Bill Marcroft had some advice for his young partner in the radio booth, Frank Dolce. Dolce had just finished up his playing days as a Utah quarterback and now was working as a color analyst alongside the longtime play-by-play man. Dolce was hip, he was cool, he was oh-so eager to show Ute Nation not just how smart he was, but what a smart aleck he could be, too.
The kid cracked wise as a part of his commentary during a game some 25 years ago, making fun of one player or another, and Marcroft turned his head, headphones framing his ears, a hot microphone in front of his face, looked at the rook the way a grandfather would look at his eager, foolish grandson, and said: “Hey, keep it classy. Be a good guy. Just tell the story.”
“He just subtly pulled me along,” Dolce said on Monday, a day after Marcroft died at the age of 89. “I just tried to react and to keep up with him.”
A whole lot of sports broadcasters can say the same, trying to keep up with Bill Marcroft, still. It’s as though his voice — the Voice of the Utes — remains in their ears, having sounded the way it did for the better part of four decades, calling hundreds of Utah football games and a thousand Utah basketball games.
Dolce remembered the first time the Utes went to play against Michigan at the Big House, when a couple hours before the opening kick, Marcroft pulled out a yellow legal pad and wrote three pages of notes detailing what it meant for Utah football to play against such an established team at such an esteemed venue.
“He always did something special in his pregame,” Dolce said. “He wrote it and then read it live. This was a big deal. I listened to Bill give that pregame monologue. It was as emotional as I ever get. That was a talent Bill had, to set the scene and have listeners experience what he was experiencing, as though they were right next to him.”
Dolce added: “He loved the Utes. It was evident. It was clear. It was palpable. When Utah was winning, Bill Marcroft’s voice was joyful. When Utah was losing, his voice was mournful.”
Former Utah football coach Ron McBride, who joined the Utes in the mid-'70s, after Marcroft had already been doing play-by-play for years, called Marcroft a “trusted friend and a real good man.”
Said McBride: “His first love was always the Utes. I had great respect for him. But he told it like it was. He’d say to me, ‘You’re not gonna like what I’m saying, but it’s the truth.’ I said back, ‘Hey, say what you have to say on the air, if it’s bad, it’s bad.’ But he wanted the Utes to do well.”
Marcroft did the coach’s show at Utah with McBride throughout Mac’s tenure there, and then, after the coach was let go, Marcroft volunteered to do a coach’s show with McBride when he took over at Weber State. The broadcaster was informed that the pay would be at a minimum, since the budget was tight. No matter, he told Weber administrators, he would do the show for free.
“He was just a great guy,” McBride said.
There was another side to Marcroft, too. During part of his span as Utah’s play-by-play man, he also was a sports anchor at KUTV-Channel 2. Which is to say, he had one foot in a broadcast journalism boat and one foot in the go-Utes boat. It was sometimes a tricky navigational feat.
Patrick Kinahan, a former Utes beat writer for The Salt Lake Tribune and now a sports-talk-radio host at 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone, said that in his early years covering Utah basketball, he and Marcroft often found themselves traveling together on the road, talking about everything from family life to journalism to world events to the sometimes-comical, sometimes-sad idiosyncrasies of former Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus, to which they each were subjected.
One time, both of them were in San Jose for a Utah game and when Marcroft went over to the arena to do his pregame interviews, Majerus wouldn’t let him in the gym because his team was practicing. The doors were locked and nobody was getting in. Instead, Marcroft stood outside, in a driving rain storm, waiting to gain entrance to do his work.
“Bill wore red, he even drove a red car,” said Kinahan. “But he had two different lives. He also was a hardcore broadcast journalist who had covered plane crashes, covered when the Jazz moved to Utah, covered all that stuff. He knew where to draw the line. He knew how to report the news. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten was when he told me that he put me on par with himself as a reporter. He appreciated great journalism.”
Yet another side to Marcroft was his generosity. McBride said he used to ask him to attend this event or that, and “he never said no.” Dolce said he saw many Utah fans ask Marcroft routine sports questions, questions he had been posed a hundred times before, and he “made people think their question was the most important question he’d ever been asked.”
Kinahan said it like this: “I loved the man. I respected him. I appreciated being around him. Bill had in his mind a great history of sports in Utah. He once told me that [BYU great] Kresimir Cosic was the best college basketball player he had ever seen. He was a hardcore Ute, but he had respect for what BYU did, what the coaches and players did. When he reported on them, he treated them with respect.”
And most importantly, Kinahan said, Marcroft treated his wife, Joyce, and their family with respect and love. Every day, at the same time every day, when Marcroft was traveling with the Utes, he’d call home to talk with his wife about the events of the day.
“We’d be sitting there, talking over dinner for two hours, and he would get up to go back to his room to call his wife, always to call Joyce. It happened so often, I started to feel like she was my mom.”
McBride was touched by the way, in their later years, Marcroft was the primary caregiver for Joyce, who had become needful of that care. “He was extremely loyal to his wife,” Mac said.
Now that Paul James, the longtime voice of BYU sports, and Bill Marcroft, the voice of Utah sports, have passed away, the games are still being called by the next generation of talented broadcasters, those newer voices going on, being heard across the airwaves, trying to hit the same notes, attempting to share the experience of being there with listeners right alongside them.
But something has been lost. Something should be remembered. A lot has been lost. A lot should be remembered.
“Bill was one of a kind,” Dolce said. “He’ll always be the voice of the Utes to me.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.