Category Archives: Boxing

KYA Radio’s sports director | San Francisco, 1950-1953

Ad from Broadcasting Magazine, 1953, featuring “Les Keiter ‘Take ’em out to the ballgame.'” Image is courtesy of Bay Area Radio Museum Archive

J. Elroy McCaw and KYA Radio

In April of 1950, J. Elroy McCaw and his partner each purchased a 50 percent interest in KYA Radio, San Francisco from Dorothy Schiff, who, incidentally, owned the New York Post for almost 40 years.  Dorothy was selling the station at a steep loss from her purchase price due to the fact that the station wasn’t quite profitable, so McCaw had every reason in the world to make some changes.  And, as was now his pattern, McCaw hired Les Keiter to be KYA’s sports director.

Post-war Boom

As Les and Lila Keiter (let’s not forget – she was 8 months pregnant) were winging their way back from Honolulu to the mainland for Les’ new job in San Francisco, the west coast was in a post-war boom, and the Bay Area was quickly becoming a major metropolis.  Former soldiers from farming families were heading into cities for college and better jobs, and GI’s who had passed through and fallen in love with San Francisco on their way to fight in the Pacific were back to start families of their own.  To help accommodate everybody, the last sand dunes in what would become The Sunset District were being leveled for the construction of cookie cutter houses, purchased with loans backed by GI Bill guarantees.

Upon their arrival, Les and Lila set up another house-hold, and Les went to work, broadcasting daily from the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Francisco, starting mid-season with college football: Stanford, California, San Jose State, Santa Clara, St. Mary’s, and College of the Pacific. 

Lila Keiter with son Ricky in San Francisco, 1951

The Keiter’s were still settling in when, on November 10, 1950, Lila gave birth to the their first son, Richard Allan.  The family has always called him Ricky, and as Les said, Lila proved to be as adept a mother as she had been a scorekeeper.

Meanwhile, in Texas…

During the war, a Texan sportscaster named Gordon McLendon (self nicknamed “the Old Scottsman,” even though he was in his early 30’s) had the idea to create a radio network dedicated to bringing baseball recreations to rural areas when, as Time Magazine wrote, “he found that boys from Arkansas argued just as hotly as Brooklynites about big-league baseball, even though the only games they ever heard were the World Series.”  The radio network McLendon started in 1948, just two years before the Time Magazine article, was called the Liberty Broadcasting System.  McLendon was onto something – people loved listening to baseball!  The network’s recreations were jazzed up just enough to keep them believable, while sometimes making them even more interesting to hear than a game called live from the stadium.  As stations signed on, minor league ball game attendance rose across the country.

The Liberty Broadcasting System had meteoric growth.  There were 240 stations in the network by 1950.

Back to San Francisco

To supplement KYA Radio’s current offerings of college football, basketball, boxing, and other sports with as much action as possible, Les Keiter and station manager Jock Fearnhead signed KYA on to the Liberty network for the 1951 baseball season.

Likely Aug 1, 1951 when Louis faced Cesar Brion at the Cow Palace
Les Keiter interviewing Joe Lewis for KYA Radio, San Francisco

By 1952, when Liberty was up to 458 stations nationwide, Major League Baseball realized how much money they’d been leaving on the table and raised their annual rights fee from $1,000 to $225,000.  The astronomically increased bill combined with the fact that both professional baseball and football began restricting broadcasts around cities with league teams, and the Liberty Broadcasting System went out of business almost overnight.

Baseball is a HIT

Here’s a notice from Broadcasting Magazine in which it was reported that Keiter had polled his audience to see if they wanted to hear double headers on Sunday’s.  Whether KYA Radio saw the imminent demise of Liberty, or they simply wanted to satisfy the demands of their audience with even more baseball, after one season with the network, Les Keiter and KYA Radio began doing baseball recreates on their own.

McCaw’s methods for getting live game statistics for the recreations could be, to put it politely, imaginative.  To be blunt, according to Les, they eventually lead to charges of game piracy.  Les said McCaw once hired a spotter to phone in the details of Dodgers’ games from a tree overlooking Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.  Keiter filled in the gaps with his own quick imagination.  As in Honolulu, recreates of baseball games made Les’s reputation in the Bay Area.

By 1952, Lila was pregnant again, and on November 22nd, gave birth to a surprise set of twins, a girl and a boy: Martin Bruce and Barbara Ruth.


Just a month or two later, and only three years after coming to San Francisco, guess what happened?  J. Elroy McCaw turned Les Keiter’s life upside down, yet again:

“Be in New York a week from Monday. You are the new sports director at WINS Radio in Manhattan.”

Les Keiter – The War Years

Seattle 1942
Les Keiter upon enlisting in the Navy (with brother, aunts, and cousin)

Les Keiter enlisted in the Navy in early 1942 (his 3rd job).  

He completed basic training, became Yeoman 3rd Class, U.S. Naval Reserve, and was shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii.  Les’s brother, “Buddy,” enlisted  in the Navy shortly afterwards and was assigned to the SEABEES, 11th Special Battalion in the European theatre. 

Les was itching to be sent into combat, but he was assigned to clerical work for a commander’s office in the middle of the Navy Yard right there in Honolulu.  That lasted about 2 months until the skipper called him in to question him about why he wasn’t an officer when he had a college degree.  Les explained that he had poor color perception, which the Navy considered to be a physical defect and asked if anything could be done.  The skipper resolved to see if he could help move Keiter forward.

Les Keiter in Honolulu, 1942

6 weeks later, Keiter was promoted to Ensign and given 48 hours to prepare to ship out.   First, he was sent to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for 6 weeks in officer training.  Next, he was shipped to Fort Schuyler, Long Island, New York for 6 more weeks of training. Then, he was assigned to Port Hueneme in Southern California to train with the ACORNS, which was an airfield operation unit assigned to work behind the Marines and SEABEEs on a recaptured island.   

By August, 1942, Les was finally sent out of US territory  with ACORN 15 – towards the Russel Islands, just north of Guadalcanal.  The ACORNS arrived in New Caledonia, then went on to Noumea, headquarters for the Pacific Command under Admiral “Bull” Halsey. It was there, upon seeing a place in which several Marines and SEABEEs  had been killed by an explosion a week earlier, the war, for Les, suddenly felt real. 

Upon arriving on the Russell Islands, the Harbormaster directed ACORN 15 to work with the SEABEEs 11th Special Battalion. 

Les’s friend, Billy Lee, said, “Isn’t that the outfit your brother is with?”

“Nonsense.  Buddy was sent to Europe.  Must be a different part of the Battalion.”

But Billy was not deterred and asked the harbor master about it.  In a thrilling coincidence, after heading to Europe, the Navy had sent Buddy right to where Les was stationed!  The reunion was so joyous, it even made the papers back home in Seattle.

Shortly after working together, Buddy shipped stateside and Les was reassigned to a communications outfit, bouncing from one Pacific Island to another for over a year, before landing on Peleliu, Palau, where Les was finally given a job he was most suited for: running the Palau Armed Forces Radio Station.

He was the station manager, and the station had a full staff right in the middle of the war!  They played records, did the news, and, of course, Les did sports.  He announced boxing matches, and he even had his own show covering baseball, including an exhibition visit and game with the navy All-Stars, which included big leaguers Pee Wee Reese and Scooter Rizzuto!

Not long after his stint on Palau, Les, too was sent back stateside for reassignment. Les stepped off a seaplane on San Francisco’s Treasure Island on an unforgettable date – April 12, 1945, the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. 

Five months later, the war finally ended, Les and Buddy both survived, and it was time for everyone to try to put their civilian lives back together.

Bud, Dolly, Jake, and Les Keiter – Seattle, 1945