Legendary KGMI broadcaster Haines Fay, 87, died Dec. 17 at his Bellingham home after a short illness. In this article, KGMI’s Matt Benoit takes a look back at his life and career.
When Haines Fay was offered a full-time job with Bellingham radio station KVOS in the late 1940s, he was attending Washington State University and announcing football games for a Pullman, Wash. radio station.
He wasn’t sure what to do: finish his education, or leave school and take the job?
Fay decided to write famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow a letter, asking him what he should do. Murrow eventually responded, saying that while he hesitated to voice an opinion, nobody so far had asked to see his degree.
Fay took the job, and became one of the most recognizable voices in Whatcom County over the next four decades with the radio station now known as KGMI.
Boy meets microphone
As a child, Haines Fay’s earliest radio experience was listening to dramas like “The Shadow” and “The Lone Ranger” on his parents’ radio set.
When he was five, his family moved to Bellingham from his hometown of Elgin, Illinois. As Fay got older, he was interested in sports, and considered the idea of being a sportswriter. But one afternoon during his high school years, Fay was asked to fill in as public address announcer of a Bellingham High School football game.
Rogan Jones, the owner of local radio station KVOS, was in the stands. Intrigued by Fay’s voice, Jones called Fay’s parents and met with Fay several days later. Jones asked if he’d like to do some announcing work on the radio. Fay said yes.
His announcing career began with play-by-play for Western Washington University basketball games, while his own playing career—as a forward for the Bellingham Red Raiders—was also underway. In 1944 the team finished 4th in the state tournament. Fay was also a member of the state championship golf team during high school.
After graduation, he swapped roles, playing basketball for Western and announcing high school games. Shortly after turning 18 in 1945, Fay joined the Navy, where he shot hoops instead of guns as a center for the Navy’s basketball team. The team played throughout the Southeast United States, and when he wasn’t playing, Fay worked as a pay clerk for soldiers being discharged.
After getting out of the service, Fay attended college at Washington State, where playing on the varsity golf team led to needing a golfing partner, which led to meeting the woman who would become his wife of 65 years.
Hearts and clubs
At age 13, Haines Fay bought his first set of golf clubs from Gloria Clark’s father, owner of the now-defunct Riverside Golf Course in Ferndale.
But he didn’t meet Gloria until college, after finding her name in a book of student phone numbers while searching for a golf partner. Clark had been playing since age 7, and when her amateur career concluded years later, she had won 10 county championships and made it to the quarter-finals of the National Collegiate Golf Tournament.
At WSU, the two met, played often and developed a friendship that included weekend steak dinners together. But they didn’t date: Fay was seeing another girl in Clark’s sorority at the time.
But then, a week after saying hello to Rogan Jones during his Thanksgiving break from school, Jones called and offered Fay the job that would launch his radio career. After Fay left WSU, Clark returned to Whatcom County the following year, and the two began dating. A year-and-a-half later, they were married.
During their 65 years together, the couple played a lot of golf and raised two boys. Gloria, now 87, said that like many fathers of his era, Fay was very busy with work but always available when needed. He was not overly strict.
“He loved his job,” she said. “And that’s why he did such a good job, is because he loved it.”
Gloria even occasionally helped him do that job, keeping statistics at various games Fay announced. Once, she had to relay information during a football game where thick fog made it hard for Fay to see, even though he was standing on the sidelines to call the game.
She also brought him meals during a KVOS strike in the early 1950s. Haines, Jones and another employee kept the station running for two days after all other employees walked out.
Following Fay’s 1992 retirement, the couple hit the open road, traveling to almost every U.S. state. Eventually, they bought a place in Arizona, traveled back to Washington for summers, and spent their other months practicing a new passion: line-dancing.
“He ended up being one great line-dance teacher,” Gloria said. Although Fay initially struggled with line-dancing, she said he wasn’t one to give up on anything.
“When he got a hold of something, he was like a bulldog,” she said. “He didn’t let go.”
The couple taught in Arizona and Nevada, even Las Vegas. Once, while teaching in a Laughlin, Nevada casino, a Lynden couple showed up and recognized one of the instructors’ voices.
“They came over and they looked at him, and they said to him, ‘You finally found something you could do right, huh?’” Gloria recalled with a laugh. Miles and years removed from Bellingham radio, his voice was still instantly recognizable.
Fay was also present in the lives of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Granddaughter Shawna Fay Frolich said her grandfather waited eight hours at her side for the birth of her daughter, and was one of the first to hold her.
“It was probably the first time he was speechless,” Frolich said with a laugh.
Gloria and Haines returned to Bellingham permanently in 2007. Haines died on her birthday.
“The Dean of County Sportscasting”
Over the course of 48 years with KVOS and KGMI, Haines Fay did play-by-play announcing of football, baseball, track, tennis, golf, wrestling, boxing, boat races, and of course, basketball.
Gloria said she believes the latter was his favorite sport to cover.
Called the “Dean of County Sportscasting” in a 1991 newspaper article, Fay was estimated to have covered more than 2,500 regular season high school games, 350 district tournaments, 200 state tournaments and 750 football games during his career.
Gloria said he once called a football game during the infamous Columbus Day windstorm of 1962. It was so windy that when the ball was punted, it would blow back over the players’ heads.
Fay was also a news man, becoming news director of KGMI in 1961. He covered city politics for decades and, for reasons Gloria still isn’t sure of, eventually entered them, serving eight years on the Bellingham City Council from the late 1970s to early 1980s. He served four terms as council president, and ran for mayor in 1983, losing to Tim Douglas.
He also created “Impact,” a local call-in talk radio program that was one of the first of its kind. The show ran from 1970 to 1992, and featured interviews with hundreds of local and state politicians, citizens, and even celebrities like actress Bo Derek, baseball great Bob Feller, and Northwest hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer.
The show occasionally tackled controversial topics, which sometimes resulted in personal repercussions for Fay. Gloria said she and her husband once received death threats over the phone from a man living out in the county. They ended only when police finally traced the calls.
Whether in news or sports, Gloria said her husband displayed “right down the middle” objectivity as a broadcaster. When he watched his great-grandchildren play soccer, however, Frolich says he showed far less objectivity.
Although opportunities to leave KGMI did come along—Fay once had a chance to replace Bob Kelly as announcer for the Los Angeles Rams football team—he never worked anywhere else.
“A better job you couldn’t find anywhere,” said his wife of KGMI. “Anything that he wanted—or needed—he got.”
The prominence and longevity of Fay’s career—longer than any other employee in KGMI history—led to many awards and recognition.
In the home Gloria shared with her late husband, a series of plaques line the wall of one narrow hallway. The awards are but a small portion of those Fay received, and come from numerous sources: the Bellingham City Council, the local Lions’ Club and VFW, the Washington State Coaches Association, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
There is the note of congratulations from a former governor for winning at the Washington State Press Awards, a wooden plaque for winning a golf tournament, and last but not least, a framed picture of Fay shaking hands with Bob Hope.
“He was king of Bellingham,” said his son Terry, who—as a five-year-old—would often walk into movies and other events for free. When people would raise issue, Terry would simply respond “My dad’s Haines Fay!” and keep walking.
Terry said his grandfather is also responsible for the meaning of KGMI’s call-letters, which stand for “Keeps Giving More Information.”
Throughout 48 years of Bellingham radio, Haines Fay did just that.