I have been writing sports — mostly hockey — day in and week out since February of 1982.
Before that, starting in October of 1975, I was a sportscaster, first in radio, then in both radio and television.
There were a lot of us sportscasters in Sault Ste. Marie and throughout northern Ontario back then.
But now days there are few — if any — in these parts who make a living off of being a being a full time sportscaster.
Back when I started, though, there were good opportunities to become a sportscaster.
I started part time at Sault radio station CKCY in 1975. Paul Leonard Sr. was the sports director and I was his part time assistant. I did weekend sportscasts and covered high school sports during the week. And one summer, I actually spent five nights a week covering local fastball league games at venerable North Street Field.
Leonard was a good, down to earth guy to work for, someone you could have a beer with. In fact, it was over a tray of draft beer on a weekday afternoon at the old Algoma Hotel in the Sault’s downtown that he first hired me. True story!
He also introduced me to the “art” of play by play broadcasting.
It was during the 1975-1976 season that Leonard first invited me to provide the commentary alongside him during his junior B hockey play by play radio broadcast of the Blind River Beavers on CKCY’s sister station CJNR. Let me just say that this first time experience for me included drinking beer before, during and after the game, beginning at the Lincoln Hotel and ending up at the Riverside Tavern.
Within a year or so, Leonard stepped aside to concentrate more on sales and management and I became the sports director at CKCY. Shortly after, I brought aboard a fresh faced high school chap named Peter Ruicci as a part time weekend sportscaster.
Another year or so later, CKCY Radio merged with CJIC-TV to become Huron Broadcasting. And first me, then Ruicci, were hired by Huron Broadcasting sports director George Jonescu to form a three person radio and TV sports department.
If there was a sport to cover locally and in the area, we covered it at Huron Broadcasting via four radio sportscasts and two TV sportscasts every single day of the week. We also did radio play by play of high school football and basketball with Jonescu as the undisputed star attraction and either me or Ruicci along for the ride to fetch coffee for our boss during half time.
What a crew we were, led by the legendary, eccentric Jonescu who was all about promotion and coverage of any and all local sports from basketball to football to curling to skiing to figure skating to hockey to bowling to soccer — and anything else in between. He even once assigned Ruicci to cover a dog show that was in the Sault. I kid you not!
And while both Ruicci and I were — and still are — big pro sports fans, Jonescu was not. He was never fond of athletes who got paid to play and he insisted — upon threat of being fired — that Ruicci or I never, ever led off a sportscast with a pro sports story, no matter the event. The lead sports story had to be local, even if it happened to be the scores from the Original Mr. and Mrs. Bowling League or to promote a stag that was being held at the Elks Lodge for some local athlete.
Those were hectic and fun times, even if Ruicci and I used to shake our heads and roll our eyes at Jonescu (behind his back, of course) and chuckle under our collective breaths about what an off beat character George was. I mean, he liked opera music more than professional sports, he would rather drink tea than beer, and his choice of food came from a box of greasy Kentucky fried chicken.
Without a doubt, it was fun and it was exciting to be in radio and TV sports in those days and I know I can speak for Ruicci when I say that working for Jonescu and Huron Broadcasting back then will always fall under the “good old days” category.
But the good old days at Huron Broadcasting didn’t last forever.
First Jonescu left, after a dispute with a higher-up manager. And then some arrogant knob in a three piece suit with a high pitched screech of a voice who didn’t know anything about sports — but thought he did — showed me the door.
Not that long after, though, I settled into a job at Sault This Week as the sports editor and Ruicci would eventually move up to become the sports director at Huron Broadcasting and a later succession of company names.
Years later, Ruicci would switch gears to take a job as a sportswriter at the Sault Star after full time sportscasting jobs in the local broadcast industry would sadly become — and foolishly I say — a thing of the past.
As for the inimitable Jonescu, he passed away in November of 2018 at the good, old age of 84, having lived a long and fruitful life and remaining in the broadcast industry as the host of a big band radio show in southern Ontario.
And over to Ruicci, he just recently retired as a full time sportswriter at the Sault Star, though he says that he plans to maintains a presence in the local media as a freelancer, which is a good thing. (Hey, I don’t want to be the only senior citizen in the local sports media.)
God willing, I will carry on doing what I do for as long as I am able to. To be an independent, freelance writer and broadcaster and still make a comfortable living from it while setting my own schedule is, to me, still living the dream.
Meantime, and to be sure, good laughs and good thoughts will remain from the days of being a local radio and TV sportscaster at CKCY and CJIC. To be sure, the good memories far outweigh the not so good times.
After all, who can say that they often led off a late night, 20 minute television sportscast with the “breaking news” scores from the Original Mr. and Mrs. Bowling League?
It was quite the era of full coverage of local sports on radio and TV in the Sault. And while the times have certainly changed I do consider myself rather blessed to have worked in the local radio and TV sports industry with and for the likes of Paul Leonard, George Jonescu and Peter Ruicci.