RADIO VOICE FOR RAYS
‘Classic’ South Sider worked on Sox broadcasts
Fox-32 sports anchor Lou Canellis and Dave Wills were close friends since 1969. They attended kindergarten, grade school and high school together. After college, they lived together. As professionals, they worked in sports media together.
So outside of Wills’ immediate family, perhaps no one knew him better than Canellis.
“He was focused and incredibly loyal,” Canellis said Monday. “I will never forget, we were in Mr. Tucker’s class, which was basically an English grammar class at Oak Lawn High School, and we had to make a tape, like a broadcast. I remember Dave at that time wanting to be a play-by-play guy.”
Wills lived out his dream as the radio voice for the Tampa Bay Rays since 2005. For the 11 years before that, he hosted White Sox radio pregame and postgame shows around the call of John Rooney and Ed Farmer. Wills, 58, died Sunday morning in his sleep at his home in Lutz, Florida.
“My only regret for Dave is that — and Dave would tell you that John Rooney is the best play-by-play guy in baseball — so Dave’s biggest problem was he was doing pregame and postgame behind Michael Jordan,” Canellis said.
“I talked to him about this: Did he regret the fact that he went to Tampa for a great opportunity? He was such a diehard Sox fan. But he took advantage of the opportunity and had no regrets. The ownership embraced him, and he built [a career] in Tampa, which I was so proud about.”
Wills left a profound impression on the Rays’ community. Manager Kevin Cash left the team’s springtraining complex to visit Wills’ wife, Liz, and family at their home. Fans delighted in listening to Wills and partner Andy Freed, and not just locally. Several surveys in recent years rated Wills-Freed as one of the best radio tandems in the majors.
On his podcast, “Countdown,” Keith Olbermann praised Wills’ description and objectivity in his calls. But he was taken most by his voice, which Olbermann called a “gigantic, larger-than-life radio voice. Strong and broad, and yet welcoming and friendly.”
“Odds are pretty good you never heard Dave Wills broadcast a baseball game,” Olbermann lamented about the Rays’ drawing power, “and I am sorry about that. He was just terrific at it.”
Wills also was the radio voice for the Class A Kane County Cougars and UIC basketball. He worked at WMAQ and WMVP in Chicago and hosted pregame and postgame shows for Notre Dame football and basketball.
“Dave was the classic Chicago South Sider,” said Scott Reifert, the Sox’ vice president of communications. “Friendly, welcoming, big voice, big character, caring and diehard when it came to his sports. The Chicago genes never completely left him, and he was celebrated each time the Rays visited. Dave loved baseball, and his voice and presence will be missed in ballparks and by fans across the major leagues. A sad day.”
Wills didn’t work the last two weeks of the 2022 regular season because of a heart issue. He returned to the booth in the playoffs and appeared to be in good health this spring. The Rays are planning to honor Wills during the season.