Hydros will roar without O'Day
Seattle Times staff reporter
Pat O'Day, the voice of the hydroplanes for the last 36 years, won't be behind the radio microphone when the lightning-fast boats invade Lake Washington.
O'Day was informed last month when he called Seafair organizers to ask which station he'd be working with at the races, scheduled for Aug. 1-3. He was told that Infinity Broadcasting, which owns five local stations, would be airing the races this year.
And he learned they'd already hired someone else — veteran announcer Steve Montgomery — for the job.
"Just because I've done it for 36 years doesn't mean I have to do it for 37," said O'Day, 68, a legendary local disc jockey who's also been honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "But it will be strange."
Infinity employees said they weren't trying to end the decades-long O'Day era. Lisa Decker, senior vice president and market manager for Infinity's Seattle-based stations, said she simply got another offer from Montgomery this spring.
Broadcast stations that cover Seafair have changed constantly over the years. But since 1967, O'Day has been on the air each year, announcing the play-by-play hydroplane action.
His deep voice still rises with excitement when he talks about the phone call that first brought him to the races.
O'Day says he was in Dallas, touring with Jimi Hendrix, a longtime friend whom O'Day promoted, when a local television station asked him to help cover the hydroplane races.
He was working as program director and a disc jockey at popular KJR-AM (950) radio at the time but thought the races were "an opportunity to do something different."
O'Day said Wayne Newton, another longtime friend, was in town and agreed to help cover the races. "He was my color man," he said.
Decker, of Infinity Broadcasting, called O'Day a "great broadcaster" who has "done a lot for the city of Seattle."
But she and Becky Brenner, a program director at Infinity, said Montgomery also has been covering hydro races here and in other areas for years.
"We don't have any sports (announcing) teams, and Steve came ready-made with some of his own people," Brenner said. "I thought that Pat had retired last year."
O'Day's run as the voice of the hydroplanes almost came to an end in 1999, when KOMO-AM (1000) purchased the rights to broadcast the races. O'Day had called the races for KJR, and many assumed KOMO's parent company, Fisher Communications, would replace him. But after a KJR host started a campaign to bring back O'Day, he was able to keep the job.
Last year, KOMO won the contract to become the Mariners' radio network and it notified Seafair organizers that it wouldn't seek broadcasting rights for the hydros in 2003, according to Eric Radovich, Seafair vice president. Infinity signed the agreement in February to cover the races, Radovich said.
Calls to KOMO officials weren't returned yesterday.
Infinity's KYCW-AM (1090) will provide daylong coverage, while two of its sister stations, KZOK-FM (102.5) and KBKS-FM (106.1), also will provide coverage.
"We love Pat O'Day. I grew up in Seattle and as long as I can remember, he has been the voice of the hydros," said Radovich, who informed O'Day when he called in May. "But we allow each station to decide who their announcer is going to be."
But many locals say they can't imagine the races without O'Day.
"Pat, the voice of the hydros, silenced for the first time in how many years," said John Keister, a longtime television broadcaster who now works for KCTS. "Even if the boats were broken down, if nothing was running, Pat was still excited. It's just a shame that he's not calling."
Keister said that hydros are falling into the background as more viewers — and media outlets — focus on major-league sports.
Feliks Banel, deputy director of the Museum of History & Industry, agreed, and said that media consolidation is making it hard to keep local traditions alive. He said "99 percent" of stations used to be locally owned, and they all competed to cover the races.
Decker said that Infinity, a New York-based corporation that owns stations in more than 20 states, didn't influence her decision.
O'Day, meanwhile, says he's not angry, and he still believes hydros celebrate the best of Seattle — the beauty of the water, the best weather of the year and the love of high technology. He said he'll have to think of another way to celebrate the hydros this year.
"My feelings are not hurt," he said. "I don't want this to be an issue."
Mary Spicuzza: 206-464-3192 or email@example.com
Seattle Times staff reporter Bill Kossen contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company