Ray Christensen, a longtime sports play-by-play announcer for WCCO Radio best known for calling Gopher football and basketball games, has died, the station announced Monday.
Christensen, who retired in 2001, was 92. Jim Christensen said his father died Sunday after an upper respiratory infection.
“Sad news for the WCCO family this morning,” a tweet WCCO said. “We’ve learned legendary play-by-play man Ray Christensen has died. More coverage on air today.”
Known as the Voice of the Gophers, Christensen began calling Gopher football and basketball games in 1951 and retired from full-time broadcasting in 1993, but he continued doing Gopher football and basketball play-by-play until 2001.
“Regarded by his peers as one of the most skilled and versatile broadcasters, Christensen brought a passion to sports unrivaled in the region, and his trademark excitable voice set the stage for generations,” the National Football Foundation noted of Christensen at the time it bestowed on him the Chris Schenkel Award in 2000.
Over the years, Christensen broadcast Minnesota Twins baseball, Minnesota Vikings football, Minneapolis Lakers basketball, and golf and hockey, as well as 510 Gopher football games in 50 years and 1,309 Gopher basketball games in 45 years.
In 2009 at age 85, Christensen made a cameo appearance on the air for the Gophers’ inaugural football game at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Being able to broadcast play-by-play in all three stadiums — Memorial, the Dome and now TCF, that’s great,” Christensen said in the days leading up to the game. “I’m looking forward to it. It makes me feel more important than it should, I fear.”
Christensen said “it was the right decision” to retire when he did, after the 2001 basketball season. “I went out still at my best.”
The University of Minnesota placed a banner honoring him in Williams Arena and established an athletic scholarship in his name in 2001. He was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2002 and is a member of the University of Minnesota Athletics Hall of Fame.
Christensen’s broadcast career began at University of Minnesota radio station KUOM. He graduated from the university in 1949.
In a 2004 interview with GopherHole.com, a website that covers University of Minnesota athletics, Christensen said he didn’t learn he would be calling Minnesota football games until the week leading up to the 1951 season opener.
“Heading into that first game, I was very nervous but excited,” he said. “My friends and family all listened to that first broadcast, and they told me I did a great job. They probably would have told me that regardless of how I did, though, but it was a lot of fun.”
Christensen’s early work experience included being program director and sports director at WLOL in the Twin Cities.
In 1963, he joined WCCO, AM 830, where his duties at the outset ranged from news and interviews to fine music, in addition to sportscasting.
In retirement, he hosted tours abroad and recorded Talking Books for the Blind. Younger listeners might recognize his voice in radio commercials for Washburn-McReavy Funeral Homes.
Christensen served with the Army in World War II.
Funeral arrangements are pending.