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Bill Dwyre

No Show Had More Bite Than Healy's

July 22, 2006|Bill Dwyre

Our mission this morning, and we choose to accept it, is to tell you about a man that many of you never knew. Sadly.

Twelve years ago today, Jim Healy died. He was a local broadcaster who had an evening drive-time sports show. A form of it started in 1961 and it didn't end until May 1994, less than two months before he died. For most of his career, he was on KLAC, but he moved to KMPC for the last seven or eight years.

When he died of cancer, it surprised many because he hadn't been off the air long and had been quiet about his absence.

"He was from the old school, the Depression Era," said his son, Channel 4 news reporter Patrick Healy. "You don't say much, you show no signs of weakness or vulnerability."

His show, a freeway ritual for many, is hard to describe. It was a daily report of sports events, with an emphasis on the stupid and juicy. And it was sprinkled, sometimes dominated, by sound bites of various sports people. He had an entire library of them, and nothing made him happier than when somebody came to him with a fresh tape of a sports big shot, losing it.

That's what happened on May 14, 1978, when a young reporter named Paul Olden, now on KNX but then working for Healy, came to Healy with a tape of Tom Lasorda after a game in which Dave Kingman had destroyed the Dodgers. Olden asked Lasorda a simple question: "What's your opinion of Kingman's performance?"

But the fire had been lighted. Lasorda started at mild yell and quickly got to top decibels.

Fourteen bleeps later, Lasorda was done and Healy had hit the jackpot. He had taught young Olden to never turn off the tape recorder, no matter what. And his protege had delivered. Before long, Lasorda on Kingman became the standard by which all other tirades were measured.

Healy's sound bites remain alive and well. There are several websites still collecting them and spreading them around, and Richard Perelman, the press chief for the 1984 Olympics, has done several pilot shows in the Healy model that he is trying to sell to California stations, most of them managed by people who never knew and don't understand.

Healy's show wasn't always what it became. But the final form began in 1973, when the news hit that a couple of New York Yankees players had been swapping wives. That was a fastball down the middle for Healy, who interspersed his report of the news that night, and over the next several nights, with 18 clips of segments of the song from "Casablanca": "As Time Goes By."

Soon, the sound clips built up and became as familiar to his audience as their living room easy chair.

There was Charles Barkley, uttering his famous: "Bad team, man. Bad [bleeping] team."

There was Benoit Benjamin, the slow, fat and generally useless Clippers center: "I don't give a [bleep] about the fans."

There was Don King, getting befuddled in mid-bombast: "That is why we have a system of justice and Jewish-prudence."

There was Lawrence Welk, and his all-purpose: "A wun'erful, a wun'erful."

There was University of Miami football thug Jerome Brown, defending his team's rude behavior at a pre-bowl banquet: "Did the Japanese go and sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?"

There was Victor Kiam, then the New England Patriots owner, trying to make amends after one of his players acted in a lewd manner in front of a female reporter: "She is a lovely lady and my apologies to her."

And there was the ever-present Howard Cosell, in full pomposity: "Who goofed? I've got to know."

Healy never shied from taking on the big guys. He called The Times sports section "The World Champion," and its sports editor "Journalist Bill." When the World Champion and Journalist Bill screwed up, which was often, there was no hiding: "Memo to Journalist Bill. [tickertape noise]. How about spelling words in headlines correctly? On Page 4, Karma should be with a K." (Who goofed? I've got to know).

Healy had news flooding in from everywhere. He had a million leakers, and it became a badge of honor to be one of his snoops. Sometimes, it almost seemed as if he were clairvoyant.

Once, a decision was made about a major firing in The Times' sports department, and Journalist Bill, who was going to do this Friday, told his wife about it Wednesday night. He told no one else. Thursday afternoon, Healy had it on the radio. Mrs. Journalist Bill has not been trusted since.

Many of Healy's scoops came from the World Champion's staff. The sports department bosses knew, made constant threats, and never stopped it.

"Your staff was like the Pentagon," Patrick Healy said recently. "They all leaked."

Such was the attraction of Jim Healy. He was crusty, insightful, cutting. And oh so much fun.

Ironically, the sports world that he covered so closely and held under such a strong microscope got him back in a proud moment. In the midst of the ceremony in 1991 in which his star was being put on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, word came that Magic Johnson had called a news conference, probably to announce that he had HIV. All the reporters, there to write and broadcast about Healy, left for Inglewood and the Forum.

For Healy, the timing was horrible.

(Who goofed? I've got to know.)

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns, go to

latimes.com/dwyre.

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