LISTEN to the Lon Simmons tribute on Hometown Heroes
Legendary sports announcer Lon Simmons passed away April 5, 2015 at the age of 91, and episode #362 of Hometown Heroes serves as a tribute to the World War II Coast Guard veteran, who shared some of his memories on Hometown Heroes in 2012.
Every veteran I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over the years has left a powerful impression on me. Regardless of ethnicity, faith, political philosophy, or any other demographic device, each one possessed a love for country and devotion to duty worth emulating. Lon Simmons was no exception to that rule, but unlike most of the veterans I encounter, Lon’s was a voice I’d been listening to my entire life. As a passionate San Francisco 49ers fan who didn’t have a television at home, I grew up hearing a lot of Lon on the radio. If you listen to this episode of Hometown Heroes, you’ll hear his unforgettable call of Steve Young’s electrifying 49-yard touchdown run against the Vikings in 1988. I’ll never forget where I was when I heard that call, and I know I’m just one of countless thousands who came to cherish his unique, exciting, genuine style on the radio. The following fall, I announced my first football game with the high-pitched voice of a 12-year-old.
Sports announcing is a subjective science. Some prefer the over-the-top partisan for whom the home team can do no wrong. Others are appalled by anything but a detached, minimally emotive play-by-play. Fans of the Giants, A’s, and 49ers remember Lon Simmons as someone who presented a great balance: he described the game objectively, but without forgetting who his audience was, and he always allowed the listener to feel the excitement of the moment.
I’d enjoyed the privilege of meeting Lon a few times over the years – I still remember the great introduction he recorded for the old “Rhyme Time” segment I used to do on local TV – but recording a two-part Hometown Heroes interview with him in 2012 was a real thrill. We corresponded a few times afterwards, and every interaction revealed a man as genuine as his on-air persona always indicated. That self-deprecating humor never left him either. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Lon describe how he found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some of his early baseball exploits as a right-handed pitcher, and how he ended up in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.
You’ll hear Lon remember mostly the misadventures from his three-and-a-half years in the Coast Guard, from the overturned boat that hit him on the head in Hawaii, to the nearly fatal toboggan race on a snow-covered slope in the Aleutians. He also explains why his professional baseball career as a pitcher was cut short, how a suggestion from his wife nudged him into radio, and when it was that he finally felt comfortable giving away his carpenter’s tools because radio looked like a solid career for him. From Elko, NV, to Marysville, CA, to a three-year stint in Fresno where memorable assignments included the Coalinga Horned Toad Derby, Lon’s enthusiastic approach served him well as he worked his way to San Francisco and the legendary Bay Area career that landed him in the broadcasters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. We’ll never forget his engaging voice, his genuine humility, his quick wit, or his signature home run call, “You can tell it goodbye!”