Saturday, March 21, 2009

Broadcasting legend Bill O'Mara passes away

Broadcasting pioneer Bill O'Mara passed away this morning at age 92, according to a report from KING-TV, where he was sports director for a number of years. O'Mara gained some fame as the main broadcaster for the hydroplane races,  back when that was the only game in town in Seattle. But he remained behind the mic until about two years ago, when new ownership at KLKI radio (it's now KWLE) in Anacortes sacked him at age 90. He'd been doing high school sports at KLKI for nearly 20 years.

Bill O'Mara
I worked with O'Mara at KRKO in Everett back in 1988-90. That was my last radio gig. O'Mara, already pushing 70, took a liking to me for some reason and seemed to enjoy helping the "young guys." I'd just turned 30 when I showed up there. If memory serves, O'Mara left for KLKI at about that time -- KRKO was constantly cutting back. We did lots of high school sports, football and boys and girls basketball. The most exciting moment was in 1990 when Everett High School boys were in the state basketball tournament. The Seagulls beat two-time defending state champ Redmond in the second round on a last-second three-pointer, and O'Mara went nuts with a Russ Hodges moment: "The Everett Seagulls win it... the Seagulls win it..." They lost in the third round to eventual champ Shadle Park. I was calling the girls' games that year, but have no such memories, except I think there were about five Spokane schools in the tourney.

O'Mara often used the exclamation "Oooh-WHEE!" And, of a player who'd just done something extraordinary, he'd say, "Jones is a real tour-de-force out there!"

O'Mara had a lot of great stories about his days at KING-TV, when they were flying by the seats of their pants. All you had to do to get him started was ask, "What would Mrs. Bullitt think about that?" He was a great devotee of the matriarch of KING Broadcasting, especially for the freedom she gave them to go out and create.

I saw him in late 2007 at a gathering of former KRKO employees. There are a lot of us formers! He'd lost a step or two but was still ahead of most of us, and complaining about how tough it was to look for work at age 90. The KING-TV obit linked above includes the video below, a story they did about O'Mara on his 90th birthday.

UPDATE: The Times ran an obit on Sunday.

RIP, Bill. You were a real tour-de-force.


Lisa said...

I'm so glad you wrote about him, Greg. i know how much you loved the guy. I thought about you right away when I saw the news. What an amazing life he led.

Weisenheimer said...

He was great, and it was like hanging out with broadcasting history. Alas.