Nick Nickson, the Kings’ radio voice for the last quarter century and a member of the organization as a broadcaster about to start his 35th year in the fall, has been named the latest Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner for outstanding contributions to broadcasting, the Hockey Hall of Fame announced in a release today.
That gives the franchise three Hall of Famers — current TV play-by-play man Bob Miller was the recipient of the same award 15 years ago.
Jiggs McDonald, who called Kings’ games from their inception in 1967 to 1972, got the award in 1990 after his career included calling games for the Atlanta Flames and N.Y. Islanders.
“I’m kind of speechless, to be honest,” Nickson said Thursday afternoon. “When you get news like this, maybe it’s a little unusual in my profession to say it, but as a broadcaster, I was speechless when I first got the news.”
Nickson, a Rochester native who moved to L.A. after the calling games for the franchise’ New Haven affiliate, started his time with the Kings in 1981-82 as Miller’s analyst on games primarily for radio but simulcast on TV.
“I remember one day when Pete Weber left (as the broadcast analyst), and Parker MacDonald was the Kings’ head coach,” said Miller. “He told me if I was looking for a new partner, the guy he once worked with in New Haven might work well with me. I gave Nick a call and told him that the job was for a colorman, but he said he wanted to give it a try, to get his foot in the door, and we worked for nine straight years.”
In 1990, when the Kings split their TV and radio teams, Nickson moved to the radio booth and has called games there ever since, currently heard on KABC-AM (790).
He has worked with five different analysts, with current partner Daryl Evans having been there the longest, since 1999.
In addition to that, Nickson has coordinated the team’s radio network, written stories for the team’s media guide and program and hosted the “Kings Talk” post game shows for many seasons.
Nickson was at his Santa Clarita home with his wife Carolyn about to babysit their granddaughter when the call came from Chuck Kaiton, president of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and the Carolina Panthers’ radio play-by-play man.
“Nick has been one of the most popular radio and TV personalities in Southern California for over three decades,” said Kaiton. “He is extremely worthy of this award and we from the NHL Broadcasters’ Association congratulate him on this distinct honor.”
Miller said Nickson’s honor is a “great accomplishment, because none of us start out in a career — as athletes or announcers — with a goal of being in the Hall of Fame. That’s so far removed from just getting a job and staying with it. But when that call does come, it’s such a great feeling.”
Nickson said the news announced today still feels “out of the blue,” especially when he was out in his car running errands and heard KNX-AM (1070)’s Randy Kerdoon relay the news during a sports update.
Aside from getting a congratulatory call from Miller and his wife, Judy, Nickson said he has heard from many others in the NHL broadcasting fraternity, including Weber, Ducks broadcaster Steve Carroll, and Pat Foley, the Chicago Blackhawks’ broadcaster who won the award last season.
Miller is one of several past Foster Hewitt recipients who are on the selection committee, which includes NBC’s Mike Emrick, who has known Nickson from his days doing Rochester minor-league games.
“There are many names discussed and opinions given and then voted upon, but longevity is one of the important criteria for this award, and that really means something with Nick,” said Miller. “What’s really neat is that Nick’s dad is in his 90s now and we hope he can be there on that night to see Nick get a plaque that will have his picture on it in the Hall forever.”
The fact that the Kings have won two Stanley Cups in the last three seasons, and Nickson’s calls have been used on many highlights during that span since he was the primary Kings’ voice with NBC taking over network TV coverage and replacing Miller, could have played some role in giving Nickson new-found exposure along with his longevity.
“Maybe the name gets out there and the voice is heard in early June by fellow broadcasters and it turns a light on in their thinking,” Nickson said. “I would like to think it’s all based on my work over a number of years.
“For many years when we were on the West Coast, it felt like we were on an island, long before expansion into the Sun Belt, and before cable and satellite TV and even satellite radio and the Internet. People didn’t get the opportunity around the league to hear each other much. Put that all together, and for all of us in this business, it gives you the ability to be heard quite frankly and you get more of a chance.”
Nickson, who has called more than 3,000 games as a Kings broadcaster, was inducted into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2009.
In 2011 he was inducted into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
It was also announced Thursday that Bob McKenzie, a longtime writer in Toronto, a former editor in chief of The Hockey News and an “insider” for TSN as well as NBC, was given the Elmer Ferguson award for excellence in hockey journalism.
Kings fans may remember it was McKenzie who wrote, during the 1993 Western Conference finals between the Kings and Maple Leafs, that Kings’ star Wayne Gretzky “looked as though he were skating with a piano on his back.” The line seemed to wake Gretzky up as he had a game-winning OT goal in Game 6 and a hat trick in Game 7 to push the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Final.
Both Nickson and McKenzie will be honored at the Hall during its Nov. 9 ceremony this year.