L.A. sportscaster Gil Stratton dead at 86
Stratton, who spent decades on KNXT, and then KCBS Channel 2, and reporting for KNX on stories ranging from the arrival of the Dodgers to the Lakers “showtime” era, died Saturday at his Toluca Lake home. Stratton was “dressed in his favorite robe, sitting in his favorite chair and watching his favorite sport — European soccer — on television when he fell asleep and never woke up,” his widow, Dee, said today.
In 1961, Stratton became an integral part of the nation’s first regular television newscast longer than 15 minutes: Channel 2’s hour-long “The Big News.” Stratton and cohorts Jerry Dunphy and Bill Keene owned the early- evening Los Angeles television airwaves for that decade, and became the prototype news team for local TV stations across the country.
“Hi folks, time to call ’em as I see ’em” was the veteran sportscaster’s trademark opening, both on Channel 2 and on co-owned KNX radio. Listeners in the western United States were familiar with “sports and the weather together,” a nightly segment featuring Stratton and Keene on KNX’s 50,000 watts.
He was also the broadcast voice of the Los Angeles Rams for their early years, and was frequently tabbed to call sports remotes on the CBS television network.
Stratton, a native of Brooklyn, got his start on Broadway with a role in 1941’s “Best Foot Forward.”
Arriving in Hollywood in 1943, Stratton landed several big radio jobs, but put his career on hiatus to become an Army Air Corps bombardier.
The vet then made the rounds of major radio networks shows originating from Hollywood, including “Lux Radio Theater,” “The Great Gildersleeve,” and “My Little Margie.” He played opposite Judy Garland in a 1950 radio adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.”
He also appeared in 40 movies, and played “Cookie” Cook in 1953’s “Stalag 17,” which won the Best Picture Oscar. He played “Mouse,” an outlaw motorcyclist, next to Marlon Brando in 1954’s “The Wild One,” and at times starred with Cary Grant, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe and William Holden.
But it was doing sports at Channel 2 where Stratton became most-familiar to Southland viewers. Stratton spent nine years as an umpire for the Pacific Coast League, and was hired at CBS station KNXT in 1954.
Working for both the local station and the network, he covered Major League Baseball, pro football, the Olympics and boxing.
Stratton was part of an experiment at Channel 2 in 1961, when station executives combined 15-minute long news and sportscasts, added weatherman Bill Keene, and put the first evening news hour on the air in U.S. television history. Within a year, “The Big News” was earning a 28 percent share in the Los Angeles ratings books and rewriting the way TV listings would look across the continent.
At Channel 2, Stratton won five local Emmys and seven Golden Mike awards from the Radio-Television News Association.
Stratton semi-retired in the 1980 s, but returned to his old home at the 1070 spot on the AM dial as the weekend sports anchor, bringing back his “call ’em as I see ’em” tagline.
He retired from broadcasting in 1997, but continued charity work and teaching broadcasting students at Cal State Northridge. The newborn nursery at Henry Mayo Hospital in Newhall is named after him, in honor of the charity golf tournaments he hosted to raise funds.
In a statement, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists called Stratton, “one of California’s most distinguished sports journalists.”
“Gil Stratton was the voice of excellence in Los Angeles sports reporting for more than 40 years,” the statement read. “He was a fixture on Channel 2’s “Big News” when it dominated local television in the 1960 s and set the standard for local newscasts. In his long career, Stratton covered virtually every sport with the same award-winning professionalism and attention to detail. The Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists joins countless admirers in mourning the loss of one of California’s most distinguished sports journalists.”
He is survived by his widow, Dee, children Gilda Stratton, Gibby Stratton, Billy Norvas, Laurie O’Brien and Cary Stratton, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren, according to members of Southern California Sports Broadcasters.
Funeral arrangements are pending.