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Mike Roberts, who provided New Mexicans with news of their Lobos for four decades, died Tuesday. He was 83.
His voice, often imitated, scarcely duplicated, crossed the KKOB-AM radio airwaves with reports of baskets and touchdowns scored by the UNM Lobos from 1966-2008.
Roberts, who was battling cancer, died in Albuquerque. He was a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, he was born on July 17, 1933, in Carthage, Mo.
His broadcasting career began in Atmore, Ala., in 1951. Along the way, he was heard over the airwaves in Key West, Fla., and Laramie, Wyo.
Roberts, who served as sports anchor for KOAT-TV and KOB-TV, also called games for the Albuquerque Dukes and Isotopes.
In his later years, he called high school games for 101.7 FM, retiring for good in 2013.
But his legacy is as “Voice of the Lobos.”
“When I became athletic director, he’d already been voice of the Lobos for a long time,” Rudy Davalos said. “He did so many things for us. I think the world of him. … When you thought of Lobo sports, you thought of Mike Roberts.”
Roberts was occasionally criticized for being a “homer,” Davalos said, but that was part of his charm.
“He had covered so many games, and been on the inside so much,” Davalos said. “He was more than an announcer, he was a fan. He was very talented, had a great voice. I thought he had a great connection with the people in the state of New Mexico.”
UNM honored Roberts during a 2010 basketball game in the Pit, and he received a loud ovation.
“I’ve always appreciated them and their support down through the years,” he said that night. “I probably couldn’t have lasted as long as I did without them.”
Greg Remington, former UNM sports information director, was one of Roberts’ broadcast partners for football and worked closely with him for nearly 25 years.
“It triggers so many emotions,” Remington said. “And 99 percent of them make me laugh and smile. There were so many good times that we shared in our roles covering the Lobos. Plane rides and bus rides. Good meals and bad meals. Great conversations.”
Remington said Roberts was in his element on the road.
“The coaches treated him like he was a member of the team,” Remington said. “They knew how much he was revered by the community, by the Lobo faithful.”
John Whisenant, assistant basketball coach under Norm Ellenberger said: “Mike was a good friend, good guy, who bled Lobo red. And I think he was a big part, along with Bob King, in making Lobo basketball what it became.”
Fran Fraschilla, who coached Lobo basketball from 1999-2002, got an invitation from Roberts to breakfast on his arrival.
“He gave me the address of some feed store out on the West Side of Albuquerque,” Fraschilla said. “This place had breakfast in it. And another time, it was a pharmacy. It was great food. Mike knew the holes in the wall, for sure, but what I remember about not only the uniqueness of going to eat with Mike at a feed store and a pharmacy was each time he just wanted to give me advice about being the coach of the Lobos.
“As many people know that’s a unique experience, and he understood the person who coaches that team has a challenging job. And he did everything he possibly could to make it good for me. It was part of his makeup. He was a Lobo through and through.”
Former Lobo football player Robin Cole called Roberts “a tremendous asset for Lobo football, really as far as that’s concerned for Lobo sports. He had a tremendous voice and his delivery was always super.”
Ex-Lobo basketball player and radio analyst Hunter Greene said Roberts “gave us all the feeling that we were watching the games live through his accurate play-by-play. … A huge loss for our community.”
Former UNM basketball coach Steve Alford wrote in an email: “Mr Roberts was simply iconic to all of New Mexico. I’m honored to have known him and worked with him. I always appreciated his kindness and who he was as a person. He loved the Lobos, he loved Albuquerque and he loved New Mexico. All of this passion you could hear, whether it was over the airways or in person.”
Alford was the last UNM basketball coach he worked with. Roberts was fired as the school’s play-by-play announcer in April 2008.
“I’m in shock,” Roberts said at the time. “You’ve got to feel that sometime something’s got to end, but you would like to think it would be handled differently, I guess. I don’t know.”
After the firing, former Lobo football player Aaron Givens wrote Roberts through the Journal:
“Thanks, for not only doing a good job, but for supporting the Lobos in good and bad times (1987)!! Please forgive us for forgetting that you did the best you could in your sickness and in health. On behalf of hundreds of ex-student athletes, Thank you for everything. Please forgive us for not thanking you as much as we should have.”
In 1972, Roberts took a job covering University of Washington football, but lasted less than a year because he said the wet weather depressed him.
In 1992, 10 days after undergoing double-bypass heart surgery, Roberts called UNM’s 24-7 football victory over TCU.
“If you get tired, stop,” then-athletic director Gary Ness told him.
“If we’re winning, I won’t get tired,” Roberts told him.
“Mike was the ultimate fan,” ex-Lobo basketball player George Scott said. “In his eyes, every shot we missed on the court was due to us being fouled by the opposing team. Every turnover we made was due to the referee making a bad call. Mike, the ultimate homer, is now in his final home, up above, with fellow Lobo legends coach Bob King, Stormin’ Norman and Big Mel Daniels.”
Roberts, who was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys and Louis L’Amour, served in the Air Force from 1952-56, including stops in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iraq.
Roberts was the 50th inductee and first broadcaster elected to the Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. He received a distinguished service award from the UNM Athletics Hall of Honor in 1999 and was inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Roberts’ signature sign-off was: “So long, everybody.”
Journal staff writers Geoff Grammer and Mark Smith contributed to this article.