Bob Walsh

Bob Walsh • Written September 2014

Bob Walsh has a diverse background in international relations, sports and radio and television. He currently is working behind the scenes to stress the importance of citizen diplomacy among the U.S., Russia and the countries in the Middle East—no easy task. His improbable life has been captured in the book titled “Who The Hell is Bob?” by Steve Rudman.

Bob is probably best known for his international diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. His organization partnered with TBS founder Ted Turner and the former USSR’s Ministry of Radio and Television (Gosteleradio) and the Ministry of Sports (Goskomsport) during the Cold War to produce the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. Turner started the event in 1986 in response to the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games.The Summer-long Goodwill Games in Seattle and the Northwest involved 54 countries and 23 sports. It also presented a major arts and cultural program, trade show and exchange program. Some 2,000 Soviet citizens lived in homes with Americans through a Rotary Club International program. The Goodwill Games was the largest exchange in the history of the U.S. and the USSR. President Jimmy Carter has publicly credited the 1990 Games with playing a significant role in ending the Cold War.

In 1992, Walsh partnered with Russian entrepreneurs and cosmonauts to launch a capsule on a Soyuz rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia into orbit for seven days. The capsule landed off the coast of Washington and now resides in the Boeing Museum of Flight. The mission is believed to be the first commercial space flight in history. 

Walsh also conducted humanitarian efforts in Belarus, Russia, and the Republic of Georgia during and after the Cold War and helped bring dozens of young people to the U.S. for major medical operations. He also brought the first major western investment in Georgia, working with President Eduard Shevardnadze and then Ambassador to the U.S. Tedo Japaridze, resulting in the development of downtown Tibilis, the capital of Georgia.

Bob directed the first western relief efforts at the request of President Gorbachov after the Armenian earthquake in 1988, the first time American citizens and aircraft were allowed behind the Iron Curtain without visas since World War II. He also negotiated with the USSR to allow the historic swim of the Bering Strait by cold-water swimmer Lynne Cox in 1987 and the Goodwill Climb of Mt. Everest by Chinese, Soviet and American climbers, led by Jim Whittaker.

Today, youth unemployment in the Middle East is nearing 50% and Walsh is working to help alleviate the problems that underlie the current catastrophic conditions.

In the world of sports, Walsh first served as assistant general manager of the Seattle Supersonics from 1973 to 1977, produced many major local sporting events and has been credited by the NCAA for turning its annual college basketball tournament into “March Madness” when he was  executive director of the Host Committee for the 1984 Final Four in Seattle.

Walsh also is acknowledged as having given Seattle the still-unofficial nickname of The Emerald City—with a little help from broadcast buddies like Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Walter Cronkite, who joined in promoting this “great new name” on their broadcasts.

In his own broadcast career, following graduation from Marietta College in Marietta OH, he began as program director at WNAC Radio in Boston from 1962 to 1967 and later PD at KABC in Los Angeles from 1967 to 1973, where he hired NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell to work at the station in 1969. Russell returned the favor by naming Walsh assistant GM of the Sonics in 1973 after Russell had moved to Seattle as coach and GM of the team.

Bob’s awards are numerous and prestigious, beginning with the Supreme Soviet Award from Chairman Gorbachov for his humanitarian activities during the Cold War. He was named an Honorary Citizen of the Republic of Georgia by former President Shevardnadze. And he received the World Affairs Council Award in 1990 for his work on the Goodwill Games, during which he overcame seemingly impossible odds to produce an event that was a huge success, both politically and economically.

Other awards include the Washington Man of the Year Award, the Marietta College Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Abe Lincoln Award for producing groundbreaking documentaries on ABC Radio and induction into the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame.

I’m a Massachusetts boy having grown up (not a lot) near Plymouth (my friends and I once stole Plymouth Rock.) After graduating (barely) from Marietta College in Ohio in 1962, it was back to Boston and work at WNAC Radio and Television where I started as a record librarian, then as Program Director and Executive Producer. These were very exciting years in Boston and I was fortunate to work closely with the Kennedy's, Richard Cardinal Cushing (who loved Jack Daniels and cigarettes), Maestro Arthur Fiedler (who  loved Jack Daniels and drove his own hook and ladder to fires) and Bob and Ray. I produced the Al Capp (creator of Li'l Abner) television syndicated show. Al was infamous for chasing many Daisy Mae's around Beantown. Our guests included Tallulah Bankhead, Bob Hope,  the Kingston Trio, Bob and Ray, Dr. Timothy Leary, Durwood Kirby, a very young George Carlin, Fannie Flagg, Robert Shelton (Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan), and Van Johnson. (anybody remember those folks?) Our Sports Director was Curt Gowdy, who became a close friend until he passed away in 2006.

From Boston to Los Angeles in 1966 to work for KABC Radio, the real first all talk station which remained No. 1 in the Southern California market for almost 20 years. Wonderful experience. We had the best talent available because Hollywood celebrities were anxious to have a show. Our Sports Director at KABC was Keith Jackson--with a Seattle connection at KOMO-TV and Washington State. Imagine the opportunity of working with two of the giants in sports broadcasting, Curt Gowdy and Keith Jackson! At KABC, we produced many ground-breaking and controversial programs, one on gay rights in 1972....although in those days, it was called "homosexuality." A "little" ahead of our time.

We hired Bill Russell, the Hall of Fame NBA player, to host a 5-7PM talk show. He rocketed to No. 1 in the L.A. market. Three years later he asked me to join him in Seattle when he was offered the job to be coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics. The same day I was offered the job as  the first executive producer of Good Morning America (it had never been on the air and was going to be tested in Chicago on WLS-TV for a year.) Bad decision? I'll never know, but things worked out fine. My wallet would have been better off with GMA, that's for sure!

It was Slick Watts, Freddie Brown, Dick Snyder, Spencer Haywood, Dennis Johnson, Tommy Burleson among the cast of characters for a few years, then Bill and I left and Lenny Wilkens went on to win the championship.  Then on to representing athletes and others---many Seahawks including Jim Zorn, Steve Largent, Sam McCullum, Steve Raible, Paul Johns, Matt Millen of the Raiders and Mike Guman of the Rams. John Thompson, GM of the Seahawks and I got to know each other well, negotiating dozens of contracts. One of my biggest problems was keeping Jim Zorn and Steve Raible (now also a MARKETING IMMORTAL), happy as roommates. They lived different lives! Raible would stop at the liquor store on the way home and buy his Kentucky bourbon (he is from Lua-vil) and when he was gone from the apartment, Jim would flush the booze down the toilet. This was a regular occurence. I tried to negotiate cases of bourbon for a certain number of passes caught by Raible into his contract, but Thompson wouldn't buy it. Next time you see Steve on TV, think about how sad he was to come home to an empty bottle.  We also represented a dozen Sounders, Linda Fernandez, Tracie Ruiz and movie producer Stanley Kramer.

After forming Bob Walsh and Associates we marketed a contest for the Visitors and Convention Bureau which produced the Emerald City name. At first the press and most people didn't like the name, but after we got several national media folks to promote it, Seattle became and has remained “the Emerald City.” Credit the many mentions it received from Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football, Curt Gowdy,  and from Walter Cronkite, Larry King (on radio) and CBS during the Final Four. We also produced the first of nine Emerald City Marathons, are credited by the NCAA for starting the March Madness Celebration at the Final Four in '84, went on to put on the '89 NCAA Men's Final Four and the '88 and '89 NCAA Women's Final Four, the '87 NBA All-Star Game, NCAA Soccer Championships and dozens of other events. The real brains behind the events was our president, Kimberly Brown, and her wonderful staff made up of mainly of very talented ladies. In ’88 we all experienced a devastating loss with the death of Diane Ballasiotes, who was a member of our staff.

We were successful in obtaining the 1990 Goodwill Games for our region in 1985. Ted Turner created the concept and the first Games were in Moscow in ’86 and the State of Washington hosted them in ’90. The USA-Soviet event brought thousands of Soviet citizens to the region during the Cold War and produced major people-to-people projects. A very gifted staff, which numbered in the hundreds, and more than 7,000 volunteers pulled off a spectacular sports, arts and cultural event. I spent much of my time in the USSR and continued working there for another 15 years after the Cold War (which seems to be starting up again) ended.

Steve Rudman wrote a book titled "Who the Hell is Bob?" about these and many other crazy experiences over the past 50 years: Boston and Hollywood in the 60's;  flying with drunken cosmonauts and fighter pilots on Khrushchev's "Air Force One" from Seattle to Petropovlosk during the Cold War;  vodka-fueled negotiations in the Kremlin;  a week- long party with 500 Russian sailors, Seattle women, the KGB and FBI aboard a Russian spy ship docked in Seattle; and even secret and never before released information on MARKETING publisher Larry Coffman and fellow IMMORTALS Steve Raible and Dave Syferd forever leaving their mark in the former Soviet Union.

It’s an honor to be inducted as a MARKETING IMMORTAL, along side a bunch of great people. And, I even got to meet Jim Copacino (a genius) at the last EVENT!