In the 1930s a priest at St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City repeatedly encouraged a teenaged Frank P. Soden to enter the priesthood. “Well, I want to be a broadcaster,” Soden would tell the priest, always pushing back.
Soden kept his focus, found his way to Richmond and for half a century made the sports press boxes of Virginia his pulpit. He died Dec. 5 at age 91. With him disappeared not only a familiar, reassuring baritone voice, but also an icon from a bygone era when a radio sports broadcaster could be king of the airwaves.
Soden began his career at WOR in New York City, writing scripts for a husband and wife comedy quiz show, “My Better Half.” But like many creative souls, after World War II, he got a day job, selling Charm Candy. This brought him in Richmond, where in 1950 he joined WRNL radio. When he suggested to his station manager that they broadcast a college basketball game, management was skeptical. Although it was late in the season, he got the go-ahead to air a game between the University of Richmond and West Virginia University. End-of-the-season conference games soon followed. Soden never looked back.
He broadcast University of Virginia games and was the voice of Virginia Tech football from 1954-1968. He covered the Richmond Virginians (the farm team for the Yankees) at Parker Field, and basketball at the downtown armory and the now-demolished Richmond Arena. He was a fixture at the Richmond Coliseum, the Robins Center and The Diamond, where he lived to see the press box named in his honor.
Although he had chances to move on to the big leagues (the Los Angles Dodgers courted him), Soden indelibly had become a part of Richmond. While never under delusions that Richmond was much of a sports town, it was his town.
“Yes, I would have made a lot more money, and I might have possibly left a mark that was equal to some of my colleagues,” he once told a reporter, “but I'm happy here, and that to me is what life is all about.”