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Bob Lind, Published March 20 2012

Lind: One old-time pearl a real gem – with stories

No question, Earl Williams was the star of the Breckenridge (Minn.) High School football team that day.

The radio announcer broadcasting the game made it clear Earl was pretty much carrying the team.

There was one small catch, however. The player making the great plays, although wearing Earl’s uniform number, wasn’t Earl. That player had ripped his own shirt, borrowed Earl’s and played a terrific game, with Earl getting the credit.

“That,” Earl says, “was my 15 minutes of fame.”

But he’s being modest. He went on to have fame, legitimately, in radio, primarily for WDAY, Fargo.

He and Don Dresser had a morning show. He broadcast sports. He interviewed many people, including big-time sports people and the last Japanese survivor of the battle of Guadalcanal. He survived a plane crash carrying a sports team.

And he once was a co-leader of a male chorus in a place where bars do not refer to music, but to jail cells.

Voice of the Rox

Earl got a chance to do some sports play-by-play announcing on the local radio station when he was in Breckenridge High School, and was asked if he’d ever considered radio for a career.

No, he hadn’t. But from then on, he did. After graduation from high school in 1953, he took broadcasting at Brown Institute, Minneapolis, then worked for stations in Glendive, Mont., then St. Cloud, Minn., where he was to be the play-by-play announcer for the St. Cloud Rox of the old Northern League.

One problem: He was 19, and his station manager thought he looked too young and asked him if growing a beard would make him look older.

Sure, Earl replied, a beard would make him look five years older – because it would take him five years to grow one.

He never did.

Closing cafes

In Moorhead, KXGO needed a sports announcer. That station’s Jim Adelson knew Earl and recommended him.

Earl got the job. But when KXGO became KFGO, changed priorities and dropped sports in 1966, Earl moved to WDAY.

He switched to KVOX in 1982, then dropped out of radio in 1986.

He’s kept busy since then by leading tours, watching sports, reading “and doing whatever my wife (Sharon) tells me to do.”

Also, he and his buddies meet twice a week for coffee and intellectual (sort of) discussions at Randy’s Café, Fargo. The participants include his radio co-workers, politicians, coaches and others.

One concern: This group has met in about 12 other cafes in Fargo-Moorhead “and then all of them closed. We wonder if there’s a connection,” Earl says.

So far, however, Randy’s is doing fine.

Helpful beauty queen

Earl is a pearl with stories.

He once covered the North Dakota state track meet in Valley City right after wireless microphones came in.

“We had the winner on the mike after he crossed the finish line,” he says, “and all we got was him panting.”

Then Earl was to introduce Miss North Dakota, who would present the ribbons to the winners. But just as he was doing so, a bird flew over and deposited droppings on Earl.

Miss North Dakota couldn’t help but laugh and said, “I’ll get a Kleenex.”

Earl told her it would be too late; the bird would be miles away by then.

Close call

In 1974, Earl was aboard a plane carrying the North Dakota State University men’s basketball plane to Vermillion, S.D., for a game when one of the plane’s engines went out.

The pilot aimed for a small landing strip near Sioux Falls, S.D., but neither the wing flaps nor the landing gear worked.

Somehow the pilot brought the plane down safely, although it slid 300 yards off the end of the strip.

“We were clipping off fence posts, but we made it OK,” Earl says. “We slid into a snow-covered cornfield. That probably helped us.”

Nobody on the plane was injured. The team rented cars, drove to Vermillion and played the game. It lost to the University of South Dakota. But that, of course, was the least of it.

His friend Maris

It was in Valley City that Earl interviewed the last Japanese survivor of Guadalcanal.

“It was through an interpreter,” he says, “but all I could understand in a 90-second interview was the guy’s rank during that battle: lieutenant.”

Over the years, Earl came to know many sports stars.

He and Roger Maris were good friends, and through Roger, he met many of Roger’s New York Yankee teammates.

Earl had back surgery some time ago and had to use a walker and cane for a while. But he’s doing fine now, he says.

Oh sure, “My hands are shakey,” he says. “I get white caps on my coffee.”

But he can still tell stories. Like when he was working in St. Cloud and was asked to join others in entertaining the convicts at the state penitentiary there.

“Someone got the idea of having a sing-a-long,” he says. “So we told them to sing ‘On Top of Old Smokey.’ ‘First,’ we said, ‘the murderers sing. Next, the robbers.’

“The convicts went along with it and sang and everyone seemed to enjoy it.”

But then, they were sort of a captive audience.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com

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