In 25th season together, Ken Kal, Paul Woods share passion for Red Wings, broadcasting

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Color commentator Paul Woods, left, and play-by-play announcer Ken Kal.

Detroit — The team is losing more than it’s winning, the schedule is long and grueling (that never changes), and the workload never eases.

But, don't don’t think for a second Ken Kal and Paul Woods are going to complain.

They aren’t. They never will. Celebrating their 25th season together — the longest-running radio team in Detroit Red Wings history — the two veteran radio announcers' passion for the game of hockey remains as strong as ever.

Simply put, they love doing what they do.

“I still get excited about calling hockey games,” said Kal, hours before the Wings faced the Boston Bruins last week. “When they’re (the Wings) winning, it’s great. But even when they’re not winning games, I love broadcasting hockey games. Every game is different, you never know what is going to happen, and it’s just exciting for me, to get in the booth and start describing the action.”

While it’s been 25 years for Kal, Woods now is in his 36th season overall, having shared the booth with Bruce Martyn for over a decade before Kal took over.

The game is part of Woods’ fiber, and everyone that knows him knows that to be true.

“It becomes a part of  your life,” said Woods, who went from playing with the Wings for seven seasons to becoming a radio analyst a year after retiring. “I always enjoyed the game. When I was a young kid, I saw one NHL game live. My second game was me playing in it. So it has always meant a lot to me, it always has, when I see an NHL game.

“It’s always exciting. It’s still interesting. I never get tired of it.”

The two longtime voices of the Wings’ radio airwaves on WXYT (97.1 FM) have become synonymous with the team, a comfortable and enjoyable reminder that it’s hockey season in Detroit.

Kal and Woods have their fun while broadcasting games, and make it enjoyable for fans to listen to the games. But at the core of it, both guys are fans of the game, can relate to what fans want and need, and broadcast games accordingly.

Jeff Riger, the 97.1 FM sports reporter and intermission host for Wings' broadcasts for the past 15 years, says he believes fans become drawn to the humble and friendly tenor of Kal and Woods.

"They are, and it comes across on the radio, two of the greatest guys you'll ever meet," Riger said. "They're awesome. When I first took over doing the intermission, they could not have been more accommodating. I learned so much from them. They're legendary. We have great broadcasters in Detroit, we have had Ernie Harwell, we have Dan Dickerson, who is great, and Dan Miller is awesome, George Blaha has done it forever, Ken Daniels. 

"But Ken and Paul are legends. The success (calling championship Wings games), the memories. Not to mention, they're buddies. They work well off each other. Without sounding too cheesy, they're great human beings."

The two announcers are longtime friends, and before older, more weary bones came into play, they would regularly participate in winter sports when the Wings would go on western Canadian road trips.

"Great fun, great memories," Kal said.

Now it's coffee or a pregame meal in the media room, primarily, usually talking about hockey.

Kal appreciates the smooth transition Woods made possible when Kal to stepped into the play-by-play chair.

"We never stepped on each other from Day One, we always seemed to have a pretty good rhythm," Kal said. "You never know how the chemistry is going to be as to how you call the game, but from Day One, we never really stepped on each other, it's always been a good flow to the broadcast. 

"The other thing is, Paul is so knowledgeable about the game. He's like an encyclopedia. He also let me do my own thing. He never said something like 'Bruce did it this way, or that way'. He just let me be me, and as an announcer, that's all you can ask for."

Color commentator Paul Woods, left, and play-by-play announcer Ken Kal, work in their studio above the ice before the start of a game last week at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

The ability of Woods to dissect every NHL roster, know information about every player, is staggering to those around him.

"It really is amazing," Riger said.  "He knows every player in the league, knows everything about everyone. The detail is unbelievable."

Woods had no interest in broadcasting when he retired, but was asked a year after retiring by the Wings, and gave it a try.

"I wasn't thinking about doing it at all; I didn't spend much time with the media when I was playing," Woods said. "I don't think I even enjoyed it the first couple of years. But it was good to be part of the game, and do something with hockey, and slowly it began changing.

"You understand what is going on, what needs to be done, and the preparation that needs to be done, and just like playing, you start to like the preparation and the work and it becomes easier and you enjoy it more."

Kal is a lifelong Detroiter who graduated from Dearborn St. Alphonsus (he played and still as a soft spot for baseball) and earned a broadcasting degree from Wayne State. Kal's roots and passion for Detroit sports, Riger said, is another reason for Kal's popularity.

"He's so great to everybody. If you stop and talk to him, you could be there for minutes, he has time for everybody," Riger said. "Great story: In his neighborhood for Halloween, he'll get candy for the kids, then all the dads hang out on his patio while the moms have to take the kids out trick-or-treating because Ken is telling stories and having beers on the patio with the dads. 

"He has time for everybody and he bleeds Detroit sports being a lifelong Detroiter."

Kal is adamant that he is, still today, a fan first and foremost.

“I tell fans, “I am just like you, I love sports,'” Kal said. “The only difference is I call the games, but in reality, I am no different than the fans out there. I want them (the Wings) to do well, I want the city to do well and the I want the teams representing the city to do well. I like being in the stands, interacting with fans. 

"I'm one of them. I want them to win.

"But you have to be professional and that means for me, my job is to call the game and it’s not to editorialize or anything like that. I just call the game, and every now and then I might add something, but for the most part, that’s what I’m paid to do.

“Describe the action out there.”

Thus far, it hasn’t been a successful season for the Wings, who went through a stretch of losing 12 of 13 games before winning two games over the weekend.

Woods, having been through some difficult NHL seasons himself, understands what players go through. It also lends perspective to what announcers and fans had an opportunity to watch for so many years with the Wings’ organization.

“I feel so bad when they’re going through hard times because people don’t understand how much that affects (coaches and players). How much it hurts them," Woods said. "It’s not like you just move on to the next game. It hurts.

“We’ve been blessed in Detroit to have so many good teams over the years. To see those teams interact, and the education you get by watching and seeing how things are done. The championship teams, they have this selflessness about them. It’s not about individuals, it’s about the group. You think about (Steve) Yzerman and (Nick) Lidstrom, they were never above the fray, they were part of the team."

Neither Woods or Kal have any interest in retiring. Both plan on continuing as long as they're able to, and asked to.

You get the sense there will be more milestones than just the 25-year marker.

"Just seems like it was yesterday," Kal said. "Twenty-five years. Before you know it, here we are. Time does go by in a hurry."

Twitter: @tkulfan