The longtime voice of football and hockey in St. Louis radio fell silent Thursday when Bill Wilkerson died at age 72.
Wilkerson joined KMOX radio in 1969 as a morning-drive host, but because best known as the play-by-play announcer for St. Louis Cardinals football from 1973 to 1987, when the team left for Phoenix.
He also announced Mizzou football from 1976 to 1993, and partnered with Bob Costas on Spirits of St. Louis basketball games in the mid-1970s. Other broadcast partners included the late Jack Buck, Dan Dierdorf, Mike Shannon and Wendy Wiese.
“He was elegant and just completely joyful,” Wiese told KMOX. “He thought of the responsibility that he had to give people the information, to make sure they had it in a measured way. There was never any hysteria with Bill.”
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According to KMOX morning host Charlie Brennan, Wilkerson was the first black play-by-play announcer for an NFL team and the first black color announcer for an NHL team when he partnered with Dan Kelly on Blues games. He was also a member of the first crew to broadcast an NFL event outside the U.S., broadcasting pro football games in Toyko and London.
“No one, absolutely no one, could get you more excited by calling a touchdown run on radio,” Brennan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He was just so passionate with his play-by-play.”
In 1996, Wilkerson moved from KMOX to KTRS, working there off and on until 2006 to form a private company. He also served as a board member for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, American Red Cross, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and St. Louis Zoological Society, and was executive director of “Reach Out St. Louis,” for which the FBI gave him the Director’s Community Leadership Award. He was also a recipient of the Bob Broeg Award presented by the National Football Foundation.
He attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, earning a degree in journalism while playing football. He is survived by his wife, Margie Wilkerson, and three children.
Memorials went up on Friday afternoon on social media accounts ranging from the St. Louis Blues and KMOX to Mizzou Football and the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists.
Funeral arrangements are pending.