Keith Jackson – The Voice Of College Football Is Dead At Age 89

With his deep voice and his great sense of humor, Jackson was the best of all time

Over my nearly 40 year career in the broadcast business, I have had the honor of working with a few people who deserved the title of an icon. Keith Jackson, who died today at the age of 89 was clearly an icon, but he was a wonderful man who was a class act on the air and off.

In short, he was simply the greatest college football broadcaster of all time.  Jackson was known for his folksy manner and unique sayings on college football during his 40 years with ABC Sports. He most famous sayings were “Whoa, Nellie,” and his Rose Bowl tag “The ‘Grandaddy of Them All.”

While he was best known for college football but in his 40 years at ABC Sports he did much, much more. He was part of the network that under sports president Roone Arledge changed the way fans watch sports. It was Arledge that used his talented ABC team to broadcast in a way that brought in the casual fan.

Jackson was perfect for the casual fan and while he was the first voice of ABC Monday Night Football with Don Meredith and Howard Cosell it was not his style. But after the first year in the booth, Arledge replaced Jackson with Frank Gifford, who left CBS to join the MNF team.

Arledge knew that Jackson was a college football fan and he offered him the lead broadcast voice of the ABC College Football Game of the Week. From 1969 to 2006 he was the soundtrack for college football with his distinctive baritone voice.

Jackson worked a wide variety of events for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, he was the voice of the network’s Monday Night Baseball, he was the lead voice of their NBA Game of the Week and also served as a part of ten Olympic Games.

“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company.  “When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game.  Keith was a true gentleman and memorable presence. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Turi Ann, and his family.”

Jackson was born in 1928 on the Alabama-Georgia line but he went off to the Pacific Northwest to find fame and fortune. He attended Washington State University and after spending 10 years at KOMO in Seattle he joined ABC.

In 1964, he moved to ABC Radio West as sports director and continued freelance work with ABC Sports before becoming full-time in 1966. He also worked as a radio news correspondent during those years. He covered the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, and in 1965 he worked a baseball telecast with Jackie Robinson in the afternoon and covered the Watts riots that same night in Los Angeles.

The sport he is most identified with by far was college football and for years his voice on a telecast meant it was the day’s biggest matchup.  His affection for the sport came from his youth.  “When I was a boy, we didn’t have all this pro stuff,” he said in 2009.  “All professional sports of any consequence were located in the big cities in the north, so those of us who enjoyed the game of football followed college football.”  Over the years, he worked with Jack Jensen, Lee Grosscup, Bud Wilkinson, Ara Parseghian, Frank Broyles, Lynn Swann, Tim Brant, Bob Griese and Dan Fouts.

At the end of two contracts – after the 1986 and 1998 seasons – Jackson believed he was headed to retirement, but within months, and without missing a college football assignment, he re-signed with ABC.  He continued calling games, mostly on the West Coast before leaving the booth for good following the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC.

In 1999, Jackson became the first broadcaster to be awarded the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Gold Medal, its highest honor.  The same year, he was named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and The Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University awarded their alumnus with the Murrow Award for top leaders in the communication industry.

Jackson received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award from the American Football Coaches Association and he was also named National Sportscaster of the Year five consecutive times, by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.  Jackson is also in the National Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame, the NSSA Hall of Fame and the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame.  In 2009, he was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Jackson, a longtime resident of Sherman Oaks, Calif., and Pender Harbor, British Columbia, Canada, is survived by Turi Ann, his wife of 63 years.

The video from Washington State University.