Rod Belcher, whose sports broadcasting career spanned the early 1940s through the late 1980s, died Friday at 94. Belcher helped pioneer major league baseball radio play-by-play in the Seattle market in the mid-1940s, and later covered the careers of such local athletic icons as Hugh McElhenny, Don Heinrich, Bob Houbregs, the O’Brien twins (Johnny and Eddie) and Elgin Baylor.
According to Jim Coshow, a former University of Washington basketball letterman (1954-56) and a life-long friend, Belcher was in rehabilitation recovering from a stroke when he passed away.
“He led a remarkable life,” said Coshow, “and will be remembered as the voice on the radio announcing football, basketball, baseball and many other games. He was a fun-loving guy who loved telling stories about the places he worked and the characters he met.”
Belcher, who replaced the legendary Leo Lassen on Seattle Rainiers broadcasts in 1957, also served as radio and television sports director at KING throughout the 1960s, and in 1969 became the voice of the expansion Seattle Pilots. He wrote the popular song, “Go, Go You Pilots,” which became the American League team’s anthem.
In 1976, Belcher began a 28-year-run as the press box announcer for the expansion Seattle Seahawks, a position he held until his retirement. Simultaneously, Belcher had stints as the public address announcer for the Seattle SuperSonics, UW basketball and Seattle U. basketball.
Born Nov. 4, 1920, in Berkeley, CA., Belcher was one of two sons of Merton, a banker and businessman, and Janet Belcher of Humboldt County, CA. Belcher spent his first 21 years in California, mostly in the Bay Area. He attended three high schools, in San Francisco and Oakland, graduating at age 16 in 1937.
Belcher enrolled at what is now Humboldt State University, where he became a letter winner in basketball, baseball and track and field, all sports he would later broadcast with distinction. Belcher’s best sport as an athlete was probably basketball, given that he was a three-year starter at point guard and made the All-Far Western Conference team in 1942 when he helped Humboldt State to the first championship in school history.
In addition to participating in athletics, Belcher also involved himself in school drama productions, and worked on the school’s newspaper and yearbook staff.
After beginning his broadcasting career in Missoula, MT., in 1942, Belcher went to work for KMO Radio in Tacoma in 1946, and broadcast Pacific Lutheran, University of Puget Sound and University of Washington sports events, focusing primarily on football, basketball, baseball and track.
From 1949-52, Belcher covered the UW football careers of McElhenny and Heinrich, and in the early 1950s had a front-row seat for Seattle U’s famous O’Brien twins. During their tenure, Belcher did play-by-play of one of the most memorable basketball games in Seattle history — Seattle U’s shocking upset of the Harlem Globetrotters Jan. 21, 1952 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Later that year, Belcher became prominent nationally when he broadcast the Final Four from Hec Edmundson Pavilion. He was also the voice of Seattle U.’s run to the 1958 Final Four, featuring Baylor.
Belcher, who served in the military in World War II, was elected to the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Sportspress Northwest profiled Belcher’s career in a David Eskenazi Wayback Machine article published Aug. 14, 2012.
Unfortunately, I. at 76, remember it all. I still can’t forgive Emmitt Watson for outing Leo. As a kid, i hoisted Leo Lassen to a grand position as probably the best sportscaster around. At my age, sexual preference wasn’t even on the radar. Emmitt didn’t need to do it and it was churlish and unprofessional to volunteer that information.
Rod Belcher was a pro’s pro…nothing fancy, just solid play-by-play. I have a half-hour recording of him calling a Seattle Rainiers NWL game at the end of the 1975 season when Juanita’s Mike Lentz pitched for Walla Walla at Sicks Stadium. And pitched well.
Didn’t know that about Leo, Herb. Can’t imagine what axe Emmett Watson (Seattle’s version of Mike Royko or Jimmy Breslin) was grinding.
Steve, thanks for the very deserving piece on Rod Belcher. His memory and story telling skills were with him to the very end. Did you know his college nickname, well earned according to those who saw him play, was the Humbolt Hummer? Rod loved a good joke and in more recent years even kept notes to make sure he didn’t screw up the punch line. Rod was highly respected for so many years in the ranks of Seattle sports media types–a talented and creative guy who–if asked–would even sing the original version of that legendary song he wrote (words and lyrics) as a tribute to the one-season Seattle Pilots. He even took a shot at doing hockey back when the Totems were playing in the Guyle Fielder era of the Western Hockey League (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver etc.). I recall when the Totems were playing San Francisco in the seventh game of the playoff series in the Cow Palace (1963) and who shows up but Rod and a KING TV crew to telecast the game back to Seattle. As I recall Rod’s least favorite sport was the hydroplane madness that he had a hard time avoiding every summer in the pre-major league times of Seattle sports. He will be missed by many.
Thank you, Bill. Best always