CHICAGO – The team at Bill Hazen Productions is mourning the passing of longtime Chicago football analyst, Bill Gourley. Gourley died last week, soon after celebrating his 77th birthday with his family.
A former college and high school football coach, Bill Gourley first drew prominence as a football analyst for his work on Northwestern football radio broadcasts in the early 1980's. He was teamed with Chicago broadcaster Duane Dow on what was then known as WAIT Radio (820 khz).
“That's where I first heard him,” remembered Chicago broadcaster Bill Hazen. “I was working in St. Louis (at KMOX Radio) and was driving back home to Chicago. I remember thinking how very good Duane and Bill were together.
“Northwestern was in the middle of the longest football losing streak in the nation, but the broadcasts were upbeat and compelling. Duane and Bill upheld the long and time-honored tradition of so many Chicago broadcasters who covered non-competitive teams through the years. That was a wonderful broadcast team.”
One year later, Gourley was the analyst on Hazen's first Chicago sports broadcast, a Northwestern football game at Syracuse also airing over WAIT. Dow moved to television for the game broadcast.
Gourley would also team with Dow on USFL football games, as part of the broadcast team for the Chicago Blitz of the USFL. He later worked with Will Watson on Northwestern football. He also served on the broadcast team for the Aloha Bowl.
In the fall of 1987, Gourley was teamed with Hazen for the telecasts of Northern Illinois football during the Jerry Pettibone era. The two were also paired for the IHSA State Finals and numerous Chicagoland prep broadcasts through the years.
Gourley's football knowledge. developed from years of college and high school coaching, gave audiences a unique and entertaining view of the game. He had worked as an assistant coach at Brown University under Chicagoan Len Jardine, as well as head coach at North Park. His high school coaching included stints at North Chicago and Hoffman Estates.
When Gourley retired from coaching, it was Northwest suburban broadcaster Bruce Blair who reached out to him and suggested he should give broadcasting a try. Gourley debuted on high school football broadcasts airing over WWMM-FM (92.7 mhz) in Arlington Heights, where he drew the attention of broadcast executive John Hokin who was seeking an analyst for Northwestern football.
On the air, Gourley brought a fresh enthusiasm to game broadcasts while keeping the game simple and easy for fans to enjoy. He shunned much of the game's jargon, in favor of terminology that was more easily digestible. Few broadcasters told better stories about the game than he did.
Gourley was a student of the game and enjoyed studying film of the teams he covered. He often said he had a case of “square eyeballs” from watching so much film. Like many coaches, he was very skilled at rocking the images back and forth over and over again with a special projector control used by football coaches. This allowed him to analyze formations and blocking schemes, which he then simplified for the audience.
“Today we often hear the term “talent” applied to game announcers,” said Hazen. “But Bill had talent, real talent. His was the special stuff he brought to a broadcast...that which was unique to him. Broadcasting revealed his knowledge, his enthusiasm, his goodness and his sincere understanding of the audience. It was all natural.
“I think many people within the industry know how partial I was toward Bill professionally, but we also shared a wonderful friendship through the years. Bill had tremendous pride in his family and friends, and he was never at a loss for a story about their achievements. He also had great compassion for the struggles of others. He was a true friend.”
BHP extends its most sincere condolences to his wonderful wife, Carol, as well as his family and many friends in teaching, coaching and broadcasting.