The years have been kind to Rich King. He doesn’t look like he is 69 or like he has been in broadcasting for nearly 50 years.
King, though, is well aware that time marches on. Even though one of the deans (or King) of Chicago sports media still has a few years left in him, he has decided to call it a career. His final day at WGN-9 will be June 15.
The decision has a couple components. He wants to spend more time with his wife, April, with trips planned for Europe and elsewhere.
King also realizes the “fire in the belly” isn’t the same as it was many, many years ago.
“It gets hard to ask the same questions over and over again,” King said. “This job has a hectic pace, and it seems to get harder all the time. When (Tigers manager) Jim Leyland retired, they asked why? He said, ‘The fuel’s getting low.’ I can understand. Let somebody else do this.”
King’s run has cut a huge swath of Chicago sports and broadcast history. He has been around so long that when he produced Blackhawks games on WGN-AM 720 in the early ’70s, the station only aired the last two periods of the game. He then made a name for himself as a sports anchor at WBBM-AM 780.
King worked on White Sox broadcasts on the station in 1980-81, enduring a wild ride with Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall. In the days before sports talk radio, King, along with Tom Shaer and Ron Gleason, did big ratings with “Sportsline,” a Saturday morning show that began in 1983.
“We had commissioners on the show,” King said. “We broke stories. Guys would be working in the garage and listen to our show on Saturday mornings.”
King eventually went into television, first at WBBM-2 and then since 1991 as a weekend sports anchor and reporter at WGN-9. Along the way, he has seen the business change considerably.
“The biggest thing is the access to the athletes,” King said. “Back then, they told you the truth. They gave you some information. You could call a guy up on the phone and he’d tell you something off the record. He trusted you. It’s much different now. Now everyone talks in PR speak.”
King has interviewed countless sports personalities. Here are a few who stand out for King:
Tony La Russa
“He’s one of my favorites. He taught you the game. He’d tell you who to look for as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. You got a feel for the game. He always was five steps ahead of everyone else.
“He’s a stand-up guy. He might be the most misunderstood guy in town. It pains me to see him get hammered so hard. Talk to anyone within the organizations, and they all love him. He’s got a big heart.”
“I always said I could write a book about working with Harry and Jimmy, but I probably would be sued. They were the most chaotic two years of my life but also two of the best. Harry could drink you under the table. I remember him coming into the booth, saying, ‘Get me three cups of coffee.'”
“He was rough. He’d always go, ‘Why are you asking me that?’ Everyone stood there for five minutes (after a game). Nobody wanted to ask a question because they knew Herman would light them up.”
“He was one of the smartest executives and one of the smartest people I’ve met. You could talk to him over lunch. You can’t go to lunch with Theo Epstein. That’s what you miss — that connection.”
“I walked into a reunion and those guys came up and started hugging me. They appreciated the coverage. They knew what we did led to them making more money. Now, guys like Brian Urlacher could care less about you.”
“If you were interviewing someone, he’d come up from behind and goose you. His hands were as strong as iron. One time, he grabbed the back of my thigh so hard, it left a big bruise. My wife said, ‘What happened to you?'”
“Before he played baseball, he was a very, friendly guy. I told (Reinsdorf), ‘This guy is the biggest superstar in the world and he’s so accessible.’ He got ripped when he played baseball, and that soured him on the media. When he came back (to the Bulls), he was a different guy.”
King has seen it all during his career covering sports in Chicago, with the exception of one thing: The Cubs winning a World Series. If he retires a few months too early to miss the possible big moment in October, so be it.
“This has been a dream job,” King said. “It’s been great, and there will be some things I miss. But I won’t miss working on weekends, because I’ll be with my wife.”