Hal Ramey can certainly appreciate the value of the spoken word.
“Speech is such a wonderful thing. It’s such an instant and easy form of communication,” said the KCBS Radio sports anchor. “We take it for granted.”
Ramey knows this better than most people.
For almost three months, the Walnut Creek resident didn’t say a word because of a growth on his vocal cords. The condition kept him off the radio airwaves for more than four months.
“It wasn’t really a health issue,” said Ramey. “It just took away my ability to speak. And in my job, that’s not a good thing.”
Ramey, who has been on KCBS since 1987, first noticed a problem in February when his voice started getting hoarse. He took a few days off, but the problem just got worse.
In late February, doctors told Ramey he had a 2-centimeter nodule on his left vocal cord. Tests showed it wasn’t cancerous, so doctors told Ramey to give his vocal cords a rest.
That meant not saying a word. No talking on the phone. No saying hello. No saying “please” or “thank you.”
“I was good about it,” said Ramey. “I bumped my elbow once and said ‘Ouch.” I think that was it.”
Ramey obviously couldn’t be on the radio, so he went on disability.
When a phone rang at the house, Ramey’s wife, Cathy, would answer it. He used a dry erase board at home to converse with his wife. He went through 30 markers during his months of silence.
For something to do, Ramey used his press credential to attend a dozen San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics games. He sat in the press box and handed written notes to his colleagues.
Ramey also wore a card around his neck that informed people he couldn’t speak due to a vocal cord injury. He would show it to friends as well as people at the gym and employees at the grocery store who asked him how his day was going.
“I didn’t want to seem rude,” said Ramey.
The man who relies on his voice for a living became an expert on non-verbal communication, giving a thumbs up or shaking his head to get a point across.
He also became quite good at texting and instant messaging, especially when he needed to communicate with his sons, John and Ted.
Ramey was only allowed to do a minimum amount of exercise, so he kept workouts short at the fitness center and walked on the flat streets near his house.
The nodule initially shrank 60 percent, but then it stopped shrinking. Doctors decided to operate.
Even though the outpatient surgery has a 98 percent success rate, Ramey admitted it was a little scary. If the operation didn’t work, he was probably out of work.
“It’s pretty good odds unless you’re one of the 2 percent,” he said.
On May 9, Ramey’s doctor successfully removed the nodule. However, the sports anchor was told to speak only when necessary for the next six weeks.
Finally, on July 1, Ramey went back on the air at KCBS. He said he learned a number of things during his months of silence.
First, he found out how concerned, kind and helpful people were when they were informed of the vocal cord problem.
“People in large part are very good,” said Ramey.
The veteran sports anchor, who is in the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, also learned how much he loves being on the radio.
“I’m really lucky,” said Ramey. “I have a job I really enjoy.”
And a voice he can use again.