23 years later, Charlotte Knights PA announcer is still romantic about baseball

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Ken Conrad has enraptured us with one of his many stories — either about what he’s done or who he’s met or where his voice has taken him — when his boss gives him a familiar cue.

Thirty seconds, Ken.

Conrad shoots us a look — “Sorry guys,” he says — and then transforms. He turns toward a monitor. Shoves on his headset. Cranes his neck so he can read the screen through the glasses that sit at the brim of his nose. He then mashes a button on his keyboard and belts out four ad reads into a microphone, one after the other. There’s not much fuss or flash, but there’s an artistry to this nonetheless. It looks and feels kind of like how a third baseman fields a grounder and puts out a speedy runner without any fret, making the tough look easy, baseball’s chivalry.

Conrad takes off his headset. I ask how many times he’d read those specific ads before.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen ‘em,” he says, unfazed.

He then asks:

“So where were we?”

Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad speaks during the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.
Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad speaks during the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.

We were, in essence, where Conrad has been for more than two decades: in the press box a few stories above home plate where Conrad works as public address announcer for the Charlotte Knights. Tuesday, the Knights’ home opener, marked the beginning of Conrad’s 23rd season.

At 70 years old, and with one of the longest tenures in the organization, the PA announcer is among the most recognizable and friendliest faces in Knights baseball. The longtime radio man voices everything from the lineups, to the inning recaps, to the middle-of-the-inning festivities — and he sometimes sings “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh, as he did Tuesday.

He works the crowd with the same enviable ease as he works the mic. When someone jabs him about his lifelong Yankees fandom, he responds, “Hey, 5-0, baby!” When his boss begins the 2024 opening day rundown meeting, he yells, “Whew! We’re gonna win it this year!” When reporters for The Charlotte Observer ask to interrupt his favorite job on one of his favorite days, he deflects and gets up from his seat, buying time, “I’ll go pretty myself up.”

Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad has been with the team for 23-years. On Tuesday, April 2, 2024 Conrad was behind the mike for the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC.
Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad has been with the team for 23-years. On Tuesday, April 2, 2024 Conrad was behind the mike for the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC.

So, where were we, you ask?

To Conrad, the lifelong baseball romantic:

Home.

“I look forward to it every season,” Conrad says over Truist Field’s music and balmy breeze, looking out over the baseball diamond encased by skyscrapers, one of the best views in all of the Queen City.

“It’s kind of like spring,” he said. “Flowers come out, baseball comes out.”

The Charlotte, NC skyline provides the backdrop as fans stand for the National Anthem at Truist Field on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. The Charlotte Knights hosted the Norfolk Tides in their 2024 home opener,
The Charlotte, NC skyline provides the backdrop as fans stand for the National Anthem at Truist Field on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. The Charlotte Knights hosted the Norfolk Tides in their 2024 home opener,

From Charlotte, to Fort Mill and back home

From a 10,000-foot view of Conrad’s life, if you choose to paper over all the twists and turns a career like radio/TV/journalism asks of a person, it’s not sensational to say it:

Conrad was born to do something like this.

Conrad was born in Florence, South Carolina, but Charlotte is home. His family moved here when he was 2 years old. He went to Alexander Graham Junior High. Then Garinger High School. He came “out of the womb” with his trademarked booming voice, he said, and always adored “the cablemen,” the guys with the “super big cameras” — so much so he’d use cardboard boxes for a camera for his in-home studios. One day, with the kind of assured naivete only kids possess, the middle-school-aged Conrad told his mother that he wanted to be a radio or TV broadcaster. She listened and inquired to the school board about transferring her son to a school that taught such a vocation.

Thus was the beginning of a long broadcasting career, he said.

Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad the team’s starters for their home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.
Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad the team’s starters for their home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.

Some highlights:

His first job came when he was in high school. It was with a Christian AM station in Charlotte called WHVN — yes, abbreviated “heaven” — which played gospel music on vinyl and preachers on tape. He met his wife, Bonnie, at a local TV station (WCNC) when he was 25. In 1982, they married, and soon after they moved to Dallas because Ken wanted to get back into radio. They stayed in Texas for nine years before moving back to Charlotte in 2001.

That year was when Conrad, who was working for MIX 106.1 FM, was first offered to join the Knights as a PA announcer on a part-time basis. His radio partner, John Homa, did the PA and needed someone reliable who could give him days off here and there. Conrad, although a lifelong baseball fan, said he didn’t think he was qualified. Everyone assured him he was.

In 2002, Homa left his post to Conrad. And Conrad would never leave.

Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad makes some quick notes prior to the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.
Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad makes some quick notes prior to the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.

Conrad estimates that he’s missed only 20 games over the course of 23 years. That means, like in show business, that there have been days when he has to rise above his vocal cords, to sing when he can’t speak, to keep the show going on at all costs. (Of course, cough drops are helpful, too, he said.)

In those decades, he saw the team play in Knights Castle in Fort Mill before moving over to the now-named Truist Field in uptown in 2014. He remembers all the players he’s seen, all the names he’s called: Lucas Giolito, who threw a no-hitter in 2017. Tim Anderson, the recent Chicago White Sox All-Star.

“I wish I paid more attention to Aaron Judge, when he came through the Scranton/Wikes-Barre Railriders,” he said. He then chuckled: “I mean, I knew he was good, but now I’m his biggest fan!”

Charlotte Knights mascot Homer entertains the fans from atop the team’s dugout roof at Truist Field on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. The Charlotte Knights hosted the Norfolk Tides in their 2024 home opener,
Charlotte Knights mascot Homer entertains the fans from atop the team’s dugout roof at Truist Field on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. The Charlotte Knights hosted the Norfolk Tides in their 2024 home opener,

‘Nothing like Opening Day’

Conrad doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Neither do those who work with him.

“I’ve been here 18 years, so he was in Fort Mill when I got here, and he did our PA out there. And I got to know him, and he’s just been a staple at this ballpark,” said Dan Rajkowski, chief operating officer of the Charlotte Knights.

Rajkowski said what strikes him about Conrad is his wit, his humor, his consistency, his ability to elevate the small moments and live up to the big ones, like the Triple-A All-Star game Charlotte hosted in 2016.

“He’s just a pleasure,” Rajkowski added. “Great personality. A wonderful pro.”

Tommy Viola, the team’s media spokesperson, agrees.

“I think of him as a friend, part of the family,” Viola said. “Ken is one of those guys who brightens up a room. He comes in, he’s joking around. He’s the one who’s been in that room the longest. He shows that passion he has for baseball as a fan. … He’s the voice that people remember when they come to the ballpark, and I think that makes an impact. I really do.”

Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad, left and Tommy Viola, right, the Vice President of Communications look over the rosters for the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.
Charlotte Knights public address announcer Ken Conrad, left and Tommy Viola, right, the Vice President of Communications look over the rosters for the team’s home opener against the Norfolk Tides on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC. Conrad has been with the team for 23-years.

There’s a bunch about the past that Conrad loves. He can wax poetic about the old Knights Castle in Fort Mill, about the foul balls that cracked his window once and almost hit him another time. After every home run, he pays homage to legendary play-by-play man Ken “Hawk” Harrelson of the Chicago White Sox (Charlotte’s major league affiliate) with a classic call that makes generations of White Sox fans smile: You can put it on the booooooooaaaaaaarrrrddd. YES!

The future excites him, too. When asked what would happen if a Major League Baseball franchise arrived in Charlotte, here’s all he could muster: “My God, Major League Baseball in Charlotte …”

But there’s nothing like the present — “nothing like Opening Day” — he said. All these years later, as Tuesday showed, Conrad’s still romantic about baseball, still coming to the ballpark with no intention of leaving.