Don Robbs, the legendary voice of University of Hawaii baseball for 40 years and for more than 2000 games, shares some of his favorite memories during his life and broadcasting career and what he’s been up to since retiring. Since retiring, Dave Reardon of Star Advertiser and Robbs have been working on a book for a little over a year and hoping to have it done by the end of this year. The book does not yet have a name, nor is it a baseball book. Instead, it is a book of Robbs’ different stories such as: Working in the Tokyo Olympic Games during 1964, being in the middle of a bloody overthrow of the Korean government during his time in and out of the military, or his time doing his variety show on television and being a news anchor on Chanel 4.
Gary Dickman opens by sharing his appreciation of Robbs being able to tell so many fun and memorable stories during the games he broadcasted, because his stories made UH baseball more enjoyable. Stories like when Robbs broadcasted a game some time ago at Louisiana Tech. “They had a train that went by behind right field fence, and it went by every game I did there. When the train wasn’t busy it would pull up and stop right on the track, and the engineer would sit and watch the game for about 5-10 minutes before blowing the whistle and leaving.
When asked what the biggest surprise was, he ever got while broadcasting UH baseball by Gary, Robbs said it was when he went to San Francisco State back in 1978 for a game. Robbs couldn’t find the phone line needed to broadcast the game despite looking around & talking to the grounds crew. He went to the lobby of the building right next to the ballpark, which just so happened to be a girl’s dormitory. He walked up to the front desk and explained who they were and asked if they knew where the phone line was, and they also said no. Finally, a student they’ve never met before offered to help because he said he was from Hilo and overheard their problem. He left for 15-20 min and came back and found it, but oddly enough it was in the laundry room. So, they had to use a lot of phone cable to run it across the lanai and to the ballpark.
Gary asked Robbs how UH baseball got its start on the radio, because it was Robbs’ idea to have UH Baseball broadcasted on the radio some time ago. It started on a different station at the time, KHVH, owned by Bob Berger. Pitcher Derek Tatsuno was playing at the time for the University of Hawaii. UH was invited to host a post season regional at Aloha Stadium on one night then move onto campus at Rainbows stadium the next night.
“Only football, basketball, and a little volleyball was being covered at the time, so I went to Bob Berger and asked him to broadcast UH Baseball,” said Robbs.
Berger replied, “Are you crazy? Who would listen to college baseball? We can’t make any money from college baseball.”
Robbs responded, “Listen, this will not cost you a nickel. I’ll get clearance from the university because they’ll be delighted for us to do it, and we ended up paying about $20. I’ll do the games for free… I never made money doing UH Sports and did for the love of doing it.”
Finally, Berger agreed to let Robbs do the game & 16,000 people came to Aloha Stadium, the biggest college baseball crowd in the country at the time, but unfortunately, they lost. Everyone was pleased with the attendance and the little advertising revenue they made, but they were sad about the loss. Robbs was hopeful for the Bows however, because they had Derek Tatsuno and the makings of a team that would be better the next year.
So, when winter rolled around, Robbs asked Berger hesitantly again, “You want to do baseball again?”
Berger again responded, “Are you crazy?” Of course, we’ll do it!”
Which was the beginning of a 40-year broadcast run for them and bounced around stations till ending up at ESPN under Duane Kurisu.
Robbs had a lot to share about his favorite UH baseball player all time in Derek Tatsuno, and a close friend of his Coach Les Murakami.
“Derek Tatsuno was the greatest UH player ever, I’ve never seen anybody better at pitching, despite even seeing Randy Johnson come and play against the Rainbows. Derek was special but made one very serious error, was a high draft pick out of his Junior year in 1979 to the Padres & people talked him out of it and into signing in Japan. He was a huge star in Japan & signed with the Prince Hotel chain that had a semi-pro team in Tokyo. They changed his pitching motioned and that was the end of Derek Tatsuno because he was never the same,” said Robbs.
Robbs first time talking to and spending time with Murakami was during that first broadcasted game. Since then, they became close friends over the years and Robbs said he was a joy to work with.
“He was very frank and said whatever was on his mind. Les was well liked and his career ended prematurely I feel,” said Robbs.
When asked what it was like going to the College World Series in 1980, Robbs simply responded with, “Unbelievable.” Ferd Lewis of the Star Advertiser and Al Chase of the Star Bulletin traveled around with Robbs during the trip. That year the Bows beat BYU for WAC championship, won the Central Regional by beating the Texas Longhorns, and went to Omaha for the World Series. Despite playing very well, and going to the championship game undefeated, the Bows lost to Arizona twice and Robbs said it was heartbreaking.
Gary and Robbs shared a laugh about the time they broadcasted together during the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Gary, Robbs, & Chris Hart did the halftime show and was waiting for Bobby Curran and Robert Kekaula to get back for the start of the 3rd quarter kickoff, but didn’t make it back in time Robbs quickly grabbed a player book and analyzed the kickoff while Gary watched Bobby and Robert nonchalantly head back to the booth without knowing the 3rd quarter was starting. They both jokingly agreed that they could put “Broadcasted the Sugar Bowl” on their resumes, even if it was only for two plays.
Gary went on to ask Robbs what stood out in his broadcast career the most. And Robbs responded, while working on his book, he wanted to do chapter about bizarre things that happened while he was on the road. For example, when he went to Cal State Fullerton. Tatsuno was pitching that game with hundreds of scouts watching and they had to set up on a picnic table behind home plate. Robbs jokily said that two pretty, young Cal State Fullerton co-eds sat on the other ends of the picnic table and made it hard hard to call the game while the two pretty girls were sitting facing him.
Robbs and the Sports Animals shared a few more stories and laughs with one another. Robbs shared how he even used to go back and forth to Japan so much that it felt like a second home to him. But despite his time away from the broadcasting booth, it was clear Robbs’ true second home will always be the broadcasting booth.