Al Wester, the first radio voice of the Saints, whose local and national broadcasting career spanned more than 60 years, died last week in a New Orleans hospital.
He was 93.
Wester was behind the mic for two of the most memorable plays in Saints history — John Gilliam’s kickoff return for a touchdown in the team’s first game against the Los Angeles Rams in 1967 and Tom Dempsey’s then-NFL record 63-yard field goal to give the Saints a 19-17 victory against the Detroit Lions in 1970.
Wester’s call of Dempsey’s kick, “Here’s the snap. The ball is down. And … it is good! It’s good! It’s good! The Saints win! The Saints win! 19-17,” can still be heard, along with the video, in the Saints Museum in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“Al Wester was the conduit to the fans in those days,” said museum director Kenny Trahan. “Radio was magical back then, especially because the home games weren’t on TV.
“Al was poetic in the way he could describe a game. He really drew you in with the word pictures he was drawing.”
Along with broadcasting the Saints games from 1967-70, Wester was the sports director at WDSU-TV for several years beginning in 1952 when he came to New Orleans from Greenville, South Carolina.
Beyond that, he was affiliated with the Mutual Broadcasting Company, the predecessor of Westwood One, for many years, during which he did radio broadcasts of Notre Dame football from the 1960s throughout the 1970s. In the years he was also doing Saints games, Wester would leave to wherever Notre Dame was playing on Fridays and return either to New Orleans or the site of a Saints’ road game in time for the Sunday kickoffs.
But although he give up the Saints’ broadcasts after the 1970 season (although he was later an analyst on Mutual’s Monday Night Football broadcasts from 1972-77) and later local anchoring, Wester never left New Orleans.
“I think it became a little too much him to do both,” said Barra Bircher, who assisted on WDSU’s coverage of Saints’ games before becoming the team’s director of entertainment in 1971. “But he was just a super announcer.
“He had a great feel of where the plays were going, and he developed enough knowledge about the players, keeping the banter going even when things might get out of hand.”
Wester also indirectly helped land an NFL franchise for New Orleans.
In the early 1960s when entrepreneur Dave Dixon was trying to secure a team, he promoted several exhibition games in old Tulane Stadium.
To push last-minute ticket sales, Dixon would have Wester cut radio spots giving the weather forecast for that evening, inevitably, “clearing and cooler by game time, perfect conditions.”
Once though, Wester had to be out of town on the night of a game between Green Bay and the St. Louis Cardinals, but Dixon still had Wester cut the same, “clearing and cooler,” forecast weeks ahead of time.
When, on the afternoon of the game, Packers coach Vince Lombardi asked Dixon about why the forecast he’d heard on the radio didn't jive with the threatening skies, Dixon confessed to the ruse.
According to Dixon, Lombardi thought the idea was hilarious and promised Dixon the Packers’ support when the NFL awarded its next franchise, which is exactly what happened.
Wester’s broadcast career encompassed far for than football.
Early on, Wester was one of the voices of Mutual’s “Game of the Day,” a studio recreation of Major League Games.
Wester also was a fixture at spring training in Florida, filing many reports and interviews, which he kept in his Lakeview home.
Once, Wester said, he was invited to go fly fishing with Hall of Famer Ted Williams, whose passion for the outdoors neared that of his for baseball.
Wester was a novice at fly fishing and didn’t catch anything that day. But Williams insisted that Wester claim the limit he caught as his own, all the more to make Williams look like even better instructor than he was a fisherman.
Additionally, Wester broadcast golf extensively, including more than 50 years at the Masters, which honored him for his services in 2007. Wester once estimated he called more than 300,000 holes of golf. Auto racing, horse racing and the Olympics were among Wester’s other broadcast venues.
In the 1970s and 80s Wester had a five-minute daily commentary on Mutual.
“Not many people have had the opportunities and experience Al Wester did,” Trahan said. “And he worked during an era when radio and TV broadcasts were much more personal and informal than they are now.
“What a remarkable career and what a long life. It was a blessing for a consummate professional.”
Funeral arrangements for Wester are incomplete.