OAKLAND, Calif. - Walt Harris, who was known throughout the Bay Area as the voice of roller derby and pro-wrestling, has died.
Harris, a Danville resident, died Saturday. He was 97.
Harris was one of KTVU’s early employees and over his decades-long career held many positions and did many different jobs for the station.
In the 1960s, Harris was the announcer for National All Star Wrestling and Big Time Wrestling that aired on KTVU and KCRA in Sacramento, and at times was syndicated in Honolulu, Phoenix, and other West Coast markets.
“As a wrestling announcer, he was one of the best of all time,’’ said Dave Meltzer, who has written about wrestling for several publications for the last 47 years. “As a roller derby announcer he was the best, without a doubt. He maintained credibility in a semi-circus world. You have 28 to 32 skaters to remember in every game and he brought the stars to life.”
At KTVU, Harris also directed Giants games, produced sports, was an anchor for the morning news, and an announcer for a live musical show.
According to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, he also worked at KNTV and KOVR.
In an interview with KTVU, Harris recalled the day he found out he was to become the voice of roller derby, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s drew crowds of 30,000 to the Oakland Coliseum.
“I’d never seen a game,’’ he told KTVU. “I called the first game I saw. The general manager was walking down the hall one day when I was. He stopped me and said, ‘Walt, you’re a roller derby announcer starting Saturday.’ I had to go out to a practice session to learn the terms and then that Saturday I called my first game. I enjoyed it. It was dramatic and exciting.”
Because roller derby was syndicated on some 100 stations in the United States and Canada, Harris was known far and wide, said his friend Jerry Seltzer.
“He was the person who brought roller derby to millions of people across the country,’’ Seltzer said.
In 1970, Harris got a standing ovation from 19,000 roller derby fans attending a game at Madison Square Garden, Seltzer said.
“He was known by all of them, and he loved all of them,’’ Seltzer said. “He was just a wonderful human being.”
Harris was preceded in death by Carmel, his wife of more than 60 years as well as a son. Services are Monday from 10 a.m. to noon at Queen of Heaven Funeral Home, 1965 Reliez Valley Road in Lafayette. All are welcome.