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Remembering Larry Zimmer, Broncos broadcasting legend

Denver lost a great one on Saturday when Zimmer died at age 88

Denver Broncos v San Diego Chargers Photo by Mark Junge/Getty Images

Have you ever wondered why KOA has always been the radio headquarters for Denver Broncos football? For as long as I can remember, that 850am presetting has been locked and loaded in all of my parent’s cars since I was a bouncing baby boy in the late 1970s.

According to Wikipedia:

The first Broncos network was headed by KBTR; in the team’s final season with that station, 1963, there were 15 affiliates.[3] KTLN (known as KTLK beginning in 1969) took over for the rest of the decade; 53 stations were on the network in KTLK’s final season of 1969.[4] KOA’s first season as network flagship was 1970.[5]

In 1971, KOA brought Larry Zimmer on-board as color commentator, teamed with the late and great Bob Martin doing play-by-play. Zimmer sadly died on Saturday at age 88.

As a youngster growing up in Colorado with family in not-too-far away states, I can not understate how many times Larry Zimmer, Bob Martin, and Dave Logan were the enduring soundtrack to literally hundreds of road trips to Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and California. I have distinct memories of lying on the floor of the backseat wheel wells. My two older sisters kicked me off the seat and onto the floor. What a glorious time before seatbelt laws it was.

And so it was the Broncos, Larry Zimmer, the Place family and a full tank of gas taking on the western US. Those moments when the game would slow down just enough for me to doze off only to have my parents erupt into cheers, honking, and maybe a little mirthful swerving when spectacular plays were made. Chit chat was forbidden when the Broncos were on. We didn’t want to miss what Larry Zimmer was going to say.

As my older sisters moved on to other things and became adults, I was eventually allowed to sit on the actual seat and eventually had it all to myself. An entire youth of roundtrips with Larry Zimmer leading the way. Sure, sometimes we would lose the signal as we got closer to our destination, a development that would elicit swear words from my mother. Or if we were on the return trip and we could finally lock the game in on the dial, there would be celebration.

Here’s the thing about being a captive kid having to listen to your parent’s radio choices. It didn’t matter what they were listening to, as a kid it was my job to poo-poo every bit of it. I love the Broncos as a kid, but come on, this is radio and figuring out just what the heck is happening on radio takes effort and attention. I wasn’t wild about always having to tune into KOA on these trips, but it was just a fact of life. As I got older, I expected the games to be on during those trips. It became a reliable function of a Place-family roundtrip.

To this very day, I prefer listening to sports on the radio to watching them on television. If I have a project in the basement that needs tinkering with, sports on the radio is the perfect audio backdrop. During the COVID lockdown, I fell in love with Jason Kosmicki listening to the Nuggets and with Charley Steiner & Rick Monday covering the Dodgers (it’s a shame Denver doesn’t have a professional baseball franchise of its own).

The point is that without all those hours spent on the floor of my parent’s car listening to literally hundreds of Broncos games elucidated by the great Larry Zimmer, I am not sure I would have the appreciation for what an art form sports on radio really is. Larry was a broadcasting master at a time when it was needed most to convey the miracles occurring on the field. Would the Orange Crush and John Elway mythos be what they are today without Zimmer’s calls? It’s the storytellers that cement the legends into history and Larry Zimmer did just that.

RIP Mr. Zimmer.

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