By Guy Page
Ken Squier, a leader in Vermont media and a NASCAR legend, died last night, November 15, in the presence of his loving family. He was 88.
“It’s over. Ken earned his wings last night at 8:20 PM ET, surrounded by his incredible, loving family,” Dave Moody, lead turn announcer for Motor Racing Network and host of Sirius XM Speedway on Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio said. “I grieve for the loss of my dear friend and lifelong mentor, but rejoice in the fact that his pain and struggle are over.”
Squier took over WDEV, the Waterbury-based radio station, from his father, who founded it. He not only successfully ran the business side of the radio station, adding other stations to the WDEV network, but also was an accomplished radio personality. He was active in WDEV operations until quite recently.
On November 14, Squier’s daughter Ashleigh announced on the WDEV Facebook page he was in hospice care and the family was preparing to move him home.
“An update on our passionate and vibrant father, Ken Squier,” Ashleigh wrote November 14. “Dad is now in hospice care, resting peacefully and surrounded by the love of friends, family, and his dog. Tomorrow we hope to move him from the hospital to his home nestled in ‘his’ mountains of central Vermont. After such big and bold adventures, it seems inconceivable that one tiny intestinal blockage could fell him, but such is life. Our family is deeply grateful for so many of you who are praying for peace for Dad and comfort for us.”
Friends and listeners posted comments of respect and affection. A small sampling appears below:
“The Squiers and staff created something really special in WDEV. They somehow made all of us listeners feel like we were part of something bigger. They created a connection that has often comforted the community as much as it informed.” – Richard Pitonyak
“A Vermont institution— whose influence has helped keep our state a loving and tolerant community!” – David Schutz
“Ken is a true legend in radio, motor sports and community involvement.” – Rich Lee
“Such a great man. I am blessed that our paths crossed.” – Casey Murphy
Inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame
Born April 10, 1935, Kenley Dean Squier served as the lap-by-lap commentator for NASCAR on CBS from 1979 to 1997. He was also a lap-by-lap commentator for TBS from 1983-1999, according to his Wikipedia bio.
Squier was the first announcer to give lap-by-lap commentary for the Daytona 500 in 1979. He coined the term “The Great American Race” for the Daytona 500 and helped introduce the Australian developed in-car camera for the 1982 running of the event.
He is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018.
Vermont broadcasting and racing executive career
Squier’s father, Lloyd, owned and operated WDEV, and Ken began his on-air work at age 12. When Lloyd Squier died in 1979, Ken Squier inherited the station and remains its principal owner and CEO.
Squier’s racing announcing career began when he announced a stockcar race from the back of an old logging truck at a tiny dirt track in Vermont at age 14. He was the announcer at Malletts Bay and the Northeastern Speedway as well as the Monadnock Speedway in the 1950s. In 1960 he opened Thunder Road International SpeedBowl, the Barre quarter-mile oval (sold in April 2017.
Squier was among a group of six men who founded Catamount Stadium in Milton, which operated from 1965-1987. He was a frequent announcer at this track dubbed “The Home of the Brave”.
Squier was President/Owner of Radio Vermont, Inc. and its radio stations WDEV, WLVB, and WCVT. Squier sold the stations to Steve Cormier in 2017 but continued to host the novelty music showcase “Music to Go to the Dump By” until forced into retirement because of a case of COVID-19 in November 2020. After a long-term rehabilitation, Squier recovered from his illness by April 2021.
According to Wikipedia, Squier’s unique broadcasting style featured grandiose words and colorful metaphors. He often described NASCAR drivers in his era as “common men doing uncommon things”. He called a last-lap battle at the 1979 Daytona 500 as “two of the greatest, fiddling, fidgeting with first place” and summed up Dale Earnhardt’s wreck at the 1997 Daytona 500 with: “A true American hero, stymied another time at Daytona.”
His many catchphrases included describing wrecks as “side over side, end over end” and calling wrecked racecars “all torn up”. A battle for position involving a large pack of cars drew comparisons to “an Oklahoma land rush.” Drivers battling side by side would be “door handle to door handle” or “knuckle to knuckle”.
He was also known for the ability to switch between the “radio” style of broadcasting and “TV” styles. One of the best-known examples was the 1981 Talladega 500, when with a handful of laps to go the video went out and only the audio remained. Squier called the final laps and described Ron Bouchard’s upset victory in typical style: “Three cars came out of the tri-oval, lined up like a squadron of P-51s out of World War Two and down they came to the line!”
Gov. Phil Scott, a leading all-time stock car race winner at Thunder Road, released this statement this morning:
“Much will be made in Vermont and across the country of the NASCAR Hall of Famer’s extraordinary contributions to racing – from his time in the booth at CBS, where he coined the phrase ‘The Great American Race’, to his founding of the ‘Nation’s Site of Excitement’ at Thunder Road in Barre. His impacts on the sport are too numerous to count, and he deserves every one of those recognitions and many more.
“But for me, what I will remember most was his friendship and deep devotion to his community, which was the entire state. Ken was always looking for opportunities to give back and help those in need. He instilled those values as the backbone of Radio Vermont, which has been an essential part of the fabric of Vermont since its creation – always finding new ways to support more and more Vermonters.
“I will always cherish the memories of all the time we spent together, and be thankful for his mentorship, humor, creativity and passion. From the booth, he often described those racing as ‘common men doing uncommon things.’ But in reality he was describing himself — because Ken was indeed a very common man who did extraordinary things.”