Calling basketball games for Clover Park High early in his career burned into Robertson’s brain the importance of “painting the picture.”
“A sightless youngster… gave me a tremendous amount of help in that regard because he used to come and sit next to me in the stands so he could know what was going on from my description of it,” said Robertson. “It made me very conscious of describing what was happening. You have to be able to paint the picture when doing radio, television not so much.
“Given the choice between doing the game on TV or radio, I’d pick radio. It’s more fun doing it.”
The 2015-16 season will be Robertson’s 49th season in the Cougar football broadcasting booth. His first season calling WSU games was 1964, he had a three year stint calling Huskies’ games from 1969-71 before returning to WSU in 1972.
“In those days the contracts were up for bids every three years and KVI where I worked at the time got the Husky package. I had my choice to continue to do 10 football games for Washington State on a freelance basis but if I wanted to continue my full time job, it was very evident that I would need to switch over and do the Washington Huskies games… the contract shifted again three years later and I was back with the Cougars. And I’ve never left,” said Robertson.
Robertson’s iconic sign off, ‘Always be a good sport, be a good sport all ways,’ has been in use since early in his broadcasting career, long before he began calling WSU games.
“It really started out in (the winter of) 1948,” said Robertson. “In those days everyone had a clever saying of their own to open and/or close. I came up with one I thought sounded pretty good and I found out it sounded pretty good because someone was already using it and I’d heard it someplace. I hit on the play on words of always and all ways, tried it and it seemed to fit alright. No one rode in on a network horse to take it away so I stuck with it.”
Robertson, who has lived in the Tacoma area since the 50’s, turned down NBA and NFL offers along the way.
“They just never matched up with my situation at the time,” says Robertson. “One was pretty close, I don’t remember which one but I went shopping for a house in a new city and by the time I got back I found out the television station and radio station here got together and made me a package offer to stay. So that made it a lot easier to stay where we wanted to be.”
Robertson initially got the WSU job in part because Robertson had narrated coaches’ films and they were familiar with him. And that first WSU game back in 1964?
“I honestly can’t tell you much about that first game but it was an exciting move for me,” said Robertson. “I had already been the voice of Notre Dame football (1955-56) so I wasn’t unfamiliar with big time football… my wife and I loved Notre Dame but we didn’t like the Midwest weather.”
Asked to choose the single most memorable WSU play on offense and defense during his announcing career, Robertson declined.
“I couldn’t pick just one… But I guess the most memorable (game) would be the Rose Bowl game the Cougars played against Michigan (1998) even though we didn’t win it. Seeing all that crimson in the Rose Bowl was memorable,” said Robertson.
Between Paul Sorensen and Jim Walden, Robertson spent about two decades sharing the mic with some very colorful, highly outspoken color analysts.
“It made it more challenging in many ways,” quipped Robertson. “It made it easier in that it probably added 2-3 years to my broadcasting career because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. They were both very enjoyable to work with. I was very lucky with having them as partners… and both Jim and Paul were the perfect partner in that they knew the game very well and they could also talk about it. So many guys know the game well but they can’t put it into words in a hurry.”
WSU has had 11 head football coaches in Robertson’s time in the booth. Who would Robertson want calling the plays with time running down and the Cougs needing two scores to win the Apple Cup?
“Oh boy, I don’t know. I’d hate to start comparing coaches like that, there have been so many good ones and they all have their own styles,” said Robertson.
Charlie Jones, the legendary announcer for NBC, once gave the gold medal in an Olympic race to the wrong guy. He was crestfallen when he realized his blunder. Did Robertson ever make a miscue that keeps him awake at night?
“I don’t think so,” said Robertson. “I don’t think you can get through a whole lifetime without making some. I’d be willing to bet there have been some along the way but I don’t know that they have been outlandishly big -- I didn’t blow the Rose Bowl.”
Robertson, 86, relinquished the playcalling duties in 2013 to Bud Nameck, with Robertson taking the lead on hosting the pregame, halftime and postgame shows while providing some in-game analysis in a three-man booth that also includes Jason Gesser.
“It’s been a fun life. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing it, the travel gets harder. But I’ll play it one game at a time and hopefully it will continue on for a while,” said Robertson.
And with that, he was off. It was late on a Friday afternoon and Robertson had a Tacoma Rainiers game to call on Sunday, and he wanted to spent that Friday night scouting Sunday’s opponent.