Les Keiter, 89, the local broadcaster whose inventive catchphrases provided a soundtrack for the Big Five's Palestra heyday and whose popularity once caused The Inquirer to briefly halt its 76ers coverage, died Tuesday in Hawaii.
His wife of 61 years, Lila, said her husband died at Honolulu's Castle Medical Center surrounded by his family.
In addition to his memorable stint as the Big Five's radio and TV voice during the 1960s, Mr. Keiter also served as sports director for Channel 6.
As a boxing announcer, he called several championship fights, including the historic 1964 victory by Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) over heavyweight champ Sonny Liston.
Mr. Keiter moved to Hawaii in 1970 to start an advertising agency but soon returned to sportscasting. He was the longtime sports director at Honolulu's KHON-TV and the voice of University of Hawaii sports.
But it was as a basketball announcer that Mr. Keiter made his mark in Philadelphia. His straightforward, staccato style was punctuated by a penchant for creating unique names for some of the activity he witnessed.
Seated in the Palestra's broadcasting nest, high above the arena's floor, Mr. Keiter, for example, would call an off-balance, long-distance shot a "ring-tailed howitzer." A shot that bounced in, then out, was an "in-again-out-again-Finnegan."
Those phrases resonated with a generation of this city's basketball fans, many of whom continue to use them nearly four decades after their creator's departure from Philadelphia.
Mr. Keiter, who had made his reputation in New York, quickly grew enamored with the Big Five, whose biweekly doubleheaders at the Palestra became among the most popular events in Philadelphia.
"There's nothing in college basketball in this nation that can emulate 9,000 fans in the Palestra during a doubleheader," he said during a 1988 interview with The Inquirer. "[Nothing that] can generate the enthusiasm, the excitement and the drama that comes out of that building."
Mr. Keiter's most memorable night at the Palestra came on Feb. 20, 1965, between games of a Western Kentucky-La Salle, Villanova-St. Joseph's doubleheader.
Someone phoned in a bomb threat, and as police were evacuating all 8,375 spectators from the building, Mr. Keiter's telephone rang. His statistician, Toby DeLuca, answered.
" 'Tell Les he's not going anywhere,' " Keiter recalled the WFIL executive saying during a 2003 interview. " 'We've got the biggest audience we've ever had. Everybody in Philadelphia is calling friends and telling them to turn on Channel 6 and watch the bomb go off.' "
Mr. Keiter and DeLuca stayed, the bomb was never found, and, in what was one of the Big Five's greatest individual - and most overshadowed - performances, the Hawks' Cliff Anderson collected 36 points and 24 rebounds in a 69-61 St. Joe's victory.
Mr. Keiter was so popular in the early 1960s that the owners of the 76ers, recently transplanted from Syracuse, wanted to make him their general manager. That didn't please Inquirer publisher Walter Annenberg, who also owned WFIL, the station that had the announcer under contract.
As Mr. Keiter told the story in his autobiography, Fifty Years Behind the Microphone, Annenberg retaliated by ordering the sports departments of The Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News to ignore the 76ers. For weeks, the papers' only indication that the team was in town came in dry, one- and two-paragraph wire stories on their games.
"Word reached the rest of the NBA," Mr. Keiter wrote. "They were becoming concerned about the low attendance and lack of media coverage."
Mr. Keiter had previously called New York Knicks games, and that team's owner, Ned Irish, telephoned him.
"Get that damn Annenberg off our backs," he said.
The ban lasted two months before Annenberg relented. Keiter never took the 76ers job.
Mr. Keiter was born in Seattle, but it was in New York where his broadcasting career took off. He announced games for the Knicks, Rangers, and baseball Giants. In addition to the Clay-Liston fight, he covered 12 nationally broadcast title fights, many of them with Howard Cosell as his analyst.
After his move to Hawaii, Mr. Keiter landed bit roles in several movies and TV shows filmed there, including Hawaii Five-0. He retired from the TV station in 1994.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Keiter is survived by five children and many grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were pending.