If you’ve listened to sports talk radio in this market for the past 40-plus years, you know the name Ken Beatrice. The man who hosted SportsCall on WMAL and then WTEM for more than two decades has passed away at the age of 72, according to multiple reports.
Beatrice, for decades, was THE voice of sports talk radio. “You’re next!” he would say while going through calls with his hard Northeastern accent, and if you ever got on air, for a kid in this area, it was a validation for the rest of the week. I know, because I remember that feeling myself.
His demeanor as an on-air personality was knowledgeable without being smarmy and a good presenter without being a loudmouth. His career took a quick derailment when stories about his trumped up claims of his past were debunked by The Washington Post’s Tony Kornheiser.
Beatrice was the epitome of a local market sports talk radio legend. He hasn’t been on air for more than a decade, but for a lot of local broadcasters, he was basically the only show in town for a long time. After Warner Wolf and before George Michael and Glenn Brenner, there was Beatrice.
“What he did and this was pre-Internet, he did a lot of the things that now get on the internet. This analysis and statistics and some people made fun of him, too, for that, because you know, it was bit too geeked up for them,” ESPN 980’s Andy Pollin said Monday. Pollin worked alongside of Beatrice in the latter part of his career at WTEM in the mid-to-late 90s. With the station carrying more and more play-by-play during the night hours, there wasn’t always a lot of room anymore for a call-in show, and Beatrice called it quits.
“The things that he did and I think really, the nostalgia aspect of him which is touching people now is, when the Redskins were really good, and the only radio sports outlet to get any kind of Redskin talk was from him, he was sort of the soundtrack of that period. I think that’s what people gravitate to. When they’re thinking about Riggins and the Hogs and Gibbs and the Super Bowl parades it’s all kind of wrapped up with the voice of Ken behind it,” Pollin said.
Oh man, Ken Beatrice died. DC sports legend. Brenner, Michael, Beatrice–the 3 most important DC sports broadcasters of the 80s, all gone.
— Eric Fingerhut (@ericfingerhut) December 6, 2015
For a decade in the 80s, sports radio in DC was only Ken Beatrice. It's hard to explain to kids now how scarce information used to be.
— Half St Heart Blog (@HalfStreetHeart) December 6, 2015
His liberties with the truth are looked back upon now as more showmanship than anything, because ultimately, he was a great host.
“After every Redskins game he would grade every single player. So, he would grade Theisman, or Riggs, Art Monk. But he started grading every player. So he would grade the left tackle, the center, the place kicker, the middle linebacker; he would grade every single player,” said Jason ‘Lurch’ Bishop of the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan. He laughed just thinking about how slightly absurd that gag was in the 80s. “It was funny because there’s no way. This was way before DVR and all the highlight shows. He couldn’t sit there and possibly grade every single player. It was funny after a while, especially like, my uncles and my grandfather would always say he’s blowing smoke, because there’s no way he’s watching all these guys for 60 minutes. But that was Ken for you. Ken liked to sell it. He was a salesman; he was awesome. I loved him.”
One of Bishop’s colleague’s, The Junkies’ Eric Bickel, remembers Beatrice fondly because in general in that era, sports talk wasn’t the wacky world of hot takes it is now. The fact that so many children felt comfortable enough to call him was a testament to that, never mind the fact that he took time off-air to answer phone calls.
“For that era, he was one of a kind. Unique guy, who came off as a real authority. I just know that from my perspective as a fan, he was the epitome of sort of class, die-hard sports talk, and he was a one of a kind guy. And really, I think in a lot of ways, an innovator,” Bickel said. “I think some of it is just a different era. That was more an era of kind of respect, and in a lot of ways, the bar has been lowered, you know? And we’re certainly a part of that on some level. I mean, I have a lot of regard for what we do, but it’s not in that same vein. We work a different area of the street. … I just think he was a really, really unique voice that took his job very very seriously, and had a real passion for it. So, in that sense, I can really, really relate to it. The passion that he had.”
More Ken Beatrice legacy, @RickDocWalker worked for Ken as an intern while still playing for the Redskins
— Andy Pollin (@andypollin1) December 6, 2015
As a kid I once called Ken Beatrice in his office to ask how Austin Carr was suddenly on the Bullets. Chatted me up for like 45 minutes.
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 6, 2015
For a certain generation, Beatrice is as much of an idol as anyone else in the sports arena who influenced them tremendously and provides unforgettable memories. One of those, TNT’s NBA reporter David Aldridge remembers extremely well.
“For anybody who liked sports or who was a fan of sports, he wasn’t just somebody that you sampled, he was somebody that you turned on to and listened for three hours. At least I did. So you would do that while I would do my homework or whatever it was I was doing when I was 13 years old,” said Aldridge, who also remembered vividly that for years SportsCall’s theme song was the intro song of the 1976 movie “Car Wash.” “He used to always say ‘I got my hands on some tickets, but I don’t want to give them out unless I can give them to everybody.’ He would invite anybody who called into the show and said ‘I won two tickets,’ you could come watch the Super Bowl with him. And they had like, I guess they had food, I don’t really remember. The big deal was that you got to meet Ken Beatrice. I remember vividly going with my mom, to watch Dallas play Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 13 at the Gateway Tour Center and meeting Ken Beatrice. I have pictures,” he said.
Beatrice was a star in this town when there weren’t a ton to go around from the sports media world. He won’t be forgotten by anyone in the business anytime soon.
“With the Boston accent, it took me a while to understand what the heck he was saying. But you know, it’s something that to hear that familiar, “You’re next!” — it’s still to this day, even though he’s been off the air for a long time, it still resonates. And you still use it, I still use it to a certain degree, just by happen stance I might do that, and I might use the accent too, and I’ll get a strange look. ” Comcast SportsNet’s Chick Hernandez said Monday. “But, for me, that’s my childhood.”