Max Falkenstien, voice of KU basketball, dies at age 95
Longtime Kansas football and basketball radio play-by-play announcer Bob Davis has an enduring memory of Max Falkenstien, his broadcast partner for more than two decades, who died on July 29 at the age of 95.
“We’d come back from road trips in the van and a group of us would drop off Max at his house. He’d say, ‘Boys we had some laughs didn’t we?’’’ Davis said, fondly recalling Falkenstien’s parting words regarding the trips.
Davis — he will host a celebration of Falkenstien’s life at 2 p.m. Saturday at KU’s Lied Center — is sure there will be plenty of laughs provided during speeches of various individuals during the ceremony.
“I’d hope we could keep it the way he’d like it, light and upbeat,” Davis, KU’s football and basketball play-by-play man from 1984-2016 said of Falkenstien, who was part of KU broadcasts for 60 seasons, from 1946-2006.
“We’ve lost him,” Davis added, “but talk about a great life. There’s 95 years of great moments. It’s an upbeat situation. Hopefully we can maintain that Saturday.”
The public is invited to attend the event in honor of Falkenstien, who, according to his good buddy Davis, lived life to the fullest.
“He is from the group my dad would call the greatest generation, the World War II generation,” Davis said. “Max was a unique guy. Everybody liked him. He was from a bit of a different era. Look at his longevity, his run of 60 years which is difficult to do.
“Nobody enjoyed it more than he did. He loved the games and hurt when KU didn’t win. But he emerged from it as the next day was a new day and he always started the new day happy.”
Davis offered one story that he just might repeat on the Lied Center stage Saturday.
“In 1951 Max broadcast the Kansas State-Kentucky national championship game (for WREN in Topeka) in Minneapolis. In 1952 he broadcast KU-St. John’s for the national championship (in Seattle). He did all the KU games and as many of the K-State games as they could get to,” Davis said, pointing out some of Max’s K-State connections.
Like Davis, former KU basketball media relations director Dean Buchan remembers spending top-quality time with Max on road trips. Buchan roomed with Max on numerous occasions during Buchan’s 10 years in the Jayhawk athletic department (1990-2000).
“We’d pile into the van with Bob, Max, Richard Konzem (assistant AD), Doug Vance (assistant AD) and Bob Newton (engineer of Jayhawk radio network). We’d drive to Stillwater, Norman and Ames quite often. To listen to Max tell stories about working with Wilt Chamberlain (on radio show that Wilt hosted) … hearing all those stories was priceless. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Buchan said.
Buchan remembers the short trips to Manhattan for KU-Kansas State contests.
“K-Staters had their tailgating. I remember walking through the parking lot on the way into the football stadium. As long as you had Max with you, you were in good shape. Their fans were nice to Max. Everybody loved him,” Buchan said.
Buchan also recalls “the time we played Miami on the road in football. They beat the heck out of us. On the flight home, we lost an engine and we had to make an emergency landing in St. Louis. We always took a priest with us on the trip. Max was sitting next to the priest on the plane. He felt he was in good shape sitting next to a priest. He gave us a smile and wink (as plane landed safely).”
Former KU associate AD Doug Vance helped Falkenstien put to paper many stories in the co-authored book “Max and the Jayhawks: 50 Years on and Off the Air with KU Sports,” which was released in 1996.
“Wherever Max went in Lawrence he was a celebrity,” Vance said. “Many times people wanted a picture with him or an autograph. He was always gracious about it.
“He was a great friend to coaches and administrators. Athletic directors and student-athletes came and went. Through it all, Max was the staple of KU athletics through six decades,” Vance added.
As color announcer for football and basketball, Falkenstien was the person chosen to conduct the post-game radio interview with the head coach.
“Max had the chore to put the microphone in the face of coaches when they were emotional, right after the game,” Vance said. “One time Max asked Larry Brown a question after making a little observation about the game and Larry said, ‘Remember Max, I’m the coach. You are the announcer.’’’
Davis noted that the next game — the one following Max’s lighthearted exchange with Larry — was a lopsided loss at Arkansas. “Max asked him what he thought and Larry said, ‘Max you saw the game, what’d you think?’’’ Davis said laughing.
Vance noted: “On mornings of games Max and coach (Roy) Williams would go for a walk and talk. The coaches enjoyed being around him and hearing his stories. He took some stress away on game day with all those stories about Phog (Allen) and Wilt (Chamberlain).”
Former KU assistant coach Joe Dooley, now the second-year head coach at East Carolina, said he enjoyed visiting with Falkenstien before and after games and practices, too.
“He was an institution,” Dooley said. “Some of the fondest memories I have … I’d sit in the coaches locker room and listen to Max interviewing coach (Bill Self) after the game. He’d stay and talk. He had a great sense of humor, unbelievable memory. Think of the great run he had,” Dooley exclaimed.
Former KU center Cole Aldrich, who got to know Falkenstien despite the fact Max’s first year of retirement was Aldrich’s freshman season, said Falkenstien “was incredible. He is a time capsule. He saw Wilt play and saw Jo Jo (White). He saw all those guys. I kind of kick myself in the butt not being a nuisance and having him relate more stories.”
Aldrich said Falkenstien always seemed younger than his actual age.
“I can’t imagine at 95, walking, moving and always being in great spirits,” Aldrich said. “It’s incredible how much he accomplished in his life.”