Posted on Thu, Apr. 16, 2009


Announcer Les Keiter dies; was the voice of the Big 5's golden era

Philadelphia Daily News

Before television discovered college basketball, before conferences were invented for television and the NCAA Tournament became a 3-week extravaganza, the Big 5 was so meaningful that one of the great broadcasters of the 20th century once referred to his 7 years as its voice as being "right there at the top."

Les Keiter, who coined phrases like "in again, out again Finnegan," "tickles the twine" and "ring-tailed howitzer" and opened his Palestra broadcasts by saying "Welcome to Panicsville, USA," died Tuesday at Castle Medical Center in Hawaii. He was 89, 2 weeks shy of his 90th birthday.

Keiter broadcast Big 5 games from 1963 to 1970. He called games in what most would agree was the golden era of Big 5 basketball, when Kenny Durrett played at La Salle and Howard Porter played at Villanova. In 1968-69, the Big 5 teams were a combined 98-35.
Keiter was so in demand back then that, on the night in 1964 when then Cassius Clay (turned Muhammad Ali the next day) took Sonny Liston's heavyweight title in Miami Beach, he did the nationwide radio broadcast.

Keiter's voice and delivery were unmistakable. He was as unique in his way as Harry Kalas was in his.

It was the night of Feb. 20, 1965, the "bomb scare" game that defined Keiter's dedication to duty. He refused to leave his "catbird seat" after the police cleared the Palestra because of a bomb scare. The police wanted him out, too. Truth be told, he might have listened to the police, but Channel 6 executives told him they had their biggest audience ever and he "wasn't going anywhere."

So he stayed in the booth and on the air. The fans spent 15 minutes outside in 27-degree temperature. The teams went next door to Hutchinson Gym.

There was no bomb. The teams and the fans eventually returned. One of Dr. Jack Ramsay's greatest Saint Joseph's teams beat Villanova, 69-61. Les Keiter called every play and the time between all the plays when the bomb squad was combing to the old building on 33rd Street.

After he stopped broadcasting Big 5 games, Keiter moved to Hawaii, where he had started his broadcasting career following World War II. He became the voice of University of Hawaii sports and Triple A baseball's Hawaii Islanders. Keiter retired in 1994 as sports director of Honolulu TV station KHON and then became the spokesman for Aloha Stadium.
Keiter was in Philadelphia in 2003 when he was inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame. It was then he said that he called the Palestra his "Field of Dreams" and his days calling Big 5 games among his most memorable.

Keiter is survived by his wife, Lila, and five children