It was New Year’s Eve in 1983 or 1984. Bill Swartz was covering the countdown to midnight for ABC News Radio. But he needed a location in downtown Seattle with a phone jack.
“I found a dentist at the clock level of Pike Place Market and asked if I could string my phone cord out the window and onto the roof, and he said, ‘Sure, just mention me on the radio,” recalls Swartz (’78 Comm.), an award-winning radio journalist. “So there I was, doing this live report on the roof over the phone, tethered to a dentist’s office.”
Swartz has broadcast from a lot of interesting locations during his 45-year career. A phone booth in England makes the list. So does a gym in Kona, Hawaii, where he did play-by-play coverage for a college women’s basketball game. Then there’s another rooftop from which he covered the Rose Bowl for the 2018 season with the University of Washington Huskies.
“They didn’t have any room for us in the broadcast booth, so they put us on the roof where the sharpshooters were,” Swartz says. “We did the whole pregame show up there.”
Swartz is a sports anchor for Northwest Newsradio KNWN AM 1000 and 97.7 FM, where he also hosts a public affairs program that airs on three Seattle stations, including News Talk 570 AM and Star 101.5. “I’ve done a little bit of everything in my career,” he says. “If you don’t make yourself versatile, you’ll never last in the business. You have to be adaptable.”
That approach has paid off. He’s won a number of regional reporting awards, including the 2023 Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Swartz’s two-minute segment spotlighted the two founders of the Seattle Pride Hockey Association and Seattle Pride Classic.
Swartz has covered countless athletes and coaches at the recreational, college, and professional levels—including former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Sue Bird, who played for the Seattle Storm for 21 seasons before announcing her retirement in 2022. “I started covering her when she playing for the University of Connecticut,” notes Swartz, who lists Mike Holmgren, Seahawks coach from 1999 to 2008, and Pete Carroll, Seahawks coach since 2010, among the top sports personalities he’s interviewed.
“This is going to sound sacrilegious, but for 10 or 11 seasons I was the sidelines reporter for Husky football. Getting to know ‘The Dawgfather’ (Husky football coach from 1975 to 1993) Don James was also a career highlight,” Swartz says.
So was getting to work with the late Bob Robertson, the radio voice of Cougar football for 52 years and basketball for 23. (Fans will remember his signature sign-off: “Always be a good sport, be a good sport all ways.”) Swartz grew up listening to Robertson on the radio. Working Apple Cup weekends with him “was great fun, such a thrill.”
Another highlight: interviewing tennis star, civil rights activist, and author Arthur Ashe. “When I spoke with him, he had just learned he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS. He was in Seattle promoting his book (1988’s A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete). He was so powerful to listen to, with all of the things he had done in his life. He had written about the impact of African American athletes and their challenging journeys. I got to talk with him just that one time, and it was very memorable.”
Swartz started his broadcast career in high school, helping deliver morning announcements over the public address system and laying the foundation for his future work in radio. He came to Washington State University as a transfer student from the University of Oregon, where he had been studying music. “When I got to WSU I didn’t really know what field I wanted to be in. A good buddy worked at KWSU-TV and said, ‘You should try out a few classes,’ and I did and I loved it.”
The late Val E. Limburg, who taught media law, media ethics, and broadcast management, was a favorite professor. So was the late John James “Jim” Dunne, WSU’s director of news and sports reporting, assistant professor of journalism, and mayor of Pullman.
Swartz produced stories for KWSU Radio, the flagship of Northwest Public Radio’s network. WSU connections also helped him land his first internship, at Seattle’s KVI FM, now known as STAR 101.5. “This many years later I am still working for them in a roundabout way,” he says, noting the “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry owned the station when Swartz was an intern during the fall of his senior year at WSU. His final week, Autry made a visit. “He was in a 10-gallon hat, and said, ‘I’m a little parched, if you know what I mean.’ We said, ‘We got you covered.’ To have the big guy there was really outstanding.”
His first job right out of WSU was in Sunnyside at KREW AM. “I did everything. I was news anchor. I did play-by-play sports for football and wrestling,” says Swartz, who spent the first day on the job at a junior rodeo where he met the mayor of Grandview and an up-and-coming country music star. “He said, ‘Come backstage. I want you to meet Loretta Lynn.”
After just a year, he was recruited to Kirkland radio station KGAA. He was hesitant to take the job. “I didn’t think I was ready for the Seattle market at the time. I only had one year as a professional.” But he went anyway, and it led to one of the most memorable experiences of his career: covering the 1982 Little League World Series.
The Kirkland National Little League Team defeated a team from Taiwan to win the championship. “They were the toast of the town,” says Swartz, who traveled to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to provide play-by-play coverage. Two and a half decades later, he was interviewed for ESPN’s 30 for 30 episode “Little Big Men,” which aired in 2010 and documented the win. “It was an amazing ride,” he says. “Those boys are 52 years old now and have their own kids and grandkids that they coach.”
The Kirkland job led to a temporary role at KOMO Newsradio as its eastern suburban reporter. His first day he covered a hostage situation at a Bellevue bank. The short-term gig led to a permanent position. He stayed 18 years, becoming an overnight news anchor, then 11 p.m. news anchor, then sports reporter, covering everything from Huskies’ tailgate parties to Wimbledon.
“KOMO would send people all over the world, even if there wasn’t a local connection. We were going to London to have a tailgate party at Wimbledon, just because. We broadcast from a pub, then the tennis center at Harrods department store,” Swartz recalls.
After KOMO, Swartz was the morning sports anchor for KIRO News Radio from 2002 to 2013 and a co-host and sports anchor at the Fan 1090 AM from 2014 to 2016, when he made the move to KNWN.
In his early radio days, “everything we recorded was over the phone or a cassette tape deck,” he says. “You cut the tape physically; that’s how you edited. Now I have an app on my phone. I can go anywhere in the world and it sounds like I’m in the studio.”
Swartz has also done commercial voice work and even impersonations. At KOMO, “we’d bring in wacky guests, and if we couldn’t get them, we’d do impersonations of them, like (former Seattle mayor) Norm Rice or (former Washington governor) Booth Gardner or (former Seattle Mariners manager) Lou Piniella. We did this comedy skit live every Saturday morning for two hours. It was what radio is supposed to be: theater of the mind.
“To me, that’s what radio has always been about—your voice coming out through a little box, trying to get into people’s ears, so they can visualize a story.”