MANCHESTER, NH – In the year 2001, the Manchester Monarchs played their first season in the AHL. Calling those first game and every game since, has been Ken Cail. Ken is one of Manchester, New Hampshire’s most recognizable voices, and to hear him tell it, he plans on being behind the Monarchs’ microphone for a long time to come.
As we approach his 17th season as the voice of Monarchs Country, I sat down for an multi-part interview with Cail. In this part, we find out how Cail became the voice of the Monarchs and who inspired him.
Josh Heistman: How did you end up with the Monarchs?
Ken Cail: Well, I submitted a tape of a high school hockey game I did back in the 1990s. The Monarchs, of course, came into the AHL in 2001-02. It was a tape of a high school hockey game on the radio from 1997-98, something like that. I submitted it to Jeff Eisenberg, who was president of the Monarchs at the time. He liked it, we had a couple of lunch interviews, and ultimately I was hired to be the first and, so far, the only voice of the Monarchs.
J: I couldn’t imagine them without you!
K: Well, I don’t know, I can’t imagine life without the Monarchs now!
J: So was broadcasting always the plan for you, then?
K: Absolutely. I had always done a lot of high school hockey. I’ve been in radio since about 1973, actually, so that’s a long time now. So play-by-play was always something I wanted to do, and I had the opportunity to do it mostly at a high school level, before I did the Monarchs, with some college mixed in there as well. And I had done some baseball, as well, with the Nashua Pride. So I had quite a bit of play-by-play experience and had done a lot of things in radio other than sports. I was a disc jockey and did news and talk shows. But really, being the play-by-play voice of a team was always something I wanted to do. I was very fortunate to be hired as the voice of the Monarchs back in 2001, and I’m very fortunate that I’ve stayed healthy and have yet to miss a game.
J: That’s true! I don’t even remember you being sick in the time I was producing for the Monarchs in 2003-04.
K: There have been times, and some days are better than others. But I’ve never been sick enough to miss a game. I’ve had colds and sore throats, but nothing more severe than that. The only time I’ve come close to missing a game was on a Saturday night, I believe it was probably 2006-07, and I was in a car accident.
J: That’s right!
K: In fact, my car was totaled, and my shirt was bloodied and torn, and I was a little bit bloody, but fortunately a friend that was in the area was able to get me to the game. I had to pass up the pregame interview, but fortunately, I was able to make it to the game itself. But that was the closest call I had…I know we were playing Lowell because I remember talking to their broadcaster Ryan Johnson about the ordeal I had been through. But I still made it there in plenty of time to do the game so, it wasn’t an issue.
J: You’ve called a lot of games.
K: I think sometime this coming season it’ll be 1500. And of course, last year we played more games than I anticipated we would. I was hoping we’d play more, but the total went up in the postseason, we had a good run. But the total right now is 1400-something, and I think it’ll be past 1500 some time a little bit after the midway part of next season if everything goes well.
J: Now, as far as broadcasting goes, who would you consider your idols? Who were some of the people that inspired you?
K: I got to grow up in the Boston area at a time when we had some great, great broadcasters. Johnny Most was doing the Celtics (games), Gil Santos was doing the Patriots (games), and Bob Wilson was doing the Bruins at that time (games).
And what happened was, one Friday night, this was back in the early 70s, a friend of mine and myself went to the first AHL game for the Boston Braves. They were the Bruins affiliate. So, Bob Wilson, who was the Bruins’ voice, when he would do Braves games on WBZ radio. So, I was in the stands for the first Boston Braves game. I think they were playing the Cleveland Barons, at the old Boston Garden. And I looked up at the broadcast booth at Bob Wilson, and he had just one person with him that was a technician setting things up and watching the dials.
So, I wrote Bob Wilson a letter that next day and said, “I would love to get into broadcasting, and I’ve always admired your play-by-play style and your voice. I would happily volunteer to keep statistics for you or run for coffee or whatever assistance you might need.” And I had written other letters like that and either I would get no response, or just a form letter of some kind that said, “Thanks for writing, but we can’t use your services at this time.” But I wrote this letter on a Saturday morning, mailed it out from the post office near my home in Melrose, MA. And I can vividly remember that on Monday afternoon, I was playing wiffleball with my friends in the backyard, and my father yelled out from the back porch. He said, “You have a call, Bob Wilson is on the line.” So, I didn’t believe it. I mean, it was so quick, and he knew I had written that letter. And I said, “You’re not going to fool me, I’ll know if it’s not Bob Wilson, nobody has a voice like Bob Wilson. He has the best voice ever, and I will recognize it. Nobody can duplicate that voice.” So I picked up the phone and sheepishly said hello, and it turned out to be Bob Wilson. The real Bob Wilson! So this was Monday, and he said, “Come in next Friday, we have the next broadcast for the Braves. Meet me at the press gate at the Garden, and we’ll see how it works out.” Well, apparently he thought it worked out fine because I got stats for him the rest of that year and the following year.
And then, his Bruins statistician got a job working for Delta Airlines and got transferred to Atlanta. So, in 1972 I started doing stats for the Bruins for Bob Wilson, and that was during the Bobby Orr era, they were red hot at that time. So it was great, and I was still going to high school! And then ultimately, Bob helped me get my first paying job behind the scenes at WBZ radio in Boston. So, Bob Wilson is definitely my idol. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but he was always an inspiration and a hero to me.
While I was working at WBZ, I got to work with him and Johnny Most, Gil Santos and a lot of other great broadcasters of that era, and it was just a great learning experience for the three-and-a-half, four years I was there.
J: That is a hell of a story!
K: I know! I never expected to get anywhere with it, but it turned out I was very fortunate I wrote that letter that Saturday morning. Bob was certainly instrumental in my career, and we had contact almost up until he died. In fact, he lived in Gilford, NH when he retired. He did come to a couple of Monarchs games. I remember the first time he came to a game, I believe it was the first season, and he came in through the rear door of my broadcast booth. And I had no idea he was there. So during a break, I turned around and honestly I thought I was seeing things. He was standing in the back of my broadcast booth. Here’s a guy who was my inspiration, and he was listening to me doing a game! So, it was during a break, and I said, “Put on a headset, and we’ll do this together!” And you know what? I never before or since have been as nervous doing a game as the few minutes he spent on the air with me that afternoon. It was absolutely perfect!
J: That’s great! Now, did you pick up a lot of his vernacular or catch phrases that he would use?
K: More than vernacular, it’s more the pacing of it, the pacing of the broadcast. He taught me a lot about calling fights. His first broadcasting job, although he was from Massachusetts, was in Louisiana as a boxing announcer. So he knew how to call a fight. And I think, along with the pacing, the biggest thing I took away from him was calling the hockey fights, believe it or not.
In part two of my interview, Cail looks back on the early days of Manchester hockey!