Dave Grosby has his good days and bad days, he says — cheerfully, I might add. Such is life with Parkinson’s disease, even for the man whose fun-loving outlook shaped what, by acclamation, is the preeminent career in Seattle sports-talk-radio history.
“I still have issues, but knock on wood, today’s a good one,” he told me.
Grosby was out walking with his wife Bonnie one day last year when she noticed his arm wasn’t moving. He knew from his mother’s bout with Parkinson’s that was “a dead giveaway” symptom of the nervous-system disorder that remains shrouded in mystery and dread — no test, no cure, no full understanding of what causes it.
Doctors indeed confirmed Grosby had Parkinson’s. It was the topper in a whopping series of health issues with which Grosby, now 59, had been saddled, including sextuple heart bypass surgery in 2005 that forced a dramatic change in lifestyle. Grosby also has had ulcerative colitis since he was 29. He has ongoing coronary issues.
And in 2018, Grosby underwent arterial-bypass surgery in his leg, followed by chronic insomnia that he calls “the worst thing I’ve faced so far. … The insomnia nearly drove me insane.”
Grosby estimates he went three or four months without getting more than an hour of sleep a night.
“I’ll tell you, I felt suicidal,” he says now. “You really had a desperate feeling of not being able to go on.”
Shortly thereafter his Parkinson’s was identified, and around that time Grosby fell into depression. Characteristically for someone who vowed to “live his life out loud,” Grosby has been open in sharing his tribulations, hopeful of helping people in similar straits.
And yet this story is not one of pity, not by a long shot. Grosby’s mindset is to accentuate the positive, hard as it might be to find at times. Among other things, it’s a story of how treating people well over a 30-year career in Seattle paid off in a time of need.
“I’ve never met a guy who was better with relationships than Groz,” said longtime KJR-AM colleague Dave “Softy” Mahler, using the nickname that has become Grosby’s calling card.
Friends and colleagues have rallied around Grosby, who has had two stints at each of the primary sports stations in town, KJR and 710 ESPN (formerly known as KIRO).
For most people, switching back and forth like that would inevitably lead to hard feelings at one of the stations, if not both. Instead, as close friend and longtime radio partner Mike Gastineau says, “Dave could walk into any KIRO gathering, or any KJR gathering — forever — and be received with cheers and hugs.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic grounded him at his downtown condo, that was exactly the reaction whenever Grosby stepped foot into the 710 ESPN offices.
“The only person I’ve ever seen create a bigger stir was Ice Cube,” said Mike Salk, director of programming for Bonneville Seattle, 710’s parent company. “People come up, they hug him, they’re so happy to see him.”
Indeed, the word “beloved” is not too strong to characterize Grosby’s place in the town’s radio hierarchy.
Mahler calls Grosby “the titan of sports-talk radio in Seattle, the godfather. He’s an inspiration to a lot of people, including me, that came behind him.”
It was intensely moving to Grosby to see the outpouring of affection and support last fall when his diagnosis became public and he stepped down from his show on 710 ESPN with Bob Stelton and Tom Wassell.
In August, Salk offered what Grosby — who had hosted shows in Seattle since joining KJR in 1991 — gratefully referred to as “a lifeline.”
Rather than forcing him out — not unheard of in the harsh radio business — the station worked with Grosby to formulate a plan in which he now does a daily spot on John Clayton’s show, serves as a substitute host as needed and maintains a digital presence.
“When Groz got sick, the only thought was, ‘How do you do right by a Seattle radio legend?’ ” Salk said.
Said Grosby: “I’m eternally grateful to the people at KIRO, who could very easily have cut me loose.”
That’s not to say the Parkinson’s diagnosis hasn’t hit Grosby hard. Yet Gastineau says he’s never once heard Grosby complain — not over various work setbacks over the years, such as losing his solo KJR show in 2008 — and not even over his staggering litany of health issues.
“I think I have as good an attitude as I can possibly have,” Grosby said. “In my particular case, I usually feel pretty lousy at the end of the day. It’s rough. But it’s the hand you’re dealt. I always remind myself it could have been a lot worse. I have a nice place, a wonderful wife, health care. But certainly I go through some tough times. There’s no getting around it.”
Grosby likes to use the term “my Parkinson’s” to describe his challenges, because one characteristic of the disease is that it manifests itself differently for everyone. It’s a “designer disease,” in the words of Jean Allenbach, executive director of the Pacific Northwest chapter of American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA).
Grosby so far has avoided the motor issues of Parkinson’s such as tremors and involuntary movements known as dyskinesia. But he adds, “The thing about Parkinson’s is, it’s coming. Parkinson’s doesn’t kill you; it stays with you.
“That’s why the word optimism is used a lot. For those of us with it, it’s a very tough word because although it’s not a death sentence, you have a sentence on your head. You have a life sentence. You know things are going to deteriorate, period. That’s out there, but it’s not the sort of thing I really dwell a whole lot about.”
He adds, “You can’t control what you have, but you can control how you feel about what you have. I try to keep that in mind as much as I can.”
Grosby’s biggest challenges are non-motor issues — “and there are a million of them with Parkinson’s,” he says. Fortunately, medication has helped abate the insomnia and depression, both of which are common Parkinson’s symptoms.
He deals with stiffness and soreness, though it doesn’t keep him from a daily walk. Grosby has been a devotee of walking since his heart surgery, which is fortuitous. Allenbach says the standard line of doctors with regard to Parkinson’s patients is that the five most important things are exercise, exercise, exercise, diet and medication.
Allenbach, an old acquaintance of Grosby’s, reached out immediately upon hearing the diagnosis. And Grosby, in turn, threw himself into learning as much as possible about the disease, and helping out the APDA in any way possible.
Grosby is the co-host of the upcoming “APDA Northwest Virtual Optimism Walk” (with information at www.apdaparkinson.org/groz) on May 31 to raise money for Parkinson’s research and support. He has emceed numerous Parkinson’s events, helped get public-service announcements on the air and marshaled his vast array of contacts.
“He just knows everyone,” Allenbach said. “If we need something, we say, ‘Groz, do you know someone who can do this?’ He’ll say, ‘Yeah, let me connect you.’ He’s really supported us in many ways.”
None more important than in raising visibility for Parkinson’s, and putting a human face on the disease. In their initial conversation, Allenbach and Grosby discussed how Parkinson’s remains in the periphery despite a new diagnosis every nine minutes.
“Having someone like Groz that’s willing to speak up and use his voice and use his contacts to spread the word and say, ‘I have Parkinson’s,’ is huge,” she said.
Grosby’s vivacious personality, which connected with listeners on the air and led to some hard living off the air, still shines through. Grosby in his younger days famously loved a good time. He smoked nearly a pack a day, drank a bit too hard, had an unhealthy diet and didn’t exercise.
All that caught up to Grosby with the heart surgery. The first thing he did, in his cardiologist’s office, was take the Marlboro pack from his pocket and throw them in the trash. He never smoked again.
“I started backing off of having too much fun. But the damage had been done,” Grosby said. “If I have a regret, I should have taken better care of myself.”
But then in the next breath, he said, “I don’t regret having a good time. I certainly enjoyed every aspect of my career, and the interaction with people in my career was just a treasure to me.”
The career was spawned in Akron, Ohio, where Grosby’s father Al worked as a salesman for the local radio and TV station, WAKR. When his dad gave the 11-year-old Grosby a tour, and he saw the radio guys crew “smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, talking animatedly into these huge foam microphones in these white cork-boarded rooms, I said, ‘Well, that’s for me.’ “
The precocious Grosby was doing high-school roundups on WAKR at age 13. The station’s Motown disc jockey, Sam Whitworth, taught Grosby the ropes when he was 15.
The family moved to New York when Al Grosby was hired to run a station in White Plains. He obtained the rights for the station to broadcast men’s basketball games at nearby Iona College, where a rising coach named Jim Valvano had taken over.
Al Grosby informed Valvano that his son, Dave, would call the games. And, oh, yeah, he’s only 16, so you’ll have to keep an eye on him on the road. Valvano balked, but when an embarrassed young Grosby assured him he wouldn’t be any trouble, Valvano agreed — and Dave called their games as a high-school student, including a stint in the NCAA tournament.
“Valvano bed-checked me,” he recalled. “I had to go to practice with those guys, which was a great experience. He was like a surrogate dad for me for about three years doing those games.”
Grosby attended Pace University in New York and in 1981 landed in Sacramento, where his family had moved. There, he called Sacramento State games, was part of the broadcasting crew of the fledgling Sacramento Kings, and met Bonnie.
“I was just blown away by her,” he said.
Grosby proposed on their second date. They got married six months later — and recently celebrated their 30th anniversary.
After a short stint in Los Angeles at KFI, Bonnie — who was in the radio-advertising business at the time — heard from a colleague in Seattle that KJR was contemplating an all-sports format. Grosby made inquiries and hastily arranged to do an hour of pregame for the Los Angeles Raiders to serve as an audition tape. Grosby was hired to launch KJR’s move to full-time sports, originally replacing Bob Blackburn in January 1991 as the host of “Calling All Sports” from 3-6 p.m.
“We had moved three times in three years of marriage, and I told Bonnie, ‘This is just how the business is. You’re going to have to get used to moving around,’ ” Grosby said. “It turned out we’ve been here ever since.”
The all-sports format at KJR was officially launched in October 1991, with Grosby and Nanci Donnellan (aka The Fabulous Sports Babe) as the local hosts. But after two years, and lured by the promise of getting consideration as the Seahawks’ play-by-play broadcaster following the death of Pete Gross, Grosby jumped to KIRO in 1993 as the replacement for Wayne Cody on the evening sports talk show, “Sportsline.”
The Seahawks play-by-play gig didn’t work out at KIRO, but Grosby did do pregame and postgame for the Seahawks and Mariners, as well as color with Bob Robertson on WSU football broadcasts. Being part of the 1995 Mariners’ magical playoff run remains a career highlight.
The Sonics were also on the rise, and in 1996 Grosby returned to KJR, which not only carried Sonics games on their air but shared an office with them on Queen Anne Boulevard. He was lured back in part by the chance to partner with a former producer, Gastineau, who had been a fast friend since the two spent an entire Mariners game schmoozing in the press box in ’91.
“Two hours later, I felt I had known him all my life,” Gastineau said.
Thus began one of the great partnerships in Seattle radio history — Groz and Gas. Their chemistry for 14 years together was impeccable, their camaraderie genuine, both on and off air. Gastineau likened it to “an old married couple” who finish each other’s sentences, have occasional squabbles — but always fueled by love and affection.
“They had an incredible chemistry on the air that I don’t think anybody has really come close to matching since they left,” Mahler said.
Grosby’s radio vibe was centered on having fun, and he and Gastineau shared a world view and a sensibility.
“We’ve added years to each other’s life laughing together as hard as we have,” Gastineau said.
Grosby counseled Gastineau to have an opinion on everything, and don’t get hung up on whether or not you’re right. Groz’s persona, on and off the air, was “larger than life,” in Salk’s words.
But Grosby never took himself too seriously, realizing that sports wasn’t life or death.
“Every day was fun,” said Mahler, who served a stint as Grosby’s producer at KJR. “Sometimes work took a little bit of a back burner on the priority list, but it was always fun first, fun second and work a distant third. Which kind of made the show better, to be honest with you. Because he brought that fun to the air.”
In 2008, budget cuts at KJR led to Grosby losing his own show and reducing him to just two hours a day on the air as part of “Groz with Gas.” In 2010 he jumped back to 710, which had gone to an all-sports format a year earlier. It appealed to Grosby to be at the ground floor of two stations transitioning to all sports, more than two decades apart.
But Grosby’s impact goes far beyond that.
“His relationship and his name, to me, doesn’t really scream KJR or 710,” Mahler said. “His association is with the city of Seattle. I think that’s the biggest compliment you can give the guy. No matter which radio station he was working for, no matter what platform he was on, he was just ‘the Groz.’ ”