Nick Nickson, the radio “Voice of the Kings,” on Monday is being honored with the Foster Hewitt Award (for outstanding contributions to broadcasting) in Toronto as part of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Induction Weekend.
Nickson, who is in his 35th year with the team, will also be honored at STAPLES Center before the Kings-Coyotes game as part of our popular Legends Night Series presented by McDonald’s.
Nickson answered these questions from LAKings.com contributor Mike Tenay prior to leaving for Toronto.
MIKE TENAY: Nick, where were you when you received the news about the Foster Hewitt Award and what was your first reaction?
NICK NICKSON: I was at home in early June when Chuck Kaiton, the President of the NHL Broadcaster's Association and Carolina Hurricanes radio guy, called me. It was literally a wake-up call since Chuck was on the East Coast. My wife handed me the phone as I was getting out of bed and wiping the sleep out of my eyes. I don't want to say it was a shock but it was a surprise, a pleasant surprise. It's something I don't think you ever expect. You don't start getting any emotions about it until after the fact. It was a nice wake up call however.
TENAY: Who will be sharing the special moment with you in Toronto?
NICKSON: Well, family and friends, starting with my wife Carolyn and my two sons Nicholas and Timothy and my daughter-in-law Alexandra. My sisters Jennifer and Andrea will be there along with some cousins and close friends from where I grew up in Rochester, New York. My (broadcasting) partners and former partners will be there. Of course Bob Miller, my first partner with the Kings. Brian Engblom is flying in, as is Mike Allison. Of course, Daryl Evans and Jim Fox will be there as well. A great group of people who have been very supportive of my work over the years that have meant a lot to me in different ways, both in my personal life and professional life. Unfortunately my mom and dad won't be able to make it. My dad is 92 and it's tough for them to travel. It would have been great to have them there, but I'm sure they will see it eventually on TV.
TENAY: You are in your 35th season with the Kings, which is amazing. When you think about all your accomplishments as a broadcaster, how important is that longevity?
NICKSON: Well it's one thing I've been proud of. To be able to be loyal to one organization for so long is just part of my DNA. I've never been one to work somewhere and look to go somewhere else to make more money or be in a better city with different people. I think with that loyalty, I'd like to think that I helped build the brand of Kings Hockey over the years and made it become more popular. I'm so glad to be part of so many fan memories with two Stanley Cups. I'm proud of my loyalty to one organization and that's been returned to me. The Kings have shown their loyalty toward me and it's been a good marriage in that regard.
TENAY: Speaking of longevity, how important of a role model was your dad Nick Sr., who had a lengthy career in Rochester radio?
NICKSON: My dad retired in 2007. He was on the air for 20 years as a disc jockey. As a kid, me and my friends would listen to my dad on the radio after school and I remember going to the office with my dad on Saturdays. He would sort out his desk and all the records he got, because for many years he was also the program director. When I was old enough, I'd take the bus after school downtown to the studios and watch him through the window while he was on the air. I probably didn't know it at the time, but that was certainly a lot of inspiration for me based on the career path that I ultimately chose. Following in his footsteps wasn't part of the plan, but the seeds were sown for that as a young kid and it all grew into the kind of career I had.
TENAY: At what point in your life did you make the decision that hockey announcer was going to be your profession or was it a decision made by opportunity?
NICKSON: It was more opportunity than anything else. I graduated in 1975 from Ithaca College and I was working in radio as a disc jockey. My dad called me and said that the play-by-play guy for the Rochester Americans, the AHL team, was leaving. His name was Lanny Frattere and he left for a job with baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates. In mid-season Rochester needed a broadcaster and my dad told me who to contact. I really didn't think much of it, because I thought I was already on my career path working as a disc jockey. I wasn't even sure I had an audition tape to send them. A day or two later, I looked through my college stuff and I found a reel-to-reel tape of a game I did at Ithaca. I wasn't even sure what sport it was. It happened to be a hockey game I did and it was only one period of a game. I listened to it at home on my machine and I said, ‘boy this isn't very good, I can't send this to anybody.’ Being resourceful, I went to the radio station production room and with a razor blade and scotch tape I cut out all of the mistakes. I put together about five minutes of play-by-play and I sent it to the people at the Americans. I really didn't think anything would come of it. It wasn't something I was actively pursuing. A couple days later they called and said we'd like you to go on the road and do three games and we'll see how it works out. Obviously I never looked back. You can call it opportunity or you can call it fate, but it certainly wasn't the original game plan at that point of my young career and life at age 22 just out of college. I will say that as a kid hockey and baseball were my favorite sports, so there was a connection and passion to the game even back then.
TENAY: Did you play youth hockey and, if so, how far did you advance?
NICKSON: I played mostly in high school on the frozen ponds and back yard rinks in my neighborhood. I remember on the weekends we'd go down to the quarry where the water was frozen over and play there for hours on end. My senior year of high school I played in a city league in Rochester. At the time we didn't have a high school team. They started one the year I left for college so I missed out on that. When I got to Ithaca they had just dropped the JV hockey program. It was division three and I don't know if I could have played JV, but I do remember going to a few of their tryouts.
TENAY: These days most people think of a hockey analyst or color commentator as a former NHL player, but that wasn't the case when you joined the team.
NICKSON: When I came to LA in 1981 there were very few athletes doing broadcasting. In 1990 when we started doing a lot more TV games they decided to split the TV and radio crews. I was given the opportunity to either stay on TV with Bob or go to radio and do play-by-play. Two things factored into my decision. I always felt I was a play-by-play guy at heart and I also saw that the trend was changing where the color analysts for all sports were becoming ex-athletes. The timing meshed with those two scenarios and it really was a pretty easy call for me because I felt play-by-play was my strength to begin with.
TENAY: When you first joined the Kings, was there an adjustment to take the analyst role instead of play-by-play?
NICKSON: Well there was an adjustment because doing the color you have to look at the game a lot differently. If you're doing play-by-play, you have to be on the puck and who has the puck the whole night. On color you point out how the plays are forming and developing and why plays happened and why a goal was scored. We all, fans or broadcasters, get caught up watching the player with the puck. You try to look at the game from a different perspective so that was an adjustment. I tried to convey to the listener some of the coaching strategies and I think I had a grasp of why some things happened and why some things didn't happen.
TENAY: Outside of your dad, did you have announcing inspirations before coming to Los Angeles?
NICKSON: When you grow up in the Northeast you can listen to a lot of radio from many markets. I listened to a lot of Top 40 disc jockeys when that was ruling the roost in radio. Eventually I started listening to a lot of sports broadcasters. I didn't know it at the time, but I'm sure broadcasters like Bob Wilson (Boston Bruins) and Dan Kelly (St. Louis Blues) and Lloyd Pettit (Chicago Blackhawks) subconsciously had something to do with how I presented the games.
TENAY: Since Foster Hewitt retired in the early to mid 1960s, I presume you didn't have a chance to hear him broadcast games, but when the Kings visit Toronto in December, how will it feel to broadcast from the press box that's named after him?
NICKSON: After having the luncheon and getting the Hall of Fame jacket and going to the Mecca of hockey, Toronto, is really when it will sink in. It will probably really hit home when I'm there where Foster Hewitt did the Leafs and the NHL for 50 years in the central point of hockey at least that's where the Toronto people think it is.
TENAY: How important of a role has Bob Miller played in your career?
NICKSON: Bob was very instrumental in me coming to LA. When Pete Weber left as color commentator, I sent them a tape. I was in New Haven, at the time the Kings affiliate. Bob was involved in making the decision. My old coach Parker McDonald was an assistant coach for the Kings and he put in a good word having worked with me for four years. Any broadcasting openings at the time for the Lakers and Kings, Chick Hearn and Bob Miller made the decisions. From the standpoint of me joining the Kings, Bob was certainly involved in it. Not to criticize or belittle any of the ex-athletes that turn into broadcasters, but Bob and I, when we worked together, were career broadcasting people. I think that has some advantages and the two of us fed off each other. I realized the type of preparation he put into the broadcast and vice versa. Bob helped establish my work habits with a new organization.
TENAY: How cool is it going to be on November 10 when you have a chance to share your Hall of Fame moment with the fans when you will be honored on Legends Night at STAPLES Center?
NICKSON: It's going to be great. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1981 at the age of 26, I had never been west of Ohio in my life. I had no idea what to expect. It was a couple of months before I found an apartment and I was shocked at the prices having lived in Rochester and New Haven. My wife and my first son, who was just born, came out after the holidays. We had no idea where this would go and where it would take us. We decided that we better see some of the scenery since we didn't know how long we'd be here. It kind of just morphed into where we are today. After being here for so many years I've been treated so well by the organization, all the people I've worked with and all the very supportive owners from Dr. Jerry Buss and Lou Baumeister, briefly Joe Cohen, Bruce McNall and now of course Phil and Nancy Anschutz and Ed Roski.