After hearing about a unique job posting, Ken Gee was off to the races
Shortly after Ken Gee (Radio and Television ’88) graduated from NAIT, he added an item to his bucket list. He thought it would be neat to be a horse race announcer, a sport he’d been a fan of most of his life.
“Horse racing has been a passion of mine since I was a kid,” he says. “The first time I went to the track was when my dad took me there at four years old.” It was love at first sight. He’s kept up with the sport, owning racehorses and entering many races over the years.
“It’s the whole challenge of watching an animal in front of you. It’s unpredictable, trying to figure out what the horse is going to do,” he says. “I love the competitiveness of it all.”
Now, after a career in radio and then a 20-year break to move to corporate sales and start his own company, he’s back behind the mic as the full-time track announcer at Edmonton’s Century Mile Racetrack and Casino, the newest racetrack in North America as of summer 2019. It opened in April, filling a void left by the closure of the racetrack at Northlands after 118 years.
By adding his voice, Gee is helping to fill that void, too – regardless of occasional broadcasting gitters.
“I was scared to death and I made mistakes when I first started,” he says about the odd flub up during a race. “I still do. But you just have to go in and do it. I love being able to tell the story of a race.”
Out the gate
Gee started storytelling behind a mic years ago. In fact, he always knew he’d have a career in broadcasting.
“I talk too much,” says the 51-year-old.
Horse racing wasn’t the first sport he called. He started with football games as a high school student at Jasper Place, and that evolved into calling championships across the entire school division.
“I got to be excused from class ... and I got paid for it."
“There was a whole list of different sports I got to call,” says Gee. “I got to be excused from class to do these jobs, and I got paid for it. That was the coolest thing.”
Picking up the pace
It just made sense for Gee to go to NAIT to pursue a career in broadcasting after high school. He set his sights on a future in radio. Once he graduated with the skills, he realized that one day calling horse racing might be something he could take on, if the opportunity ever came up.
In between, what he learned enabled him to be a reporter for radio stations in Castlegar, B.C., Red Deer and Edmonton.
“NAIT helped me understand there’s always going to be a learning curve to whatever you do in life."
“NAIT helped me understand there’s always going to be a learning curve to whatever you do in life. Starting in radio, and now horse racing, I get that.”
The first turn
Gee left the radio industry in 1992, but that bucket list item remained.
“It’s funny how life works,” he says. “I was minding my own business, and it was announced that this racetrack was going to open.”
He just couldn’t let the chance to realize a lifelong dream pass him by, and called up the race track office to apply for the gig. Gee didn’t hear anything for a few months, and then out of the blue he got a call from his now boss. They offered him the job, and he got right to it.
He just couldn’t let the chance to realize a lifelong dream pass him by.
Century Mile has thoroughbred horse races every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Gee says there’s a lot of prep before he gets into his broadcast booth. In fact, it starts the day before with a lot of note-taking and studying up on the horses.
“I spend time memorizing the horse’s names,” he says. “There's anywhere between 50 to 80 horses on a race day. Sometimes, there are eight races. I have to remember which horse goes in which race.
“At first, it was really, really hard.”
The races kick off at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. “From then on, I am pretty much sequestered up in my booth until the end of the day,” says Gee.
Despite being a long-time racing fan, Gee still feels new to his role. He admits to feeling intimidated when he first started in the broadcast booth at Century Mile.
“I felt really rusty and unsure of what the experience was going to be,” he says. “Now that I’m back at it, I’m having an absolute blast. It feels just like when I started in radio.”
"I’m having an absolute blast. It feels just like when I started in radio.”
Gee’s thrilled to continue honing his craft while sharing his deep love for the sport with fans, and keeping the tradition alive in Edmonton.
“I really enjoy sharing the excitement of horse racing with other people. I love the fact that I can come in in the morning and look at this beautiful track. I love being there, being around the horses, being around the people.”