Fans listening to hockey radio broadcasts might think it’s easy to describe that key moment when a goal is scored, but Bob Wilson, the announcer for the Boston Bruins for nearly three decades, knew there was more to the task than meets the ear.
“There is a knack to it and I try to get the word ‘Score’ just before, or just at, the second the crowd reacts to it,” he told the Globe in 1990. “That way the crowd is not going to drown me out.”
That rarely happened. With a booming voice to match his 6-foot-plus stature, he was more likely to enthusiastically outshout the most exuberant arena.
Mr. Wilson, who remained the team’s play-by-play radio announcer for several years after he was awarded the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for hockey broadcasting excellence in 1987, died of lung cancer Thursday in Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, N.H. He was 85, lived in neighboring Gilford, and previously resided for many years in Belmont.
“I would put Bob on the Mount Rushmore of broadcasters,” said Jack Edwards, the Bruins’ play-by-play announcer for NESN.
From 1964, when WHDH radio tapped Mr. Wilson to be the color man for Bruins broadcasts, until he retired in 1995, he was a fixture in the broadcasting booth. He took a two-year hiatus at the end of the 1960s to anchor sports for a St. Louis television station, and then returned to call play-by-play for the Bruins’ 1972 Stanley Cup triumph, which he considered a career highlight.
He was there when Bobby Orr began and ended his career and called him the greatest player he ever saw. “Orr was special, of course,” Mr. Wilson told the Globe upon retiring. “He almost never had an ordinary game, making it fun to broadcast.”
In a profession where a resonant voice is a powerful tool, “he had the greatest set of pipes and it was never work for him because he loved his job and loved the Bruins,” said Nate Greenberg, the team’s former public relations director. “If you were a hockey fan in Boston in the 1970s through the 1990s how lucky you were to have Bob on radio and Fred Cusick on TV.”
Cusick, who died in 2009, was the Bruins television play-by-play announcer during Mr. Wilson’s radio tenure. Cusick’s switch from radio to television opened the slot for Mr. Wilson’s return from St. Louis. Both are members of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wilson inducted as part of the inaugural class in 2007. Both also were among the Hockey Hall of Fame’s media honorees.
“I believe he had the greatest voice in the history of NHL broadcasting,” said Dale Arnold, who hosts NESN’s Bruins broadcasts and had succeeded Mr. Wilson as the team’s play-by-play announcer. “He was so down to earth, so grounded, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He felt he was the conduit, not the show.”
Early in his career, Mr. Wilson adopted his mother’s maiden name professionally. “You had to have a one- or two-syllable name to fit the jingles,” he told the Globe in 1988.
Born Robert Henry Castellon, he grew up in Arlington, the son of Henry Castellon, a typographer for the Christian Science Monitor, and the former Louise Wilson.
Graduating from Arlington High School in 1946, he enlisted in the Air Force and served three years. He married Nancy Sargent, whom he met through a church group, on Thanksgiving Day 1950.
“He was a very humble man and would help anybody,” she said, adding that he worked on many charities for the Bruins. “He saved a folder of letters from people thanking him for his advice, or from listeners.”
Mr. Wilson went to Boston University, then switched to the Leland Powers School of Radio, Television and Theatre in Boston and was vice president of his 1952 graduating class. Offered a radio job in Louisiana, he worked first in Crowley and then Lafayette as an announcer, also broadcasting high school football and basketball, minor league baseball, and Golden Glove boxing. “The job paid $50 a week,” he told the Globe in 1978. “I couldn’t turn that down.”
He returned to Boston in 1957 as a top-40 DJ for WCOP-AM and was rechristened Bob Wilson. Switching in 1962 to WHDH, he slipped into the color slot for Bruins games two years later. After the stint as sports anchor for KMOX-TV in St. Louis, he was the Bruins’s announcer for WBZ radio, moving through the years to WITS, WPLM, and WEEI as each station hosted the game broadcasts. His was also a voice of advertising, recording commercials for many years for South Boston Savings Bank and other companies.
He and his wife spent summers in Gilford, N.H., for many years before moving there full time in 1988. In nearby Laconia, he spun nighttime oldies for a radio station after leaving the Bruins job. “Those are the same hours that I began with on WCOP,” he said in 1995.
In 2011, the Bruins named the TD Garden broadcast booth in his honor, “something he never expected,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Wilson leaves two daughters, Linda Tucker of Montour Falls, N.Y., and Patti Hines of Laconia, N.H.; a son, William Castellon of Kittery, Maine; a sister, Brenda Cox of Arlington; seven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and a great-great-granddaughter.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Gilford Community Church in Gilford, N.H.
Mr. Wilson’s professionalism was never questioned, and neither was his allegiance. “I grew up with the team, rooting for the team,” he told the Globe in 1988.
And while he was an announcer for about 3,000 games, nervousness was always part of his pregame ritual. Asked in the early 1980s how he readied himself, he said he had “been preparing for that night’s broadcast for 30 years.”