Ken Hudson- NBA Pioneer And A Pretty Damn Good Broadcaster

My lasting memories of ‘Boston Shoot out’ Founder Ken Hudson

It was 1973, the year  that marked my initial introduction to the late Kenneth

Samuel Hudson.

Playing in the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League I certainly had heard the name. His name was so synonymous with Greater Boston Basketball that a signature ball with Ken’s autograph only seemed righteous.

But It wasn’t until I began my Professional Broadcasting career 3 yrs later that I finally got a chance to meet this giant of a short but powerfully influential man.

Ken came to the radio station WILD 1090 to be interviewed by our News Director (The Late Al Williams) about the upcoming Boston Shootout High School Basketball tournament. A tournament where High school stars nationwide would come to Boston and compete for a championship.

 The interview was being pre-recorded while I was on the air so I could only get in a wave and a smile which was returned before he left.

When the interview aired the next day the response was overwhelming. The Hot line was ringing and the listeners on the other end were even hotter when the calls were going unanswered because there was no one on the other side of the glass to pick it up. Fear not. Satisfied and elated listeners usually find their way to get through when they like what they hear with fear that it could be taken from them before they know it. The mail from listeners was 95% Boston Shootout and Ken Hudson’s interview. The results from that one hour interview could not be matched if they city had run a schedule of one months worth of commercials and promos. Through the roof!

A little more than a month later our General Manager informed us that do to such an overwhelming response to Hudson’s interview, prudence dictated that he had get Ken back in. He then happily announced to the staff that he had just hired Ken to do a Saturday morning sports talk show. 

I worked Saturday mornings so I was pretty excited about it because maybe now I would not only see him every week but also get a chance to formally meet him and pick his brain. 

The very First Saturday of the “Ken Hudson On Sports” show, was a guest who we all knew and promoted heavily the entire week was none other than the great Red Auerbach. Red walked in the studio and I lost my mind. I could not believe that I was a mere 2 feet from the living legend that I idolized for years. 

Ken introduced me and Red put out his hand avoiding eye contact and said “How are you young man”. I could only gulp and say, “Fine sir”. Meanwhile the record on the turntable had run out and there was dead air for a good 10 seconds while I stood and gawked as Ken was walking Red to the Newsroom.

After the interview Red quickly departed. Ken poked his head into the studio and said to me, “better get used to it. They’ll be no D- Level guests on my show. No time fillers, just THE the best. I promise”.

Promise fulfilled. The weeks that followed saw, Bob Ryan, Wayne Embry, Will McDonough, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Tony Conigliaro, Mendy Rudolph, Yaz, The star of the Boston Shootout, Adrian Dantley, Jim Brown etc.

Research studies tell us that less is more, word economy is supreme and that the longer you go the less effective you become. For the most part that is true but in my opinion, the only negative with ‘Ken Hudson On Sports’ was that the show was not long enough. 1 hour did not do it justice.

During that time Ken worked for Coca Cola, organized basketball leagues throughout the city, Headed the annual Boston Shootout and counseled young men and women about life in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

Ken never talked much about his time in the NBA and being the first African American full time referee. In fact he made every effort to avoid the subject. He insisted that dialogue be centered around the future and Shepherding initiatives to get more African American’s hired as NBA referees. 

Ken’s success with the Saturday show, his excellence in marketing with Coca Cola and his connections throughout the Greater Boston and New England area was widely respected. Anyone who’s ever worked in Radio and TV will tell you that its like a narcotic. It gets in your blood. You either fall in love with it or it falls out of love with you but it his highly addictive. The radio bug had bitten Ken and he was ready to accelerate. Ken’s Sales and Marketing expertise led to his being an integral part of WILD radio’s growth.

Ken eventually was hired as our General Manager so Ken became my boss which seemed like practically overnight. I was pumped! WILD 1090 was light on promotions and did very little other than seasonal bumper stickers until Ken came along and brought Nancy Wilson to town sponsored of course by WILD. Ken was a mover and shaker. He knew everybody!

It was one year and 6 days later that I left the station to start up a new FM frequency in Rochester, NY. I left with mixed emotion. I enjoyed working under Ken and learned a ton about promotions and marketing and was provided a rail into the world of sports.

Ken and I stayed in touch for awhile but life eventually took us into different directions.

Fast forward to to the late 80’s when I learned that Ken had relocated to Atlanta. Fate would have it that I too was heading to Atlanta to manage a heritage radio station that was “out of sight”. When I say out of sight it means that the station had listeners but there were so few that the station wasn’t showing up in the ratings. The numbers were out of sight- 0.0

Like the old Isley Brothers song we had “Work to do”.

I flipped the station to R&B Oldies and stuck in a midday talk show. My next move was to put on a weekend sports talk show so I went on the hunt for Ken Hudson.

Our Sports Director was a former Negro League baseball player by the name of Chico Renfroe. Chico was very connected and helped me locate Ken.

Ken and I reunited and I wasted no time in approaching him about doing a sports talk show with Chico Renfroe. I told Ken that I did not have any money budgeted for the show but if he worked with me I would do everything I could to somehow get him compensated.

Ken’s response was “Don’t worry about me. I’m doing well. Just get me some free albums and concert tickets every now and then and I’ll be fine”. Bet!

With the format flip and Ken Hudson’s “Sports Central” Saturday morning sports talk show, the station began to gain traction. Ken’s first guest on the show was Johnny Sample, a former NY Jet. He followed up the next week with none other then The Big O, Oscar Robertson. I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Oscar and Ken after the show. We talked for close to two hours about his life, social initiatives and of course the NBA. If you’ve not heard Oscar speak on the NBA, I encourage you to visit You Tube and various other platforms and listen to Oscar Robertson and his takes on the NBA past and present. The man is phenomenal!

Two years in and Ken Hudson informed me that he was leaving Atlanta to return to Boston to work for WEEI. I was so disappointed. Chico was a great co-host but he couldn’t go it alone so I canceled the Sports show.

To my surprise, It wasn’t more than a year before Ken returned to Atlanta. Ken told me that “you can never go back home” and that he hated WEEI.

Not long after his return, the NBA was having what was then mini summer leagues in Atlanta. Ken was hired to referee some of the games. That year was also the year that The Celtics had drafted Chauncey Billups and I got the chance to meet him and watch him play. (Dammit Rick Pitino).

After Summer league Ken, back at Coca Cola also wanted back in radio. I had changed stations where sports talk was nationally syndicated so there was no room to add an additional sports talk show.

However, there was an opening for General Manager which Ken was very much interested in but unfortunately politics entered and the job went to an outsider from North Carolina.

That same year, Ken a lifelong bachelor decided to finally get married. 

The wedding was a huge event attended by folks like Satch Sanders, Oscar Robertson and Hank Aaron.

Ken stayed married for 2 years until he admitted to himself that “I should never be married. I’m not good at it”.

Not long after his divorce Ken began traveling for Coca Cola as a Consultant. I didn’t see Ken very much after that until I ran into him at an Atlanta Hawks game where he told me that he had prostrate cancer but was in remission. Ken didn’t look the same and the energy he once displayed had dissipated.

Shortly after seeing Ken, I took another job and left Atlanta.

Once again Ken and I physically lost touch with each other. However, his influence was so ingrained in me that I never lost touch with him spiritually. 

It was years later when I got a call from a colleague telling me that Ken’s cancer had returned and that he suffered from brain damage after a fall. 

On May 9th 2012, Ken Hudson passed away in hospice care at the age of 72.

Its impossible for me to put in words the impact that Ken Hudson had on my life.

A diminutive gentleman with a big heart that touched many lives. Ken Hudson, a man of many talents and one of the most influential people in New England, Greater Boston Basketball and the NBA was gone.

Its been 12 years since Ken’s untimely death. I still think about him often. He is missed by so many who knew him. 

Kenneth Samuel Hudson- A true Pioneer.

Continue to rest well Sir….

 

  

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

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