Former KU broadcaster Max Falkenstien dies at 95

Kansas University announcer Max Falkenstien laughs during a conversation with radio cohort Bob Davis, right. Falkenstien, shown Jan. 4 in Allen Fieldhouse before KU's game against Yale, will broadcast his final game in the venerable building tonight.

Max Falkenstien, whose enthusiastic voice was a key part of the soundtrack of Kansas basketball and KU football for decades, died Monday afternoon.

He was 95.

News of his passing reached all corners of the country and no doubt affected both those who knew him and those who only felt like they did in a similar manner.

“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,” longtime radio partner and former play-by-play voice of the Jayhawks Bob Davis said. “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.”

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Todd Reesing, left, and Jeff Hawkins, right, share a laugh with Max Falkenstien before the ...

Born in Lawrence on April 9, 1924, Falkenstien called his first radio broadcast of a KU basketball game on March 18, 1946, when Kansas faced Oklahoma A&M; in an NCAA Tournament game.

His next KU broadcast was the Jayhawks’ football opener against TCU later that year and he served as play-by-play voice of the Jayhawks for 39 years before switching to the commentator’s role in September of 1984, when Davis was hired to take over play-by-play duties.

For the next 22 years, the dynamic duo affectionately known to thousands of KU fans simply as “Bob and Max” called hundreds of KU football and basketball games together until Falkenstien’s retirement in 2006.

Even after his retirement Falkenstien remained visible at all kinds of KU sporting events, routinely attending football games, volleyball matches and sitting courtside at Allen Fieldhouse for men’s basketball games.

“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,” KU basketball coach Bill Self said. “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.”

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Max Falkenstien, a native of Lawrence, Kan., laughs as he is introduced during the Kansas ...

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Just before his retirement, Kansas Athletics honored Falkenstien as the only non-player to have his jersey hanging in the south rafters at Allen Fieldhouse. It still hangs there today, with his name and the number 60 gracing the fabric in honor of his 60 years of service to KU.

He also received an honorary “K” by the K Club, Kansas Athletics’ association of former student-athletes.

Falkenstien’s last KU football broadcast was the Jayhawks’ victory over Houston in the 2005 Fort Worth Bowl.

His final men’s basketball broadcast came on March 17, 2006, when Bradley upset the Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And his final call inside Allen Fieldhouse came on March 1, 2006, 51 years to the day after he had broadcast the first game played in Allen Fieldhouse.

While many used the word “legend” to describe Falkenstien throughout his life and immediately after his passing, it became clear long before then that he was a wealth of KU knowledge, a walking encyclopedia of sorts who in an instant could recall the day, location and circumstances of just about any Kansas basketball game he had broadcast.

“When I arrived on the KU campus, Coach (Dick) Harp wanted me to gain an understanding of the tradition of Kansas basketball,” longtime KU basketball coach Ted Owens said. “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.”

Added Larry Brown, who succeeded Owens in 1983 and guided Kansas — and Falkenstien — to the 1988 national championship: “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.”

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Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self, left, and Jayhawk Radio Network's Max Falkenstien share a ...

That sentiment remains true to this day for former Kansas coach Roy Williams, 16 years after leaving KU for his alma mater in North Carolina.

“One of the truly great legends of Kansas Athletics,” Williams proclaimed of Falkenstien in a KU news release announcing his passing. “I loved Max Falkenstien and just the mention of his name will always make me smile. Thanks, Max. You were one of a kind.”

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 and left the service in March 1946.

He earned a degree in mathematics from KU in 1948 and his father, Earl, served as business manager of Kansas Athletics for 33 years.

In 2004, The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame paid tribute to him iwith its Curt Gowdy Award. Eight years earlier, the College Football Hall of Fame honored him with its Chris Shenkel Award.

After retirement, Falkenstien was inducted into the State of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame and also was the first inductee of the Lawrence High School Hall of Honor.

Whether people knew him as a youngster growing up in Lawrence, when he got his start in radio or throughout his time as one of the biggest names in Kansas Athletics history, many who crossed paths with Falkenstien often latched on to the moment and spoke of their connection for years.

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Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger, left, and Max Falkenstien share a laugh during a 2012 ...

Former KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger often marveled at how just being in Falkenstien’s company could make any day or mood better.

When Zenger was hired by KU, one of his requests upon taking the job was to sit courtside with Falkenstien at all men’s home basketball games. And during eight years he spent with Kansas Athletics, Zenger often spoke highly of his friendship with Falkenstien, the many stories he heard from him and the comfort he always felt simply from being around him.

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.

Comments

Michael Maris

So many great Radio Broadcast memories of Max. Many thoughts and prayers to all of Max's family members and close friends as well.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Sam Meyer

So many memories listening to him call games on the radio. He was beloved by all of Jayhawk nation. Rest In Peace.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bryce Landon

I received his book "A Great Place To Stop" for Christmas some years ago; it was an autographed copy, no less. He provides vivid memories of the games he covered, the coaches, the players, and so on, including some behind-the-scenes drama that many of us fans were not privy to at the time (i.e., the discord between Roy Williams and Al Bohl and the events leading up to both men's departure from KU). KU Sports was a richer place for Max being part of it, and it will be a lesser place without him.

By the way, we can thank President Harry S. Truman that we had the pleasure of listening to Max in the first place. He was trained in the Signal Corps on radar that would be used in the planned invasion of Japan. Had that invasion taken place, there's a good chance Max, along with thousands and thousands of other young Americans, might have been killed. But when President Truman ordered the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thereby forced Japan's surrender, the invasion was cancelled, and, as Max told Jason King of the KC Star the year he retired, "That may have saved my life." Max never saw combat in World War II; nevertheless, we should appreciate him for the service he rendered to our country during the war, as well as for his service to Jayhawk sports.

Rest in peace, Max.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Tony Bandle

Bryce, the estimated casualty count for the anticipated Invasion of Japan was one million allied troops and 19 to 25 million Japanese. My dad was in the Navy in the South pacific at that time and often expressed to me exactly the same thoughts that Max had mentioned.

You could tell,how much he loved Kansas by his broadcasts and that he was a true "homer" when doing them....and I always really liked that about him. Max, please say hello to my Dad, Bill Bandle, for me and thanks for everything.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Dee Shaw

Sorry to hear the bees. My thoughts and prayers are with the family. 95 years old? Wow. What blessing and joy he’s been to KU nation. He will be sadly missed. RIP Max. Or I should reference Max to Mr. KU.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Dee Shaw

Meant to say, sorry to hear the news. My bad.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bryce Landon

Autocorrect, gotta love it, right?

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Kit Duncan

Max may never have had the market share of a Vin Scully, Chris Schenkel, or Curt Gowdy, but his voice was every bit as recognizable to any Kansas fan for the sixty years he was in the booth. He will truly be missed.

Lift the chorus ever onward, Max! Hail to you... and old KU!

Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU!

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Maaan.. Jayhawk Nation loses its very best.
My deepest sympathy to Max's family. May God bless them. RIP, Max.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Robert Brock

I started listening to his broadcasts in 1957. What a wonderful, enthusiastic guy he was. RIP, Max.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Steven Haag

Prayers for Gods love and peace to rest on family and friends. Without a doubt, the greatest announcer that I have ever heard.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Steve Hilker

I listened to Max on the radio with my dad. Who played football at KU in about 1940. My kids listened to Max on the radio with me. We were 3 generations listening to Max. Godspeed, Sir!

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Danny Hernandez

A legend! I too can remember listening to Max on the radio in the early 60's as I developed my passion for Kansas Basketball.

Max is up there with the Kansas Greats!

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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David Gordon

I got to meet Max a few times. As you can tell by the photos, it didn't take much
to make him laugh. I'll bet he's having some good laughs with some of the
Jayhawk greats in heaven right now!

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Stephen Johnson

Truly a large part of KU and my memories. He will be missed.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Chris Bailey

I was raised a KState fan and therefore wasn’t privileged to Max’s broadcasts until 2003, my first year at KU as a student. Thankfully, I heard him a couple hundred times on the radio during those years. I was sad when he retired knowing he and Bob would no longer be calling games together and remember how emotional that final game was for both men. He was a part of the greatest generation and sadly their numbers are slowly slipping away. I thank God for having known that generation and been touched by several members of that generation, including Max. Heaven gained a great man today. Rest In Peace Max, we will never forget you.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bryce Landon

A former KSU fan? Glad you saw the light!

3 weeks ago

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Chris Bailey

That happens when your uncle plays football and wrestles at KSU. He played with Lynn Dickey. And was a starting O-Lineman and nationally ranked heavyweight wrestler. So it’s pretty obvious why I followed KState. It’s where several family members went and graduated. It wasn’t until my generation that anyone attended KU. Oddly enough that same uncle was born in Lawrence as my grandparents lived there after moving from North Dakota. Grandpa was a Montgomery Wards store manager after serving in WWII. Two amazing people raised four amazing children who each had 3 children of their own. I’m proud to say that everyone of my mothers siblings has at minimum a bachelors with 3 holding a masters and each of their 3 children hold minimum of a bachelors degree. So I’d say those roots paid off quite nicely. And although I am a die hard Kansas fan when we don’t play KSU I silently cheer them on it something I think Max would understand and approve.

3 weeks ago

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David Robinett

“Local Boy Makes Good”

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Blake Brown

A true legend. A good friend of my father`s who called my high school games and greeted me every time I returned to KU to watch the Jayhawks as recent as last year. Loved the guy. RIP Max.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Marc Bryant

I have many fond memories of Max. One of them is he and Fred White calling KU vs KSU basketball games on TV back in the old days. Those games were classic and those two men were Kansas legends for calling sports games. RIP Max.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Armen Kurdian

Once a living legend, now a true legend.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Joe Ross

What a loss!

What an incomprehensible loss...

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bee Bee

Forever a Jayhawk. R I P, Max.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

He will be missed. His career binds so many generations of us who went to KU.

3 weeks ago

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Eric TheCapn

Aww man. Max was the OG and a great guy. Rest in peace.

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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