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Ken Korach sits down with Bruce Macgowan

By Bruce Macgowan

Ken Korach

Ken Korach's work with the A's has garnered nationwide praise for the veteran announcer.

Ken Korach, one of the most respected broadcasters in baseball today, is the lead play-by-play announcer for the Oakland Athletics and enters his 16th year in the A's radio booth. During the 2005 season, the Oakland Athletics radio team, including Korach, Bill King and Ray Fosse, was ranked as second-best in the American League by USA Today. Korach was promoted to lead announcer for the Athletics in January 2006 to replace Bill King, who died in October 2005.

A native of Los Angeles, Korach attended San Diego State and UC Santa Barbara, and graduated with a social sciences degree in 1975. In the off-season, Ken, his wife, Denise, and their daughter Emilee live in Henderson, Nev.

If you had your choice, what better job would there be than working as a radio or TV sportscaster? Longtime Oakland A's radio voice Ken Korach has been toiling in the broadcasting business for over 30 years, and he feels especially fortunate.

From humble rural beginnings as a part-time weekend announcer on a small station in Petaluma to his current play-by-play duties as the radio voice of the A's, Korach has enjoyed many adventures around the country while covering college football, basketball and major league baseball.

"Like many people with no broadcasting experience, I figured my best chance to get a job was to work in a small market," Korach explains.

And like legendary Giants announcer Jon Miller, Korach used to go to games in the Bay Area with his tape recorder and do play-by-play.

"The people sitting around me must have looked at me like I was nuts, but I figured I could get some experience."

Korach did his broadcasts at A's, Giants and 49ers games, and later ended up working for KTOB radio in Petaluma.

"I was playing records, sometimes at the wrong speed, but the program director said the station had a very understanding audience," Korach remembers with a chuckle.

By 1980, Korach was doing play-by-play for a number of North Bay high school football and basketball teams.

In 1981 he got his first break when he was tabbed to do minor-league baseball, first on KTOB and then later on KSRO (for years the top station in Santa Rosa). Korach worked with the Redwood Pioneers, a California League affiliate of the Anaheim Angels. That summer, major league baseball went on strike and to keep up fan interest, a minor-league game between the Pioneers and the Padres' Single-A affiliate was played at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego.

"Believe it or not, 40,000 people showed up for our game and not only did we broadcast it but I got a great audition tape out of it," Korach recalls.

The 1984 Redwood Pioneers were particularly impressive, featuring several future major leaguers who would star for the Angels, including speedy outfielder Devon White and infielders Jack Howell and Mark McLemore.

"That was one of the greatest teams I ever worked with. They went 53-17 in the second half but lost to Modesto in the playoffs when Jose Canseco beat them with a home run," Korach remembers.

Korach also did play-by-play for Sonoma State's football and basketball programs during the early 1980s because the athletic director, Ralph Barkey, whom he met while working with KTOB, recommended Korach as the radio voice of Sonoma State sports after Korach also offered to sell advertising on the broadcasts.

But in 1985, Korach got his biggest break, becoming the voice of San Jose State football and basketball, a job he would hold for the next seven years.

"We had some great teams. The famous comeback win over Fresno State in 1986 was probably the best game. Quarterback Mike Perez threw the game-winning TD in the final seconds. Claude Gilbert was the head coach and the Spartans also won the California Bowl that year and went on to play in it two more times. They beat Stanford and Cal a number of times in those years, and I remember a famous game in Seattle when star running back Johnny Johnson ran for 227 yards in the rain against the Washington Huskies."

While Korach stayed busy as the voice of the Spartans, he also took time during the summers of 1986 and 1987 to broadcast for the Giants' Triple-A affiliate, the Phoenix Firebirds. Three years later, he took a job with the Padres' Triple-A team in Las Vegas.

"I did their games for three years and then got another big break when the Chicago White Sox hired me as their weekend guy in 1992."

His first chance to broadcast big-league baseball meant a lot more traveling for Korach, who had to hop on a plane every Friday or Saturday and go to wherever the White Sox were playing that weekend.

Meanwhile, an important job at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas opened up in 1992, and Korach became the voice of the Running Rebels basketball and football teams. So he decided it was time to leave the Bay Area and move to the thriving desert community of "Sin City."

Before leaving San Jose for the sweltering climes of Nevada, Korach also took with him a new partner. Korach had someone special during his time at San Jose State, and in 1988 she became his bride.

Their daughter Emilee was born in 1992.

Now 19 years old, Emilee is attending Las Vegas Institute of Art, where she is studying and preparing for a career in photography.

Korach is lucky that Denise is familiar with the wear and tear of baseball travel — she works as the director of baseball administration for the minor-league team in Las Vegas.

"Denise says I'm absolutely useless during the baseball season," Korach jokes, because he's not around the house much.

"I spend half the season in the Bay Area and the other half traveling on the road with the A's …

"To me the most interesting part of baseball is that every day provides a new chapter in a long season. I love the fact that I get to tell the story of the game every day."

While baseball is all-consuming to those who live with it for seven months, Korach admits there's a downside.

"The beauty and the rhythm of the game are great, but being around baseball every day means that it also becomes a little bit of a one-dimensional experience. And there are times when you're not feeling well. You're getting into a hotel on the road sometimes at 4 a.m. That can be a grind.

"But I could do 670 games in a row if I'm feeling good."

Korach became the sidekick of the legendary Bill King in 1996, when the A's were looking for someone to take over for Lon Simmons. Ken was chosen to replace Simmons, a man he grew up listening to on the radio, and getting a chance to work with King, one of radio's great play-by-play artists, was perhaps the highlight of Korach's career.

"Bill reached out to me from the beginning to make me feel comfortable not only on the air, but off it as well.

We did a lot of things together and many had nothing to do with sports," Korach recalls. "Many people don't know this, but Bill King was a great artist, a terrific Impressionist painter. I've always been an art lover, and when we were on the road we used to go to museums together. Bill also loved dining out and going to the theater, and he read voraciously. He was a walking history book of sports, but he could also talk about anything from politics to world affairs. Bill was passionate about everything he did."

Korach especially enjoyed getting King to talk about broadcasting for the great Raiders and Warriors teams during Oakland's Golden Era of sports in the 1970s. Whenever the games got sluggish or boring, Korach would prompt King to tell stories about people such as Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond, or get him to relate the particulars of those Raiders' amazing finishes, like the "Sea of Hands" or the "Heidi" game.

Korach worked side by side with King for 10 years. King died a few days after the 2005 campaign when he suffered an embolism during surgery to repair a hip that had recently been replaced.

"The greatest gift I ever received was working with Bill for those 10 years," Korach says with emotion.

"His endorsement and his friendship meant the world to me."

The 2011 season will be Korach's 16th behind the mike in Oakland, and his sixth as the club's lead announcer. Korach has had a chance to work in the A's TV booth but, having grown up in the 1960s, when most baseball fans kept up with their teams on the radio, he prefers the more traditional medium.

Talk about great seasons, Korach says he's enjoyed quite a few with the green and gold, as the A's have been to the playoffs five times since 2000.

"The A's played four consecutive Game Fives in the first round, and those were all-or-nothing games."

Although the Yanks, Red Sox and Twins ended the A's dreams of making it to the next round, Korach remembers the great talent and distinctive personalities on those clubs.

"It was like a fraternity in the clubhouse, with Jason Giambi, one of the nicest guys I've ever met in sports, and players like Miguel Tejada, who was so effervescent and almost single-handedly willed the A's into the playoffs in 2002."

There was also the amazing 20-game win streak that was capped by Scott Hatteburg's ninth-inning homer against Kansas City in the summer of 2002, the young "Three Aces" on the mound (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito), and solid everyday stars such as Eric Chavez, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye who kept A's fans pumped up.

But what about the current team? Many feel the A's have improved their offense enough to contend once again in the AL West. Korach agrees.

"No question the offense didn't hit last year, but it's improved with Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus coming aboard. I'm a terrible prognosticator, but this is the most excited I've been since 2006, when the A's went to the ALCS."

Korach couldn't wait for the season to start, and he also couldn't wait to work again with the charity he started two years ago.

"In 2008 I started talking on the air about the importance of donating money to support high school baseball programs in Oakland."

With help from Korach, who chipped in $15,000 of his own money — the A's matched his donation — he was able to raise over $50,000 from the A's radio audience to help aid local schools.

Call it payback for a good guy who feels he's had his share of good fortune in the zany world of broadcasting.

"I feel very fortunate to have met so many great people who have helped me out in my career," Korach says.

"I've been very lucky."