Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Ray of sunshine

As someone who has been an avid Minnesota sports fan for approximately 40 years, I've become familiar with the wonderful personalities around the local teams, specifically broadcasters.

Minnesota Twins legendary radio announcer Herb Carneal was definitely a favorite, so much so that I felt the need to commemorate what he meant to me upon learning of his passing in 2007.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention yet another legendary voice who I often heard during fall Saturdays.

For five decades, Ray Christensen’s impeccable voice painted pictures from Big Ten stadiums for generations of Gophers fans, while they raked leaves or cleaned their garage.

His radio calls from distant basketball arenas added a soundtrack for Minnesota families, as they ran errands, made hot dish and toted children to their own sporting events.

But when word came Monday that Christensen had died at age 92, former co-workers were just as quick to praise the quality of the man behind the microphone.

“I was always overwhelmed by how humble he was,” said Dave Lee, who worked with Christensen at WCCO (830-AM) and replaced him as the Gophers play-by-play announcer in 2001. “The broadcast was never about Ray. I don’t think he had any ego.”

While Christensen definitely wanted the Gophers to win every game he called, he was not the proverbial "homer." Sure, he would call out an official if he made incorrect calls to the detriment of the Gophers. However, Christensen was also not afraid to point out his team's lousy play. While in the midst of a miserable 1988 season, the Gophers football team traveled to Madison, WI to take on a pitiful 0-9 Badgers squad. On a dreary November day at Camp Randall, the Gophs lost 14-7. When it came time to announce the Gopher "player of the game," Christensen flat out said there wasn't anyone worthy on that particular day, so he declined to name someone.

Of the literally scores of Gophers basketball games I've heard Christensen cover, there are a couple of moments which stand out. One was a March 1991 regular season game at the University of Michigan. With the Gophers within striking distance late, it was the opinion of Christensen that due to game officials having a "lack of intestinal fortitude," the Wolverines got away with a foul. Another memorable moment was in Round One of the 1997 NCAA tournament where the top seeded Gophs crushed #16 seed Southwest Texas State. It was the type of game where Christensen could hang loose as the Gophers dominated from start to finish. He was having so much fun that when 7-foot center Trevor Winter made a steal late and scored on a fast break dunk, Christensen was giddily laughing over the air (check it out here).

He retired from broadcasting in 2001.

In retirement, Christensen hosted tours abroad and recorded more than 100 Talking Books for the Blind. Younger listeners might recognize his voice in radio commercials for Washburn-McReavy Funeral Homes.

Jim Christensen said his father died Sunday following an upper respiratory infection. Ray Christensen had been living in Rosemount at the time of his death.

He is survived by his wife, Ramona; sons Tom and Jim; and a daughter, Sue.

Hearing anecdotes shared by family and former colleagues, I get a sense that Ray Christensen was a better man than a broadcaster. If true, he was a blessing to all who encountered him. Thanks for the great memories, Ray.


1 comment:

Mr. D said...

Very nice tribute. He lived a few miles away from me and, although I never met him, people who knew him reported he was always a gentleman and a great neighbor. RIP.