Max Falkenstien, who broadcast University of Kansas football and men’s basketball games for 60 years, died Monday afternoon. He was 95.
Falkenstien did his first radio broadcast of a KU basketball game – an NCAA Tournament game in Kansas City between KU and Oklahoma A&M – on March 18, 1946. His next KU broadcast was the Jayhawks’ football opener against TCU on September 21, 1946. He served as play-by-play voice of the Jayhawks for 39 years and switched to the commentator’s role in September 1984, when Bob Davis assumed the play-by-play duties; together they did KU football and basketball games until Falkenstien’s retirement in 2006. The duo became so well known that they were referred to simply as “Bob and Max.” Falkenstien retired as color commentator on Jayhawk Radio Network broadcasts after the last game of the 2005-06 men’s basketball season – his 60th season of covering Jayhawk athletics.
“Although I still am in good health,” he said at the time, “I realize there finally comes a time when one must call an end to something, no matter how much he enjoys it.”
Kansas Athletics honored Falkenstien by making him the only non-player to have his “jersey” (60) honored in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame paid tribute to him in 2004 with its Curt Gowdy Award, and the College Football Hall of Fame honored him in 1996 with its Chris Shenkel Award. He was inducted into the State of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame, and was the first inductee of the Lawrence High School Hall of Honor. He was awarded an honorary “K” by the K Club, Kansas Athletics’ association of former student-athletes.
The Sporting News in 2001 named Falkenstien “the best college radio personality in the country,” and television’s Dick Vitale selected Bob and Max to his “Sweet 16” of the best college basketball announcing teams in the country.
Falkenstien graduated from Liberty Memorial High School (now Lawrence High School) in 1942. After a semester at KU he enlisted in the Army Air Corps; he left the service in March 1946. He earned a degree in mathematics from KU in 1948. His father, Earl, served as business manager of Kansas Athletics for 33 years.
Falkenstien first worked in radio at WREN in Lawrence. He worked at WIBW radio and television in Topeka, and for one year as general manager at Sunflower Cable in Lawrence. As famous as he was for his sports broadcasting, he reported live during two of Topeka’s most famous news events as well – the 1951 flood and the 1966 tornado.
Falkenstien also worked at the Douglas County Bank in Lawrence, retiring as senior vice-president in 1994.
Falkenstien also made his mark on television along the way. He provided the play-by-play on the Big Eight Conference men’s basketball Game of the Week between 1968 and 1971. And for more than three decades he hosted football and basketball coaches’ television shows, including those for Don Fambrough, Pepper Rodgers, Mike Gottfried, Ted Owens, Larry Brown and Roy Williams.
Falkenstien’s last KU football broadcast was the Jayhawks’ victory over Houston in the 2005 Fort Worth Bowl. He last broadcast a game in Allen Fieldhouse on March 1, 2006, a KU victory over Colorado 51 years to the day after he had broadcast the first game played in Allen Fieldhouse. His final KU broadcast came on March 17, 2006, when Bradley upset the Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Falkenstien is survived by his wife, Isobel; they were married for 70 years. They had two children – a son, Kurt, and a daughter, Jane, along with three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Falkenstien often said he treasured the friendships he made and maintained with coaches, players, administrators and the many who worked with him on his broadcasts. He singled out Gerry Barker, Bob Fromme, Al Correll, Jim Fender, Paul DeWeese, Jerry Waugh, Fred White, David Lawrence, Bob Newton and, “of course, my good buddy, Bob Davis.”
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT MAX FALKENSTIEN:
Ted Owens, KU basketball coach, 1964-83: “When I arrived on the KU campus, Coach (Dick) Harp wanted me to gain an understanding of the tradition of Kansas basketball. He had me watch and listen to the highlights of the 1952, 1953 and 1947 years narrated by Max. Later, when we traveled by bus to all of our road games, I listened to Max, (trainer Dean Nesmith), (sports publicist) Don Pierce and Coach Harp as they told stories of Kansas basketball, especially Phog Allen, who was so much a part of Kansas basketball history. A large share of my love and understanding of the great tradition of Kansas basketball comes from Max. He was a great friend of the players and coaches, and will always be a part of this great tradition.”
Larry Brown, KU basketball coach, 1983-88: “I spent a lot of time with Max – doing radio shows in Topeka, traveling to games – and I saw how Max impacted so many people in a positive way. He was one of a kind. When I got the job at Kansas, Coach (Dean) Smith told me about all the great people at KU, the love they had for the school and for basketball. When you talk about those great people, and everyone connected with all that tradition, Max is one of the first people you think about.”
Roy Williams, 1988-2003: “One of the truly great legends of Kansas Athletics. I loved Max Falkenstien and just the mention of his name will always make me smile. Thanks, Max! You were one of a kind!”
Glen Mason, KU football coach, 1988-96: “When I think of Max I think of two things: his great inviting smile and Mr. Jayhawk. His smile was an open invitation to all to engage. One would instantly know the man behind smile just had to be a kind, gentile warm human being. He was Mr. Jayhawk. Max and his voice were unmistakably ‘The Voice of the Jayhawks.’ I first met Max when I came to KU at a lunch with Bob Frederick, L.G. Noller and Max. I can’t remember what we discussed, but we sure laughed a lot. Max was quite the entertainer and he will be greatly missed.”
Bill Self, KU basketball coach: “I’ve known Max since 1985, and back then, even being young in the profession, I quickly realized that Max was as big a part of the great history of KU basketball and football as the players and coaches were. He was an absolute joy to be around, and he will be remembered as an absolute treasure. He was loved by everyone. His personal touch made every fan, player coach and administrator feel they were part of the KU family. I hope Max realized the positive impact he had on KU and everyone connected with it. He’ll be missed, but his legacy will never be forgotten.”
Mark Mangino, KU football coach, 2002-09: “It saddens me to hear of the passing of Max. He served as a loyal and dedicated broadcaster for the Jayhawks for six decades. He was beloved by the football team and staff because he truly cared about winning. I feel privileged to have served as head coach with one of the greatest college broadcast teams ever – Max Falkenstien and Bob Davis.”
Bob Davis, former KU radio play-by-play voice: “Max was a member of the greatest generation. A pioneer sports play-by-play broadcaster in Lawrence and Topeka, and just a fun guy to be around. In the years we worked and traveled together we spent much of our time laughing. He once said we should have been married. In all these years I don’t think we’d ever had an argument, so I guess we couldn’t have been married! We had some great times together. I loved him.”
Jeff Long, Kansas Athletics Director: “I, of course, knew of Max for many years as the iconic Voice of the Jayhawks. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him this year. He was everything everyone had told me about him – engaging, funny – and he made me feel right at home.”