Longtime KGMI radio announcer and former Bellingham City Council member Walter Haines Fay died Wednesday morning, Dec. 17, at his Bellingham home. He was 87.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Sig’s Funeral & Cremation Services.
Fay retired from KGMI in March 1992 after being a radio announcer for 48 years. Fay, who went by Haines rather than Walter, was immensely well-known in the community as a distinctive voice in local radio news, for his play-by-play coverage of high school football and basketball, and as the host of a daily call-in talk show, “Impact,” which first aired in 1970.
“Haines knew and was respected by everyone,” said Bill Quehrn, a longtime colleague of Fay’s at KGMI, in an email. “ I quickly discovered that spending a half hour or so with him at his morning coffee stop usually yielded more news stories and leads than hours on the phone grinding information out of reluctant sources.”
Neil Clement, another former colleague at the station, said the “Impact” program offered in-depth local content during an era when, before the rise of the Internet and digital news, radio played a larger role in people’s civic lives.
“It was a gathering point for the community,” Clement said.
Quehrn shared that assessment.
“His daily ‘Impact’ program was launched years before the proliferation of so-called talk shows. Unlike the flamethrower sensationalist hosts of today, ‘Impact’ typically brought personalities and subjects to the station’s listeners that left them with new and useful information, and often a broader understanding of people and issues of the day,” Quehrn said.
A hometown figure, Fay began his broadcast career while a Bellingham High School student by announcing football and basketball games for Rogan Jones, then the station’s owner. After high school, Fay attended Western Washington University, where he played basketball, served in the Navy and attended Washington State University.
While home for Thanksgiving, Jones offered Fay a full-time job at KGMI. Fay worked there for the next four decades-plus as a disc jockey, program director, news reporter, news director, and a radio and TV sports reporter.
When Clement replaced Fay as KGMI news director in August 1982, some people speculated that Fay might run for Bellingham mayor. They were right. He did run in 1983, but lost to Tim Douglas.
Fay carried on at KGMI as sports director, the host of “Impact” and as special events coordinator for the station. Fay also served on the City Council for eight years, stepping down in 1983.
Some people wondered if Fay could fairly report on city government for KGMI while also serving on the council, but KGMI executives said no one ever raised objections during periodic surveys of community news interests.
For many people, Fay’s many years doing play-by-play of local sports games will linger long in their memory.
“Haines virtually invented methods and means to bring Whatcom County high school sports to KGMI listeners from wherever their teams played, with whatever personal commitment it took for him to get there and broadcast the games,” Quehrn said.
After he retired, Fay and his wife, Gloria, traveled in their motor home and lived for a while in Arizona, before returning to Bellingham. He and his wife took up country line dancing and taught it while in Arizona, said Shawna Fay Frolich of Bellingham, a granddaughter.
Even after he retired, Fay didn’t give up play-by-play announcing entirely. While watching his grandchildren play sports, he often would start announcing the game while sitting in the stands, Frolich said.
“People would turn around; they would recognize his voice,” she said. “It was a one-of-a-kind voice ... very deep, clear.”
“The minute he opened his mouth, you knew who it was.”