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           — BRIGHAM YOUNG”                             

Remembering sportscaster Bill Marcroft

SALT LAKE CITY — Bill Marcroft was that kind of guy. The longtime Utah sportscaster, who passed away on Nov. 15 at the age of 89, left quite an impact on those he left behind. 

“One thing about Marcroft that epitomizes what kind of man he was is that every night after the 10 o’clock show, just before he left for home, he’d call his beautiful bride Joyce and say: ‘Honey, I’m coming home. I love you, be there in a few minutes,’” said former colleague and intern Rod Zundel.

It was something Marcroft did every single night. When Joyce later developed health problems, Bill devoted his life to taking care of her. 

“He was in regular contact with her. That’s clear, especially when we were on the road,” said Frank Dolce, who was Marcroft’s broadcast partner for Utah football from 1993-2004. “When we were on the road we would get to the stadium, by Bill’s demand, four or five hours early.”

Marcroft would set up the equipment since there were no engineers back in the day. Then came the usual conversation with Joyce.

“Every pregame, before we went on the air, he would call. He would call Joyce and just check in,” said Dolce, who remembered she would update Bill on things like high school scores prior to the internet era. 

 Marcroft was always well informed and up-to-date on things.

“He’s not just a University of Utah legend but a state of Utah legend. He was accomplished in various areas,” said sports radio host Patrick Kinahan, who got to know Marcroft while covering the Utes for the Salt Lake Tribune. “He was a newsman at heart. He was known in his later years, obviously, as the play-by-play guy and voice of the Utes. But he believed in journalism and he knew it. I think the greatest compliment that he ever gave me was that he put me on his level as a journalist.”

Kinahan considered it a tremendous compliment given all the things Marcroft accomplished in his career. He learned the radio business while serving the U.S. Air Force in Tripoli, Libya. The South High School graduate, who had a background in theatre, began his lengthy career in local media upon his return — radio before becoming a pioneer, of sorts, in television. Live reports, advertising, weather forecasts and children’s programming came early. An opportunity to do sports at KUTV, Ch. 2 spanned decades. The “Voice of the Utes” gave radio and television coverage to Utah football, basketball and gymnastics for a span of 30-plus years.

“He was a legend and I don’t know if people recognize that as much as they should. He knew what a story was and how to get a story and how to report a story,” Kinahan said. “So from a broadcast journalist standpoint, he is one of the icons in this state and one of the best there ever was.”

When Kinahan arrived in Utah after stints in Arizona and California, Marcroft helped bring him up to speed. Kinahan noted that Marcroft was a “walking encyclopedia” of the entire state. He knew all about BYU, Utah, the Jazz, the Stars, the Aggies — you name it. The stories came with his trademark enthusiasm, smile, booming voice and laughter. Sharing his knowledge was part of the deal.

“His ability to be your friend was just incredible,” Kinahan said. “And so when I got the news that he passed I couldn’t have been any more sad because I loved the man and he’s a great loss to the community and to me personally.”

Marcroft, who died of complications from prostate cancer, is survived by his wife, children Minette, Marc and Patrick, as well as six grandchildren and one great grandchild. 

“We spent a lot of time together in travel — plane flights and rental cars and meals,” Kinahan said. “And he would talk about his family.”

So much so, as it turned out, that he felt like he knew Marcroft’s family pretty well before ever meeting them. 

*****

By the time David James joined KUTV, Ch. 2 in August of 1992, Marcroft’s primary broadcasting duties were on the radio providing play-by-play for the Utah Utes.

“I still saw him once or twice a week and the cool thing is I like sports history,” said James, who knew a little bit about the Salt Lake CIty market as an NBA fan and as someone who grew up attending San Diego State games. “I knew about the WAC and I certainly knew about BYU. I didn’t know as much about Utah. The program hadn’t been good and not many games were on TV.”

It didn’t take long, however, for Marcroft to bring James up to speed with the Utes and other teams in the state.

“He just filled me in on the history of Utah sports and he had all kinds of stories. He and Reece Stein knew so many people,” James recalls. “They told me so many stories, filled in kind of a backstory of what was going on and why some stuff happened and who was who. It was awesome. They were both great, but Bill was really good to me.”

James added that Marcroft would often speak about the Utes with certainty and enthusiasm, even in the Pac-12 era when he was no longer the team broadcaster.

“They weren’t paying him to follow them but he was just all in,” said James, who noted that Marcroft was always connected.

The men would catch-up often, swapping updates on folks and passing along greetings. They visited at the television station just a few months before Marcroft passed away. He was still doing voice-over work and using the audio bay to do charitable work and such.

Marcroft’s booming voice and laughter were legendary.

“Everyone knows the Marcroft laugh,” James said.

Not hearing it anymore has been difficult for those who knew him best. James acknowledged its a combination of sad times and the celebration of a great life. Marcroft, he explained, was at the top of the market as a broadcast journalist in the 1960s and 1970s. He even did regular news, headlined by coverage of an airplane crash at the Salt Lake CIty Airport in 1965. Marcroft, though, was perhaps most famous for how he treated others.

“So that’s definitely a celebration of life. You don’t want that to get lost,” James said. “But it is sad that you’re not going to bump into him again and you’re not going to hear that laugh again.”

*****

Although Marcroft and fellow sportscaster Paul James provided radio play-by-play for rivals Utah and BYU, back in the day, the duo had mutual respect for one another.

“They could get at it pretty good, but at the end of the day they both knew they were friends. That was never in doubt,” said David James, who noted they ran some old footage on “Talkin’ Sports” following Marcroft’s death. “We dug up some old stuff and one of them was a clip of him just giving it to Paul James.”

The latter slipped away from punches like a boxer, David James explained, before Marcroft unloaded his signature laugh to end the friendly banter.

Zundel knew it well. He was an intern for Marcroft and spent a lot of time with him over the years.

“I owe my entire career to Bill Marcroft and I’m not just saying that because he’s passed. I really do,” Zundel said. “He gave me my start. He was my cheerleader. He gave me a great example to pattern my career after. He gave me every opportunity and the confidence to try to fulfill those opportunities. So I can honestly say if it wasn’t for Bill Marcroft I would not have had a 35-year career.”
It began with a phone call. Zundel’s former head coach at Bear River High School, Mark Pierce, knew of Rod’s desire to pursue broadcasting. After getting a job at Utah coaching defensive backs under Jim Fassel, Pierce followed up by speaking to Marcroft on Zundel’s behalf.

“So he called Marcroft and gave me his number,” said Zundel, who then called the broadcaster. “I said I would like to come down and learn the business.”

Marcroft’s response was swift.

“He said OK and I said: ‘What do I have to do?” Zundel recalled. “And he said get your butt down here. Let’s go. So that’s how it all got started.”

A friendship was formed during the internship. Zundel credits marcroft for giving him confidence and motivation.

In an era where games weren’t televised every night and computers hadn’t developed, Marcroft and Zundel had a tradition between the newscasts at 6 and 10 p.m. Marcroft would always make a run to Crown Burgers or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“We would just sit and talk, and not just talk about sports,” said Zundel, who noted that the discussions were often about life and philosophies. “Bill was more than a sportscaster.”

Zundel added that Marcroft had amazing adventures amd stuff he had done that could fill several lifetimes.

“We would sit there by ourselves, just us two up in the sports room at Ch. 2 between 6 and 10 having Crown Burgers, fried chicken and just talk,” said Zundel, who would spend five days a week at the station (instead of the required two) and served as an intern for 2½ years.

“It was great,” he continued. “One of the things he said was just be yourself. You can do you better than anyone else. Have fun and when you watched Billy he had fun on the air.”

*****

Marcroft’s lengthy tenure with the Utes provided wisdom for others.

“Bill was one of a kind, kind of the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ in a lot of ways,” Dolce said. “I don’t know if I have any regrets about my relationship with Bill other than, especially in his later years, I just didn’t take enough time to communicate with him. We saw each other occasionally and we were in touch occasionally, but it was just one of those things you think after someone’s gone that why didn’t I spend more time.”

When they worked together, Marcroft and Dolce did have some rough patches initially.

“When I eventually figured out that Bill really knew what he was doing in the broadcast booth, I think I started to really improve as a broadcaster,” said Dolce, who was impressed with Marcroft’s approach. “The enthusiasm that he carried every time he was on the radio, or on TV, or calling a game, whatever it was he was just a complete professional. He was engaged in the game and in the team.”

Marcroft’s tone often told the tale of how the Utes were faring. Dolce explained he was engaged in what was happening and it mattered to him. He wanted everyone to experience exactly what he was experiencing. Marcroft also took time throughout his career to learn how to pronounce names correctly because he felt everyone deserved that respect.

“It wasn’t just in the broadcast booth. I mean as good as he was as a broadcaster, he was just a better human being,” Dolce said. “I watched him on countless occasions interact with people and interact with fans who had the same questions and same comments and wanted to know the inside scoop of Utah football or basketball. He always had time for anybody who asked. He never walked away. It wasn’t a chore for him. He made those people feel, you know, like they were Spence Eccles — like they deserved all of the information that he could give and he gave it. He was just really engaged with everybody.”

That’s meaningful, Dolce added, and something he learned from Marcroft. Treating others with kindness is something he did even in the late stages of his illness.

“He just had that same kind of energy and focus and the way that he approached it,” Dolce said. “I know he wasn’t doing well, especially the last several months, but you would never know it. He had the same smile on his face, the same kind of gait.” 

Because of the pandemic, no public funeral services were held for Marcroft. 

“It’s a shame that he can’t get a send off because it would be packed, man, There will be so many people, so many stories and he deserves a sendoff,” Kinahan said. “And it bothers me because of the world that we live in, in a situation, and he can’t get that right now.”

Author Dirk Facer was also befriended by Marcroft. On his first football road trip covering the Utes for The Daily Utah Chronicle more than 30 years ago, Facer was invited by Marcroft to join the media for dinner the night before the game. They remained friends over the decades that followed.

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