Retro Rangers: Remembering Jim Gordon and Bill Chadwick

 

Separately, Jim Gordon and Bill Chadwick were each very good at their jobs, but together they were great and formed one of the most popular broadcasting teams in Rangers history.

Gordon was the straight man, the professional broadcaster of the duo.

A Brooklyn native, ex-Marine and graduate of Syracuse University, Jim Gordon began his broadcasting career in Syracuse NY, with WNOR radio in 1948 calling games for the Syracuse Nationals of the old National Basketball League.  He also broadcast minor league baseball for the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League as well as the Syracuse Warriors of the American Hockey League. “The first hockey game I ever broadcast was the first hockey game I ever saw”, he told David Halberstam in his book Sports on New York Radio.

Gordon broke into the New York sports scene in the mid 1950’s when he hosted Brooklyn Dodgers’ pre and post-game radio shows. In 1954 he started working for Madison Square Garden sharing the Knicks broadcasting duties with Marty Glickman. He began working Rangers games in the 1959-60 season with color analyst  Monty Hall who went on to greater fame and fortune hosting game shows including Let’s Make a Deal.

Gordon started out getting $75 a game which was good money in those days. “I was living with my wife and kids in my parent’s basement in Rego Park and that was more money than I had in my bank account at the time.”

Jim broadcast Ranger games on radio periodically until the 1973-74 season when he was teamed with Chadwick.

Gordon was also a news anchor for WINS-Radio and served as the news director for WABC-AM and WNEW-AM. While at WINS he held the coveted early morning drive time slot. His usual day began at 1 am when he would leave his Putnam Valley home for the 90-mile drive to the WINS studio near Grand Central Station. He would then write his own copy and take the air from 3am – 10am. After home games, Gordon would often go directly from the Garden to the WINS studio and sleep on the floor to be there for his 3am shift. He would then return home after the shift ended and get up the next morning and do it all over again. It was a hectic life and he didn’t get to spend much time with his wife and five children during the season.

Gordon also became known as the radio voice of the New York Football Giants, calling their games from 1977 through 1994, including the Giants’ two Super Bowl seasons.

John Halligan, former Ranger PR Director remembered Gordon fondly. “Always a very sweet man, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a hard-bitten newsman. If the lines went down because of a storm or something – something that even the technicians couldn’t fix – Jim would be wiring alligator clips to the phone lines, whatever it took to stay on the air. Once, in Minnesota, there was a transmission problem and Jim got to work. The play-by-play got back to New York about 10 seconds after the video, but it got back to New York. When viewers in New York heard Jim holler, ‘Score!’ the guy who scored was already skating back to the bench.”

Gordon always looked upon sports broadcasting as just another form of news reporting. “I never considered myself a sports expert at all. I wasn’t even that serious a sports fan. I liked sports but news broadcasting was what I most wanted to do, news has made me a better sports announcer.”

Bill Chadwick, a native New Yorker began his hockey career in the old Metropolitan League before earning a spot on the Ranger-sponsored New York Rovers, an amateur club in the Eastern Hockey League in the mid-1930s. Chadwick was declared legally blind in his right eye in 1935 when he was struck by an errant puck during a Met Leagues All-Star game played at the Garden. Undeterred, Bill later continued to play but after another close call he “wised up and got into officiating.”

Chadwick reached the NHL as a linesman in the 1939-40 season, becoming the first American-born official in league history. A year later Bill was promoted to full-time NHL referee, a position he held from 1940 to 1955. During that time, he created a series of hand signals so that fans in the stands would know what type of penalty was being called — a practice that continues to this day. Few people knew about his vision problem but when fans or players complained that he was blind, he was known to tell them that they were “only half right.”

In 1964, nine years after his retirement, Chadwick was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Referees/Linesman category. Ten years after that, he would become the first referee ever inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Chadwick was working in private business when Emile Francis called him in 1967. Emile wanted him to begin working Ranger radio broadcasts, first doing between period interviews and then working with play-by-play man Marv Albert as a color analyst. He moved to the television side in 1972-73, working with Sal Marciano. But in 1973-74 he was teamed with Jim Gordon and the duo clicked and stayed together until the end of the 1980-81 season calling more that 650 regular season and playoff games together. .

“Bill was a natural for broadcasting even though he wasn’t formally trained in it,” said Francis. “He and Jim Gordon got more mail than some of our players.”

Chadwick truly put the “color” in the role of color commentator. Outspoken and opinionated, he was never afraid to say what was on his mind, even during the course of a game.

Nicknamed “The Big Whistle” by Rangers statistician Arthur Friedman, Chadwick was known for his colorfully honest appraisals of Ranger players as well as their opponents. He also had his own unique way of pronouncing names. For example defenseman John Bednarski was always Ben-dar-ski and Chris Kotsopoulos became Kos-top-oulos. It makes one wonder how he would have fared in today’s truly international NHL. Even when addressing his broadcast partner, Jim Gordon, most of the time it was “Chim”, as in “Chim, watching Dave Silk handling the puck is like a cow trying to handle a gun” Or, “Chim I’ve seen Bobby Clarke start a lot of fights but I haven’t seen him finish one yet!”

Gordon often said that he worked with a lot of color men, but Bill was his only real partner in the booth. He was the perfect foil for Chadwick who once proclaimed that the Rangers flashy forward Gene Carr “couldn’t put the puck in the ocean if he was standing on the edge of the dock.” So after Carr had been traded to the Kings, he scored against his former team in a game in Los Angeles. “I thought you said Carr couldn’t put the puck in the ocean,” Gordon asked slyly, “Well Chim,” Chadwick responded, “it’s a bigger ocean out here.”

While Gordon tried to be impartial, Chadwick wore his heart on his sleeve. He was a Ranger fan and sometimes when they played well his excitement got the better of him. One of those times was in the 1973 playoffs when the Rangers ousted the Boston Bruins in five games. Chadwick blurted out that the Rangers would be flying back to New York that night and would be landing at LaGuardia Airport. It seemed like a harmless comment, but when over 5,000 fans stormed the runway it got serious. Chadwick grabbed a bull horn and stood on a table, pleading with the fans to let the players get to their cars. It became a frightening scene when Ed Giacomin’s car was almost overturned and the next day Emile Francis issued a memo forbidding the broadcasting of the team’s itinerary.

And like many fans Bill was frustrated with the Rangers inability to score on the power play even with Barry Beck on the point. He implored Beck to “Shoot the puck Barry, Shoot the puck!” when he thought the big Ranger defenseman was passing up shots to dish the puck to teammates. Chadwick’s cry soon became a chant that Beck heard whenever he had the puck in the offensive zone.

Chadwick was a great story teller and knew practically everybody in hockey. His between period interviews with former Maple Leaf Howie Meeker and especially King Clancy were classics, filled with a lot of laughter and good natured bantering.

“Jim and Bill weren’t big on rehearsals,” Halligan recalled. “They’d be in Boston, Denver, wherever. They’d get in the booth, the light would go on, they’d say where they were, then they’d say, ‘These two teams don’t like each other.”’ That’s how every telecast began.”

Chadwick was replaced by Phil Esposito following the 1980-81 season. He stayed as a special assignment reporter for one more season and then retired in 1982 at the age of 66. He then teamed with Steve Vickers and John Halligan to organize the first Rangers Golf Classic to benefit the Rangers Alumni Association. Jim Gordon worked with Esposito for three seasons and was replaced by Sam Rosen in 1984. He continued to broadcast New York Giants football games until 1994.

Sadly, both men are gone now. Jim Gordon died in February of 2003 at the age of 76, and Bill Chadwick passed away at the age of 94 in October of 2009.

But they will long be remembered as one of the Rangers most colorful and entertaining broadcasting duos of all time.