By Kristin Bender
Special to Off Camera
Walt Harris, who was known throughout the Bay Area as the voice of roller derby and pro-wrestling, died Aug. 18 at the age of 97. Harris had been living in Danville at the time of his death.
Harris was KTVU’s first-ever employee when the station signed on the air in March of 1958. During his decades-long career, Harris 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, which 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, and his son.