's voice was as recognizable as any sportscaster's in town.

Hessler, who died Wednesday at 73, was to UCLA what Vin Scully was to the Dodgers or Chick Hearn to the Lakers.

No, he wasn't as polished as Scully, nor as quick-witted as Hearn, but there was no mistaking his voice.

It added to the excitement of any big UCLA football or basketball game, and there were plenty of big ones during Hessler's 24 years as the voice of the Bruins.

That reign came to an end in April, 1983, after the basketball season. Hessler was told he wouldn't be invited back.

UCLA had sold its radio rights to an Eastern packager, Metrosports. The people at Metrosports, apparently unconcerned with Los Angeles tradition, wanted a younger announcer. Hessler was 63.

So they brought in a youngster named Kent Derdivanis, a former UCLA student who lasted barely two years.

Hessler took his dismissal hard.

"He had a great love for UCLA," says Steve Bailey, his longtime friend and former KMPC executive sports producer. "It was like he was married to UCLA for 24 years."

Bailey and some of Hessler's other friends in the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Assn., people such as Mike Walden and Chuck Benedict, decided to honor Hessler at a luncheon that summer. They thought it would cheer him up.

The only problem was, Hessler didn't like attention. They knew he would never agree to take part in anything like that.

So they surprised him.

It turned out to be a glorious day for Fred Hessler. Gene Autry was there. So were John Wooden, Tom Harmon, Terry Donahue and many others.

Hessler was a little embarrassed, but he enjoyed it. A lot of nice things were said about Fred Hessler that day.

They all said what a decent, honest, clean-living man he was.

Former KMPC disc jockey Gary Owens joked: "Fred leads such a clean life that one time he was drowning and Pat Boone's life flashed in front of him."

*

Hessler showed up at a monthly meeting of the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Assn. at Lakeside Golf Club in November. He didn't look good. A liver ailment was taking its toll.

His friends again wanted to do something for him. This time, it was easy. They simply selected him for induction into the group's Hall of Fame, an honor Hessler deserved anyway.

So Hessler will join another former KMPC announcer Bob Kelley, who died in 1966 at 49, as one of the two 1993 inductees at the broadcasters' second annual awards luncheon at Lakeside in Toluca Lake next Thursday.

His friends were hoping Hessler could be there. It's going to be quite an affair. Scully, named sportscaster of the year by the group last year, will serve as master of ceremonies.

Hessler would have been a little embarrassed, but he would have loved it.

*

New jobs: Charlie Jones, who lives in La Jolla, has been hired as the television play-by-play announcer of the Colorado Rockies. He will work 67 of the Rockies' 80 telecasts.

Jones, dropped from golf by NBC in favor of Jim Lampley, will continue to announce football and other sports for the network, but a new contract frees him to do more outside work, including some track meets.

CBS' Dick Stockton, replaced by Greg Gumbel on baseball, faces a similar situation and has taken a job with the Oakland Athletics. He will work 50 telecasts.

Joel Meyers, whose NBC contract was not renewed, is headed to ESPN as a baseball announcer.

*

Before Jones took the Rockies' job, his agent, Martin Mandel of San Francisco, talked with Don Corsini, the program director at Prime Ticket.

With Prime Ticket now having a 20-game Angel package, the regional cable network was considering hiring Jones and pairing him with Ken Brett or someone else.

But Prime Ticket probably will use the Channel 5 team of Ken Wilson and Brett. There also is talk that Prime Ticket will use some celebrity guest commentators.

*

It's doubtful that the Clippers and Prime Ticket will be able to make a deal this season. They can't agree on terms.

"We're comfortable with our expanded KCOP schedule for this season," said Andy Roeser, the Clippers' executive vice president. "But that doesn't rule out something with Prime Ticket for next season."

The Clippers, however, might join the Dodgers in some kind of pay-per-view venture. Although Roeser declined comment, it's known that officials from those teams met this week with officials from Paramount, which owns the Madison Square Garden regional sports network.

Prime Ticket will become a 24-hour service seven days a week beginning March 1. Although it recently went to 24 hours on weekends, it still is on only 12 hours a day Monday through Friday.

TV-Radio Notes

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