Fred Hessler, the radio voice of UCLA football and basketball for almost 24 years, died at his home in Los Angeles on Wednesday at the age of 73.
Hessler had been battling a liver ailment for about five years. When he attended a Southern California Sports Broadcasters Assn. luncheon at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake in November, he appeared very frail.
Hessler, a native of Sheboygan, Wis., began his broadcasting career there at radio station WHBL in 1941.
He served as a navigator in the Air Corps during World War II and later worked for Armed Forces Radio.
He and his wife, Virginia, whom he married in 1943, came to Southern California in 1946. He continued with Armed Forces Radio while also doing a variety of jobs in radio and television.
He worked part-time for KMPC during the 1950s and also was the radio commentator for Loyola football during the Lions’ heyday when Don Klosterman was the quarterback. Bill Symes was the play-by-play announcer.
Hessler, who was the San Francisco 49ers’ radio announcer in 1954, got his big break in 1960, after KMPC lost the Dodgers to KFI and obtained the rights to UCLA football and basketball.
Stan Spiro, then the sales manager at KMPC, recommended Hessler to General Manager Bob Reynolds.
“Fred was not only an outstanding sportscaster, but also an outstanding person,” Spiro said Wednesday.
UCLA basketball was experiencing lean years when Hessler took over. Steve Bailey, the former executive sports producer at KMPC, recalls that the station took basketball only to get the football package.
But two years later, in 1962, UCLA, led by Gary Cunningham, went to the Final Four, losing to Cincinnati.
Hessler remained the voice of the Bruins through the 1982-83 basketball season. Once asked to name the highlight of his broadcasting career, he said it was that game. “That’s because it was John Wooden’s first trip to the Final Four,” Hessler said.
The Bruins returned in 1964 and won the first of their 10 national championships in 12 seasons under Wooden.
Wooden, reached at his home in Encino on Wednesday, said: “I think one of the truest statements I could make about Fred is that he was a very good, compassionate person.
“He was always considerate of others--a very good person. He’ll be missed by all those that really knew him.”
Besides his wife, Hessler is survived by three daughters, Jackie Sorensen, Kathy Hessler and Joan Bullington; and two grandchildren, Hillary and Eric Sorensen, both students at UCLA.
Services are set for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Westwood Hills Christian Church, 10808 Le Conte, at the corner of Hilgard.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to the California Special Olympics, 501 Colorado Ave., Suite 200, Santa Monica, Calif. 90401.
Times staff writer Jerry Crowe contributed to this report.