BUFFALO, NY (staffannouncer.com) – Quite simply, the most fun I’ve had in nearly two decades of working in radio and television. Bar none. And six years later, people still talk to me about the show. And I wasn’t even on the air.
In August 2000, Adelphia Communications completed it’s purchase of country music station 107.7 The Bullet, WNUC. Much of the staff and equipment were moved to a brand new studio, carved out of the former garage of the Empire Sports Network. WNSA Radio was born, to carry the play-by-play of the Buffalo Sabres, and to compete with WGR in the Buffalo Sportstalk game.
Over the 4 years the station was on the air, there were numerous changes at almost every on-air and behind the scenes position, save two: Jim Kelley and Mike Robitaille. Every hockey game day. Sharpshooters. Must. Listen. Radio. “Better than the game itself,” as Jim used to say, especially when Sabres ownership was in question, and the Sabres were particularly bad.
From Day One, til the station became 107.7 The Lake, everyone knew the two hours leading up to Sabres pregame would be the most informative and entertaining radio they’d hear all day. These guys, Kelley and Roby, were old friends, old pros, and two of the funniest people you’d ever want to meet. Two legends in their own time.
The show was hosted by Mike Schopp at first, and later, by Howard Simon, I was the guy who pushed the buttons, and played the occasional sound effect, and Ricky Jay, Chris Atkins, Neil McManus, Jay Moran, Doug Young, Zig, and probably a few others did sports ticker updates during the time slot. But the show was Mike and Jim. They really brought out the best in one another. It truly was better than the game itself.
I’ve heard Roby say over and over again for the 30 years he’s been talking hockey on radio and TV, that if you have a good defense partner, that your comfortable with, it’s like stealing money on the ice. Each guy knows where the other one is going to be, what his next move will be.
That’s what listening to those to guys together, every hockey game day for 4 years, was like. It was pure, and it was raw, and it was great. They transcended sports talk, and even radio. I’m not speaking in hyperbole here, but for me, listening was like watching ballet or listening to great music. Masters, but not arrogantly erudite. These two Buffalo hockey greats… talking on the radio, made everyone listening feel like they were in on the conversation.
It’s been a long time since that show was on the air. Since then, I’ve spent hours talking with Roby, Jim Kelley, Schopp, and Howard about what a great time we had with that show, and how people still talk to us about it. Jim, God rest his soul, was the most vocal about it. For all his accomplishments in his professional life (He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, for crying out loud!) I know he counted his time on the Sharpshooters as some of the best spent of his journalistic life. there are thousands of fans who agree.
I was blessed to hear just about every episode of the show from the catbird’s seat in the control room, and got to hear and be a part of the even better, somewhat more R-rated show that went on during the commercial breaks. I saved dozens and dozens of hours of sharpshooters shows, and I’m glad I did. I’m also glad that I can share some of them here.
So sit back and enjoy some Sharpshooters, some Jim Kelley, and some Mike Robitaille. Its interesting to hear the gameday specifics from a decade or more ago, but listen past it for the joy that was had and shared on this show.
Remembering Jim Kelley
Longtime Buffalo Sports writer and Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Kelley died after a long fight with cancer. He spent decades as a no-holds-barred unforgettable writer and media personality. He was the kind of columnist that when he wrote in the Buffalo News, you felt like you should cut it out and keep it.
Whether in the paper, on the radio, or on TV over the last three decades, Kelley capsulized EXACTLY what you were thinking, but did it with razor sharp English and that wise-guy grin that was a trademark of his South Buffalo repetoir.
At his heart, Jim was a South Buffalo kid who spent his childhood sneaking into the Aud to watch the AHL Bisons. That guy was always there. But also there, was his amazing ability to connect with every day people, and unparalleled ability to turn a phrase that always seemed to fit perfectly. The combination of those assests, and working like a brute, allowed him to climb his way up from News copy boy, to general assignment sports reporter, to Sabres beat reporter and then sports columnist.
Having and known and worked with Jim for close to 20 years, I can tell you there may not be anywhere else in media someone more loyal, more knowledgable, more hilarious, more credible, and more brutally honest than was my friend Jim Kelley. He never pulled a punch.
I had the great pleasure of doing Jim a personal favor about 7 years ago, which I would have likely long forgotten, had he not brought it up every time we talked. “I owe you,” he’d say, even as he underwent treatment for cancer, and even as he was coming to the realization the treatments weren’t helping, and the the end was near.
I owe you, he’d say. Jim, we all owe you. I don’t know that he could have packed more into a life cut way too short. All I can say is I’m glad to have known him, and that I’m a better man for it.
Listen to The Sharpshooters
December, 2001 Mike Schopp, Jim Kelley, Mike Robitaille. On this show, the guys are looking through piles of old hockey cards from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and talking about the memories that came up with each name and each card. My favorite part of this show, and watching Roby pull a card, laugh quietly to himself, and put the card off to the side. we were treated to some great stories in the commercial breaks this day. Jim and Roby both in fine story telling form. I’m glad I didn’t embarrass myself, hearing my voiceover on the open to the show.
More on the audio above:
Sharpshooters 2001: Mike Schopp with Roby & Jim. This is a great show, just thinking about what’s missing from hockey “in today’s game.” The guys share some of their thoughts, and interact well with callers as well.
Sharpshooters 2001: Mike Schopp with Mike Robitaille and Jim Kelley. This show was not only about hockey, and not only about sports, which was one reason why the show was great. Here’s classic Kelley, railing against the political lethargy is Western New York. I told Jim more than once, I’d quit my job to work for his campaign.
Sharpshooters, November 2002: Howard Simon, Jim Kelley, Mike Robitaille. Howard and Roby argue about a lack of player moves on the Sabres, and Roby explains, to the merriment of Jim, that one can’t suck and blow at the same time.
Sharpshooters, November 2002: More from Howard, Jim and Roby… This time as they join Fan TV for a segment. I don’t think I have any video of the Sharpshooters on Empire, which is really too bad.
Hockey Night in Buffalo, April 1995: This one is from the first time Howard, Jim and i worked together… Then-WBEN Sports Director Howard Simon hosts Hockey Night in Buffalo on WBEN, with then-Buffalo News Hockey Writer Jim Kelley, on the day the Sabres debuted the black and red uniforms at the Aud.
Remembering Jim Kelley: December, 2010 This is a marriage of two Jim Kelley obituary stories I produced, which ran the day after Jim passed away.