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
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