“From LaLa Land.”
“He stops. He pops.”
Those are a few of the colorful descriptions that Keith Moilanen would vocalize while doing play-by-play radio broadcasts of Brainerd Warrior and Central Lakes College Raiders basketball games.
To decipher Keith’s colorful quips a few definitions may be in order. A long shot was from LaLa Land. Players stopped and popped when they shot. Whichever team was leading was topside. Bingo was a made basket.
The long-time KVBR and KLIZ Radio voice of various Warriors and Raiders sporting events, who was also an icon as a racetrack announcer, died Saturday, Nov. 16, at his home in Brainerd. A graduate of Brainerd High School and CLC, he was 85.
Although he was retired from the Brainerd broadcast scene, Moilanenisms and his legacy lives on in the minds of many area coaches, athletes and parents. In addition to his play-by-play duties, Keith hosted “Coaches Corner” on the radio for years. As a result of his dedication, Moilanen was inducted into the Warriors Hall of Fame in 1997.
In addition to being a broadcaster/track announcer in his spare time (he worked full-time at Potlatch for 46 years), Moilanen may have been an even bigger sports fan at heart.
Ron Stolski, the Warriors’ long-time head football coach and former athletic director, may have interacted with Moilanen more than any other coach or athletic director. Stolski said he has met few individuals who cared more than Moilanen about local sports.
“Keith had a little bit of a hometown bias, perhaps, but he was always fair, even,” Stolski said. “He was particularly passionate. He was a very strong advocate, as a number of people are going to say, about the college but equally for the Brainerd Warriors.
“He was an insightful interviewer. I always enjoyed sitting and visiting with Keith as did so many of our colleagues. He’s another one of our local legends, a Hall Of Famer, that will be sorely missed.”
Mike Zauhar coached in the Warrior boys basketball program for years, initially as head coach of the sophomore team and later as the varsity head coach. After stepping away from basketball, Zauhar became head coach of the Warrior softball team.
He called Moilanen the “ultimate Brainerd Warrior fan.” Zauhar said Moilanen was supportive and loyal and would drive to the “North Pole” to watch Brainerd play. Zauhar coached one of Moilanen’s granddaughters in softball and one of his grandsons played football and baseball with Zauhar’s son.
“It’s just a great family,” Zauhar said. “Keith was a good guy. I feel bad. The old guard is going and I’m part of it.”
Zauhar has always remembered Moilanen’s famous basketball line that a player stops and pops.
“I don’t care where the player was. He stops and pops,” Zauhar laughed.
As a Crosby-Ironton High School graduate, Zauhar appreciated Moilanen’s knowledge of the days when C-I and Brainerd were rivals, especially in basketball.
“We went back a lot of years (in basketball) when I was the sophomore coach and then the (varsity) head coach,” Zauhar said. “He knew the history of Brainerd and C-I in the old days, the golden days."
Colin MacDonald of KVBR/KLIZ said Moilanen was a congenial and reliable co-worker and a devoted family man who in particular loved basketball and racing.
“I can’t think of anyone who’s seen more high school and junior college basketball games than Keith,” MacDonald said. “If someone was playing, even if he just knew them a little bit or not, he would go watch games.
“He loved high school hoops and the racetrack was big of course. He was the voice of the racetrack. He always seemed to be able to work that into ‘Coaches Corner’ on a fairly regular basis.”
Like Zauhar, MacDonald remembers Moilanen’s colorful basketball descriptions.
“‘He’s draped on Raymond like a cheap suit.’ ‘Pecarich from the cheap seats. It’s good.’ ‘He puts one up off the window.’ He was kind of the older style,” MacDonald said of Moilanen’s play-by-play broadcasts.
For years, Keith was the track announcer at Princeton Speedway, North Central Speedway, St. Cloud Speedway, Cedar Lake Speedway and Brainerd International Raceway. He also owned and operated Rock Bottom Racing which sponsored demolition derbies and tractor pulls.
Former Brainerd Dispatch sports writer, and now publisher Pete Mohs, worked many races and hockey games alongside Moilanen. Mohs did color commentary with Moilanen on Warrior hockey broadcasts for about 10 years. They first worked together in 1976 in the Golden Spike Speedway press box when Mohs covered stock car racing for the St. Cloud Times and Keith was the track announcer.
“We became closer friends years later when I moved to Brainerd,” Mohs said. “We spent about 10 years together in the press box at BIR, and in later years Keith asked me to do hockey broadcasts with him.
“He was so dedicated to his broadcasting job. A few times he finished Warrior hockey games even when he was very sick. One time he told me to get ready to do the play-by-play, but I’m thankful that he was able to finish.
“He really loved racing. There were a couple Warrior hockey games over the years where Keith was telling old racing stories during the games. It was funny. I think our audience was confused.
“For decades, Keith was a familiar voice for many people — from Warrior sports fans to racing spectators across the state.”