May 18, 2024

In his 43rd season as an authoritative voice on Kings’ broadcasts, Nick Nickson is back where he began: calling simulcasts.

Nickson joined the Kings in 1981 and provided analysis alongside the great Bob Miller on a schedule that included simulcasts but was tilted toward radio-only broadcasts. Wayne Gretzky’s arrival in 1988 elevated the Kings’ profile and led to a split of their radio and TV announcing teams in 1990, with Nickson taking the radio play-by-play role.

When the bankruptcy filing of Diamond Sports (parent company of Bally Sports West) left the Kings without a TV outlet before this season, they didn’t renew the contract of rising star Alex Faust, who had brought new youth and vigor to the air as Miller’s successor. They also decided to switch to simulcasts, and later forged a multi-year agreement with Bally Sports West. Nickson works with primary analyst Jim Fox and Daryl Evans on TV and the iHeartRadio app.

Simulcasts often are an uneasy compromise that leaves neither audience completely happy. Say too much, and you risk insulting TV viewers by stating the obvious. Say too little, and you risk alienating radio listeners who crave details that help them to visualize scenes and situations.

“The theater of the mind, as they say about radio, right?” Nickson said. “It just gives you a mental picture, so if you envision yourself listening to the game and I tell you we’re moving right to left offensively, then you can picture how I’m watching the game. I say, ‘Dustin Brown is moving up the right wing,’ you know in the rink you’ve created in your own head where he is. He’s at the top of the play, not the bottom. Far boards, not near boards.”

For now, Bally Sports West is emphasizing a TV-type call, so Nickson has put on hold the “right to left” descriptor he habitually included on radio before the second period of home games. And the three announcers, joined by under-used sideline reporter Carrlyn Bathe, are still smoothing out their timing and tempo.

But Nickson, the 2015 winner of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Award for his outstanding contributions to his profession, is determined to make this work. His rich voice and deep knowledge of team history are significant strengths. So is his willingness to put aside his ego to let Evans shine from rinkside and feature Fox’s insights from the booth.

“I told the two of them, ‘I’m at the point of my career where I want to do the games. Obviously, I want to do them well. But I want you two guys to be the stars of the show. So Jim, if you think you have something you want to talk about with Daryl, go right ahead,’ ” said Nickson, who’s in his 49th season as a broadcaster including stints in Rochester, N.Y., and New Haven, Conn.

Nick Nickson broadcasts a game between the Kings and New York Islanders on Oct. 15, 2017 in Los Angeles.

Nick Nickson is working Kings games this season with primary analyst Jim Fox and Daryl Evans on TV and the iHeartRadio app.

(Adam Pantozzi/NHLI via Getty Images)

“And I think both Jim and Daryl are experienced enough where they know when to get in and get out if something exciting is going to happen.

“The bottom line is I won’t be as descriptive, which maybe people listening on the app would feel offended by, but I think they’ll get used to it. I think they’ll understand what we’re doing. And with more commentary from two ex-players that have done their job well for a number of years, I think they’ll appreciate the fact that they can talk more than they would normally, like it was a straight radio game.”

Nickson’s long career with the Kings began almost by chance.

Miller’s broadcast analyst, Pete Weber, left Los Angeles for a job on the Seattle SuperSonics’ broadcast team early in the 1981-82 hockey season, putting the Kings in a bind. Parker MacDonald, then an assistant coach with the Kings, remembered Nickson from their days with the club’s New Haven Nighthawks farm team and called back East to urge Nickson to send the Kings a tape of his work. MacDonald promised to get the tape in the hands of the right people. He kept his word.

“If the Kings weren’t the Nighthawks’ affiliate, I’m not having this conversation with you,” Nickson said.

Miller wasn’t on the air when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 because the games were on national TV, but Nickson called the action each time. He recalled Canadian broadcaster Chris Cuthbert asking him during the 2012 Western Conference final if he had scripted what he’d say when the Kings won the Cup, but Nickson thought it was too early to think about that.

But when they barged past the Coyotes in five games to reach the Cup Final, Nickson began to consider how he’d do justice to a momentous occasion that future generations would remember and associate with him.

“What I wanted to say at the end was, ‘After 45 years, the Kings can wear their crown,’” he said. “And as it turned out, as the clock was winding down with 10 seconds, nine, I just threw out, ‘The long wait is over.’ Then I said, ‘After 45 years, the Kings can wear their crown. The Los Angeles Kings have won the Stanley Cup.’

“And it’s interesting because people have come up to me over the years and they look at me and say, ‘The long wait is over,’ and that’s something that was ad-libbed.”

That part of his call became a cellphone ringtone for many Kings fans. “It’s things like that that make you think, ‘OK, people appreciate what you’re doing,’ and that’s what kind of drives you to keep doing it, keep doing it better, make it enjoyable night after night,” Nickson said.

For the second championship, he borrowed the name of the Kings’ program, Royal Reign. “And I said, ‘There it is. Royalty reigns again,’ ” he said. “And I used that, which I thought was apropos.”

Nickson acknowledged he was disappointed when the Kings went outside the organization to replace Miller, who retired in 2017. When they hired Faust, Nickson reacted like the pro he is.

“I still have a great job. I get to do radio. I get to do every game, so just a little, I don’t consider it a setback,” he said of his thoughts at the time. “Fans have asked me and I’ve said, yes, I wanted to do it but the Kings decided. I respect their opinion. I respect their decision and I have no grudges with anybody. They’ve treated me great all through the years, so why do I want to create any animosity between anybody?”

One problem with letting Faust go is that the Kings don’t have an apparent successor to Nickson as an announcer and unofficial archivist of the team’s old TV and radio broadcasts. Nickson, who will be 70 in December, is in good health, but in the not-too-distant future he wants to spend less time in rinks and more time playing golf and traveling with his wife of 46 years, Carolyn, whom he met in junior high home room in Rochester, N.Y. They have two sons and two grandchildren.

For now, he’s enjoying this back-to-the-future simulcast venture and the promise of a young season with its developing stories.

“When people ask, ‘What keeps you going?’ I say, you know what, in the game of hockey, because it is so spontaneous, I don’t know what I’m going to see in the next game — possibly something I haven’t seen in the previous 4,000 games that I’ve done,” he said.

“I still feel like a kid. I don’t feel like I’m going to be 70, and I hope my body doesn’t tell me I’m 70. It’s been a great ride. I’ve enjoyed it. The people I’ve worked with at the Kings have been great to me. The fans have always been appreciative of the work I do. It will be tough to wrap it up but there are only so many words left in this body. Hopefully, it works out the way you plan.”

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