A voice worth treasuring

dick nichols: After more than 3,000 broadcasts, the voice of South Sound sports has left KGY-AM to enjoy retirement … maybe

mwochnick@theolympian.comJuly 17, 2012 

Ask Dick Nichols who is the greatest all-around athlete he’s seen in Thurston County, and he’ll quickly answer: Timberline’s Greg Champlin.

Ask Nichols his favorite moment of 50 years of radio broadcasting, and there’s a bit of hesitation.

Because there were a lot.

Nichols’ long career at KGY-AM has ended.

After 50 years, the familiar voice which broadcast thousands of high school events and local college basketball games for a radio audience won’t be there anymore. After six decades on KGY’s airwaves, Nichols has called his final game for the station.

A combination of factors, including the grind, led to his decision.

Nichols, 76, said his profession never felt like work. He was a fan with a microphone.

“It’s something I love to do,” Nichols said. “I’m going to miss it.”

After more than 3,000 broadcasts, Nichols has seen the best and worst of local sports. He remembers broadcasting longtime friend Sid Otton’s first of five state football championship at Tumwater High in 1987 after the T-Birds won a three-way tiebreaker over W.F. West and Shelton just to make the playoffs..

On the flip side, the 1979 Olympia High boys basketball team, which entered the state tournament undefeated and ranked No. 1, was upset in the first round by Ellensburg, 69-67. It evaporated the school’s dream of winning a state title.

And it was a heartache for Nichols, too, who said he was emotionally invested in that team. The Bears were led by senior Robin Marshall, who held the program’s all-time career scoring record with 1,244 points for 32 years.

Seven years later, Nichols was there when Olympia won its second state crown in boys basketball led by John Kiley and John Cook.

NICHOLS’ BEGINNINGS

Shelton, circa early 1950s, is where Nichols’ love for radio began. He listened to Seattle Rainiers and University of Washington football games, and began to appreciate oral storytelling. He never played sports in high school; he was cut from Shelton High’s junior-varsity boys basketball team. Instead, he said he was attracted to athletes and athletics as a fan.

His start on radio came at KUOW as a student at the University of Washington. Briefs stops after graduation included KSEM in Moses Lake, and KELA in Centralia-Chehalis before his first stop at KGY in 1964. He also had a two-year stint as The Olympian’s sports editor from 1962-64. He returned to KGY in 1969, where he would spend 42 of his next 43 years on the air.

Nichols never jumped at the chance to broadcast big-time college sports or the professional scene. He didn’t want to pay the price; family was too important for him. He always had a love for his college alma mater – UW – and wondered what it would be like to broadcast a game at Husky Stadium. It’s one of his few regrets.

“I’d crawl up to Seattle for that,” Nichols said.

The best all-around player he saw in the South Sound is Champlin, a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, track and field) at Timberline who was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks after playing basketball at the University of Denver. But in no particular order, he also mentioned standouts Mike Sellers, Jonathan Stewart, John Greg, Darcy Fast, Kris Larsen, Valerie Gustafson, Bobby Miller, LaShonda Christopher, Ashley Andrews, Chris Juergens, Billy Suter, Ron Holmes, Marshall, Mark Bruener, Jay Roberts, Cheryl Brandell, Kelly Reynolds, Olivia Carillo, Kyle Warner and Scott Gurnsey as athletes, among others, who made an impact.

Nichols was there for Otton’s first football game at Tumwater in the fall of 1974, as well as Ron Brown’s first boys basketball game at Centralia in the winter of 1962. He was there for Jack Swarthout’s final football game at Capital in 1985 and Jim Fouts’ final game at North Thurston in 1976. He was there for every Spaghetti Bowl, a football rivalry between Capital and Olympia he called intense, competitive and unpredictable.

Nichols also called every area team’s state championship football and basketball game with the exception of one – in 2010, when the River Ridge girls basketball team won the state title over Prosser in Yakima. Decades earlier, he helped KGY become a pioneer in broadcasting girls sports in the early 1980s.

“He was so pro-high school and pro-Thurston County,” said Pete Fulton, former football coach at North Thurston, Timberline and Northwest Christian high schools.

His constant presence at local sporting events is what fellow broadcaster Ryan Trotter will remember most. Trotter has been sports director of Centralia-Chehalis’ KELA-AM and program director of KMNT-FM for the past 11 years.

“You knew you’d see Dick; he was always there,” said Trotter, a Chehalis native. “He has a passion for it.”

The final game Nichols broadcast was the 2A boys basketball regional between River Ridge and Anacortes on Feb. 24.

SPECIAL MOMENTS

One of Nichols’ most memorable broadcasting moments was the 1998 Olympia-Mercer Island 3A state boys basketball semifinal. He recalls the details like it happened last March instead of 14 years ago.

BYU-bound Mark Bigalow’s game-winning layup in the final seconds sent Olympia’s portion of the sizeable Kingdome crowd into a frenzy as the Bears won, 52-50. Amidst the craziness of players and coaches celebrating in multiple locations, Juergens, a senior, ran over to Nichols and gave him a big bear hug, knocking off his headset while he was still on the air. Olympia lost to Jamal Crawford and Rainier Beach in the 3A title game the following day.

Kiley, the coach of that Bears team, was the starting point guard on Olympia’s 1986 state title team. Kiley said Nichols’ relationships with student-athletes is what made him special.

“That piece will differentiate him forever,” Kiley said. “The kids felt like, at times, they were playing for him, as well as playing for their community, their school and their coach.”

Nichols stayed true to the saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” He didn’t criticize coaches or athletes. The few times he criticized the officiating of a game, he quickly wished he hadn’t.

For 34 consecutive years, longtime friend and color commentator Larry McMillan worked alongside Nichols. Their complementing strengths made them a good pair: Nichols was a visual storyteller and entertainer and McMillan drew from his experience as a player and coach to provide insightful analysis.

“We have respect for each other and what the other one can do,” McMillan said. “I have the greatest amount of respect and admiration for what he does. To be alongside of him for so many years has been a thrill.”

Added Nichols: “I learned a lot about football from him and his comments made me better. The best part about all of this is working with Larry.”

Plans for a new tandem to broadcast high school sports, as well as changes to its coverage, will come this month at KGY, program director Kevin Huffer said.

Last year, KGY didn’t broadcast a Saint Martin’s University basketball game for the first time in more than 20 years.

Nichols said he is retired, but don’t be surprised if you see him at a game. McMillan said he hasn’t been contacted by any stations, including KGY, to continue working as a commentator. Nichols said he plans to attend events here and there, and may even broadcast some games occasionally for other stations or networks, especially when the postseason comes around.

For 50 years, Nichols provided continuity for local sports with a voice treasured by the South Sound. He treated area high school and college athletes like they were pros. He made the community his big time, the be-all and end-all of his career.

“This has been a wonderful thing,” Nichols said. “I don’t feel any different in the act of broadcasting a game than I did the first time I did it. I still have the same love for it. I’m going to miss it.”

mwochnick@theolympian.com 360-754-5473 www.theolympian.com southsoundsports

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