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Originally published June 20, 2013 at 8:51 PM | Page modified June 21, 2013 at 7:17 AM

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KIRO-TV ends Pat O’Day’s long run as voice of hydros

This would have been the 46th year that the Seattle radio legend would have called the Seafair hydro races on radio or TV. But KIRO-TV put a stop to that.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Pat O'Day is one of the few living legends we have. I remember in the 1960s when I won... MORE
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On the phone from his office in Friday Harbor, Pat O’Day sounds good, says he feels great and is eager and ready to broadcast what would be his 46th year of Seafair hydro races either on radio or TV.

But that run is over for the Seattle radio legend, now 78.

Sorry, he has been told, you’re not going to be part of this summer’s KIRO-TV hydro broadcast team, led by anchor Steve Raible and former hydro racer Chip Hanauer. O’Day’s been with them since 2005.

As to why O’Day is gone, well, somewhere there should be a Google Translate app for management speak.

Says KIRO Managing Editor Jake Milstein, “We’ll have all the hydro coverage like we do every year. We’re planning a lot of new things for this year. I think people are going to be very excited.”

He also says, “Pat is a great guy. We’re revamping the broadcast to make it better.”

In the modern world of broadcasting, in which TV stations are owned by out-of-town corporations, the value of a Pat O’Day is not particularly recognized, says Dave Williams, executive director of the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum in Kent.

KIRO-TV is part of the Cox Media Group, based in Atlanta, whose holdings include 14 broadcast TV stations, a local cable channel, 57 radio stations and eight daily newspapers.

Says Williams about O’Day and hydros: “It’s a unique intersection of two cultural icons. But if you’re a guy in TV news, and you spend two or three years in Sacramento, then move to Kansas, then move to Seattle, then eventually move to Chicago, you haven’t seen anything that compares to hydroplanes being a long-standing sport, in those cities. Seafair without Pat O’Day would be like Kentucky Fried Chicken without the Colonel.”

Although KIRO-TV has the television rights to the Seafair race that culminates on Aug. 4, a Sunday, the radio rights are with Sandusky Radio Seattle.

It owns five stations here, including Warm 106.9 FM and Movin 92.5 FM. The race will be broadcast on one of its AM stations, 1150 KKNW.

But, says Marc Kaye, general manager for the stations, its plans for broadcasting the race have already been made.

“It’d be unusual to change direction at the last minute,” he says about the possibility of O’Day coming on board. “I think chances are we’ll stay with what we have.”

If you don’t know who O’Day is, well, that probably makes you a newcomer around here, doesn’t it?

In the 1960s, O’Day worked drive-time at KJR-AM.

Then, it was a rock ’n’ roll station, and at times O’Day commanded now-unheard-of shares of 40 percent of the total audience.

These days, you might recognize O’Day’s distinctive voice, with its roller-coaster intonation and tempo changes, as the spokesman for Schick Shadel Hospital who promises to cure your addiction (“Give us 10 days and we’ll give you back your life!”).

In 2012, O’Day went through a major scare when a benign tumor was found pressing on his brain.

Thousands of fans followed the news on Facebook that concluded with successful surgery.

O’Day says he can only guess as to why his services were no longer needed in the hydro coverage.

In past years, the broadcast crew had been at the start/finish line and at the hydro pit. Now they’ll all be at the start/finish line. And he was the most recent addition to the team, he says.

And, he says, last year he returned to broadcasting the race only three weeks after brain surgery, “and maybe I wasn’t my sharpest.”

Chip Hanauer says he thought O’Day sounded fine on air.

Says O’Day: “The brain surgery turned back a few years for me. I haven’t lost a step. I still have all the mettle.”

He certainly hasn’t lost his prodigious memory for all things connected with hydros. Like how he got into broadcasting the race in the first place, back in 1967.

The engineers at Channels 4, 5 and 7 had gone on strike, so there was to be no TV coverage of the races. But then this little independent station, KTVW, Channel 13, decided to broadcast the Gold Cup.

They called O’Day, who at the time was in Dallas with Jimi Hendrix, as back then, O’Day also promoted rock shows. O’Day had never done sports play-by-play, but he loved hydros.

He took a flight back to Seattle and headed to the hydro pits, working with two cameras and one microphone.

O’Day also made a call to Wayne Newton, yes, that Wayne Newton, who was in Seattle for a concert. Newton owed O’Day because KJR had been one of the first stations to play him.

So Newton showed up and spent a couple of hours on air, even though he didn’t know anything about hydros. To show how the race was going, O’Day used little cardboard props.

O’Day for years did hydro broadcasts when running KJR, and he and other disc jockeys had plenty of fun announcing the races and playing rock.

Then, as various stations acquired the hydro-broadcast rights, O’Day was contracted by them.

But on Aug. 4, 2013, that familiar voice that has accompanied the races will be no more.

O’Day says he doesn’t know what he’ll do that day.

“For all those years, I haven’t been confronted with that thought,” he says.

Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk

contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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