Brad Pye Jr., first Black sports broadcaster in L.A. and civic leader, dies at 89
Sports broadcaster Brad Pye Jr. talks about how he came up with his “Switch Reels” phrase.
Brad Pye Jr. was only 12 years old in 1943 when he paid a friend $5 to drive him from his home in Plain Dealing, La., to Los Angeles. For the next four years, he lived alone on Central Avenue until his mother joined him.
The uncertainty in front of the preteenager gained clarity while he attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where he found a love for sports and journalism. He completed odd jobs as a shoe shiner, a gas station attendant and a factory worker, but his passion for telling stories burned bright.
And though he didn’t know it at the time, that passion over the span of decades would manifest itself in real change — not only for himself, but for others who looked like him.
Pye, the first Black sports broadcaster in Los Angeles who rose through the ranks as a leader and administrator at news agencies, sports organizations and city services, died in his sleep on Sundayat his home in Los Angeles. He was 89.
When Amber Pye-Blacknard first told her son the story of her grandfather “hitchhiking” to Los Angeles, she said he jokingly didn’t believe it. But she loves the tale because it illustrates the grit and will he showed to give himself and his family a better life.
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“When I think about that, it really doesn’t give us any excuse to complain or not be determined to make something of ourselves,” said Pye-Blacknard, 37.
Pye served as the sports director for four African American radio stations — KGFJ, KJLH, KACE and KDAY — for 21 years. He was also sports editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a Black-owned and -operated newspaper in the city, for nearly three decades.
Pye wrote and spoke on sports news of the day with a Black perspective. He also created personal catchphrases during his radio broadcasts such as “switch reels” and “have a ball.”
Most notably, Pye aggressively used his platform to advance equality among Black athletes and journalists. He fought for Black reporters to obtain press credentials at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and integrate it. He also led a campaign for USC to recognize Black football player Brice Taylor, the school’s first All-American in the 1920s, to be included in the official media guide.
“Brad Pye is maybe one of 10 guys throughout the country who are the pillars of the Black press,” said Danny Bakewell Sr., publisher of the Sentinel. “In Los Angeles, I don’t think he had an equal. I’m proud to have known him as a friend and proud to have had him associated with the paper. He made us better.”
Pye used his connections and status to recruit Black athletes onto college and professional teams in the state. Bakewell, who knew Pye for 50 years, said Pye had strong working relationships with sports icons such as Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens. A black-and-white photo shows Pye shaking hands with Ali. A separate photo from 1988 shows Pye in a bow tie posing with Michael Jordan while holding a plaque.
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Bakewell described Pye as a “good man.” Some people may have thought Pye could be difficult at times, he said, but he always believed Pye was ethical, fair and had a keen sense for sniffing out and addressing problems.
“Nobody wanted Brad Pye’s pen to be on the other side of them,” Bakewell said. “His pen was lethal, and people knew his pen was just and right.”
The Los Angeles Angels hired him in the public relations department in 1961, making him the first Black person to hold that role in Major League Baseball. He later became the first Black administrator in the American Football League under then-AFL commissioner and eventual Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.
Pye made contributions to the area outside sports, too. He became the first Black president of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners. He then served as the Assistant Chief Deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and later Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
As a grandfather, Pye was loving and thoughtful, Pye-Blacknard said. Pye took her to Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami and also to Lakers games, she said. She stayed with him during the summers in high school, and when she graduated, he bought her a new, lime green Hyundai Accent. Looking back, Pye-Blacknard doesn’t view these things as materialistic, but as genuine gestures that showed how much Pye loved and cared for her.
Pye ran for a City Council seat in 1991 but lost. In 1993, he became Division Chief of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, eventually retiring from the county in 2011.
The City of Los Angeles named the gym inside the Saint Andrews Recreation Center the Brad Pye Jr. Athletic Center in 2015. One year later, the Sentinel appointed Pye Sports Editor-Emeritus, allowing him to write on a range of topics.
Pye is survived by his daughters, Jill White, Jenice Pye-Conkrite, Jan Pye and Sharee Hollis, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Eunice Prye, and son, Brad Pye III. Funeral services are pending.
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