When Les Keiter was a small boy, he loved the Seattle-area baseball announcer Leo Lassen. In fact, he idolized him. Leo was renowned for his depth of knowledge and insistence on accuracy. He was a master in the art of the Baseball Recreate. And little Les spent his time trying to emulate his hero by making up his own baseball tournaments – adding the element of suspense by rolling dice to determine the plays, while announcing the imaginary games in his best approximation of Leo Lassen’s style. Les even kept score books of those made-up games, which his mother held onto for years!
When we last left off with Les Keiter’s story, he had survived the war, come home, and married his sweetheart (and expert baseball scorekeeper), Lila. They ended their honeymoon adventure in Los Angeles, and drove to their new hometown, Modesto, California, where Les (unbeknownst to Lila**) had taken a job!
Les went to work at an FM station, KBEE-FM, as part of the Eleanor McClatchey radio empire. Not a lot of people had FM receivers at that time, but McClatchey had correctly guessed that it would be the medium of the future. By filling their FM airwaves with sports, they were able to corner the FM market in their area.
Les was off to the races – announcing the Modesto Reds and Stockton Ports home games live and doing Baseball Recreates when they were away.
What the heck is a Baseball Recreate?
“Baseball Recreates,” you may be asking? This was in the time before satellites and other high-speed communication, so when a local ball team traveled out of radio frequency range to play a game, the only way baseball fans could know what was happening in real time (or, close enough), was to listen to a Baseball Recreate. The announcer would be in the local radio station receiving the game stats through telephone or teletype or telegram… whatever worked, and he would announce the game live on the radio using the real game stats, his wealth of knowledge about the players and the field, and a smattering of imagination to make it sound as if he was seeing the game being played in front of him. The announcer or radio producer would fill in with sound effects for bat-cracks (Les preferred to do those himself with a drumstick and a wooden block), crowd noises, or whatever else was necessary to make the experience as authentic as possible. The audience was told before the game that it was a recreation, so it was all above board, but it’s said that many people “knew, but didn’t want to know” they were listening to a Recreation.
This was where a baseball announcer’s individual skill and imagination could really shine. This was also a decade before the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California, so the Modesto and Stockton teams were the biggest baseball attraction in town. Les also rounded out the baseball broadcast schedule at the station with Recreates from the rest of the Class-A California State League.
As far as we know, Les never spoke publicly about how he felt doing his very first on-air baseball recreate, but it’s certain that with all the practice he had making up his own games as a child, Keiter was as well prepared as could be. And all of those Modesto and Stockton Recreates were starting to get him noticed. As luck would have it, the 1949 baseball season was the all-time peak season for fan attendance in the league.
J. Elroy McCaw comes back to our story
In late 1949, after only about 5 months with KBEE, Les received a telegram from J. Elroy McCaw. His former boss from KELA in Centralia-Chehalis, WA was now in Honolulu, Hawaii:
“WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU HERE, IF INTERESTED.”
Les sent back, “ALWAYS INTERESTED.”
Hawaii was a treasure trove of work for a good announcer with Les Keiter’s skills. So Les and Lila packed up and moved from Modesto to Honolulu, where Les would do Baseball Recreates full time.
** Although it was a nice town, upon hearing Modesto was going to be their new home, Lila made her feelings clear, and Les resolved never to make such a decision without Lila’s input again. And he never did.