When people of a certain age think of the sports broadcasting institutions in Philadelphia sports history, names like Harry Kalas, Gene Hart, Bill Campbell and Merrill Reese roll off the tongue. Each is a legend adored by fans.
While Reese continues to deliver Eagles play-by-play each Sunday, the other three, sadly, passed away. And, at the same time, new voices have emerged to provide the soundtrack for our beloved sports teams.
Time can get away from us when we consider history (did you know FOX’s Joe Buck has called 22 World Series?) and so this may surprise you: Jim Jackson has already matched Hart in longevity as the voice of the Flyers.
And for the last two decades, longtime South Jersey resident Jim Jackson has had the unique distinction of being a part of two of those teams.
Jackson joined the Flyers broadcast team in 1993 and spent 14 seasons working with the Phillies radio team, too, before he was let go this fall as the team made COVID cutbacks.
“This has been an unbelievable life and I’ve been completely blessed,” Jackson said of his three decade-long run in Philly. “For as long as I can remember I loved sports and knew I wasn’t going to make it as an athlete and I had to find some other way and I went to Syracuse, which was a great broadcasting school, I went back home and worked there for seven years, and then onto Philadelphia.
“Most people have to bounce around to get to where they want in their broadcasting (career), and I basically worked in my hometown and then came here. I’ve been blessed.”
Before he got underway with his 25th season as the television play-by-play man for NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Flyers broadcast, Jackson, who has lived in Gloucester Township since moving down from his native upstate New York 27 years ago and has recently launched his own broadcasting school, spoke to South Jersey Sports Weekly about his career.
SJSW: You arrived in Philadelphia in 1993, which had to be a pretty fun time to get here, right?
Jackson: It was Year 2 of the Eric Lindros Era, so there was all kinds of excitement which was heightened more the following year when Bob Clarke came back to be the general manager. So it was a great time.
I actually was negotiating because I was offered the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim job at the same time I got the Flyers offer, so I had a choice to make. I knew of course that the Flyers with Eric Lindros would win the Cup before the Mighty Ducks, right? [Laughs]. I wasn’t right on that one.
But by no means do I have any regrets. It’s been a great 2 ½, almost three decades now. It was so much fun to be here. I was excited. Obviously I was a young broadcaster excited to get to that level and you want to feel the excitement with the franchise with Lindros, then they made the trade with Montreal and how good the team was getting. Really, from the time they ended the 5-year drought, which was my second year, they made the playoffs for 14-15 straight years. They were always constantly there. They didn’t win the Cup, but they had a chance pretty much every year.
And it really was that way for this franchise up until maybe the last decade, where they didn’t win a lot in the playoffs … but I’m getting that same feeling now … The excitement level with the Flyers, with all the young stars, Carter Hart, I’m kind of getting that feeling I had when I got here: a young team with a very bright future.
SJSW: You also had the Phillies in the World Series that year, the Sixers traded Charles Barkley within a year, too. So a lot was going on in Philly sports.
Jackson: Having grown up in upstate New York, I wasn’t far enough away to be unaware that this was an intense sports town. I knew coming in it was intense. When I arrived here, my first day on the job was the first week of September in 1993 and I walked into a full pennant race with the Phillies, the town was going absolutely crazy about that team.
I remember listening to the talk shows, watching TV news and thinking, “This is my kind of town.”
Everything was all Phillies. We would even do the Flyers game, and afterward, Steve Coates and I would go over to the local establishment and watch the Phillies. It was a great time to get here. I knew it was a great sports town, but it’s even better when things are going well.
And then, from there, (the Flyers) just kept getting better every year into the 90s so it was a constant crescendo through the rest of that decade.
SJSW: What’s it been like to follow in the footsteps of two legends? Obviously you followed Gene Hart with the Flyers but you also worked alongside and then took over some play by play duties with the Phillies after Harry Kalas passed, too.
Jackson: When I first got here, I had the privilege of working with Gene. It wasn’t on air: he was doing television and I was doing radio. But for two years I got to watch him and he was so interesting.
He had this big black book with all of his stats and notes, an encyclopedia. And I’d ask him, “Gene, how much of that do you really use?” He’d say, ‘About 10 percent.” I’d respond, “Then why bother?” and he’d say, “Because I never know which 10 percent I’m going to use.” I use that with kids this day with preparation, you have to over-prepare.
But it was great working with him. But when he retired and I crossed over, I never have said that I replaced him; he was irreplaceable. I followed him into the position. It was tough. I got some interesting feedback, shall we say. People were very loyal to Gene. Thankfully back then there wasn’t any Twitter. [Laughs]. It would have been worse I saw. I got some pretty tough stuff. But some of that’s expected. You brace yourself for that. He was a legend. He was the messenger for glorious times and I was the new guy.
And you know you work through and you hope eventually they take you for who you are, and that’s what seemed to happen pretty quickly. It also helped that the team was getting better. People like when you’re telling them good things. [Laughs]. So that helped.
And then I got lucky enough to kind of work with Harry (for just over two years). One of my absolute thrills of my broadcasting life was to be sitting next to Harry when he made the World Series call. Obviously I’m in there getting ready for the postgame (show) and I’m there watching this icon who had not been able to call the ‘80 championship because of the exclusivity (rights).
— Jim Jackson (@JimJPhilly) October 30, 2020
To watch him, he nailed the moment and had tears in his eyes. People often ask me my favorite broadcasting moment and I often give them that. It’s not really my moment, but to be sitting next to him, to give him a hug right after that was a thrill.
To be around Harry, Gene and Doc (Mike Emrick) was obviously here before me and then I’d see him at so many games vs. the Devils, all amazing. I never even think of myself in that realm. They’re in an orbit that I’m not close to. I just try to do a decent job and not get in the way of the game. Those are three icons, Hall of Famers and considered by many the greatest all time in their sports. So it was an honor to be around them.
SJSW: How does it work with hockey and the Flyers? If the Flyers are in the Stanley Cup Finals, would you get to call it?
Jackson: I’m on pre(game) and post(game). We’re out after the first round in hockey, the same with Marc Zumoff with the Sixers. We’ll never be the ones to make those calls. (Sixers and Flyers radio broadcasters) Tom McGinnis and Tim Saunders would get to make the calls. That’s the one thing about my job — and hey Tim and Tom McGinnis deserve that, too, they’ve been here a long time and do a great job. But that’s the one thing I don’t like about my job, being knocked out by the networks after the first round. I’d much rather do the game. But NBC has been great, they let me do pregame and postgame. But to actually make the call, that won’t be me.
SJSW: You’re obviously known more for being the voice of the Flyers, but the gig you had with the Phillies was pretty cool in its own right, especially when you consider the timeline. The Phillies, in their history, haven’t had many sustained years of winning — maybe two in 125-plus years — and you were part of the most recent one. What was that like?
Jackson: It was unbelievable. My first year was 2007. They made the playoffs for the first time since ‘93 and it was electric, just being around it. So in my first 5 years, they won the division every time. I felt like I was a good lucky charm. But then all of that kind of came to an end. [Laughs]. …
The ups and downs come with the territory, but you’re right, they haven’t had that many extended periods of success. The fun thing about my time with Phillies, the 14 years, is I got to know a lot of the players from the (late 70s-early 80’s) team, too, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dallas Green. They are some of my favorite people.
So my Phillies experience was absolutely awesome. I expected to do 3-4 years and I ended up doing 14. I got a lot more than I expected. I got to ride in a parade, I got a championship ring, I got to know Harry Kalas, Scott Franzke is a good friend of mine and I think he’s one of the best in the business, Larry Andersen is so much fun to be around. I don’t want to forget some other people, because I know so many good people in that organization, but it was a great experience and I didn’t expect it to last that long.
I got together with David Montgomery for lunch maybe once a year and one time in the mid-aughts he asked me about their broadcast team. He loved to talk Flyers, too. And he said if there’s ever an opening … and I had done baseball in ‘05 during the NHL lockout with the Trenton Thunder and that got me back in baseball, which I had done back in my Utica days. All of a sudden it was lunch to, “Hey, if there’s an opening,” and then an opening came and I took it.
If there was one moment it was being next to Harry (on that call), but the parade itself was incredible. I remember talking with Howie Rose, who had been part of a parade with the Rangers. Maybe the Phillies were playing the Mets and I was talking with him, but he said, “Wait until you experience the parade if you win it.” And I’m not really that much into parades [laughs]. They’re OK. He said, “Mark my words.” And he was so right. Part of it was being with Harry on the float, and to hear the adulation and love he got was just amazing. And just to see that many people, the noise and the love … it was just unbelievable.
And in terms of pure excitement, Roy Halladay’s playoff no-hitter (in 2010) because I got to talk to him, the second person who interviewed him on the field (after the TBS sideline reporter). As I’m waiting I’m thinking, “Well what are you going to ask him?” And then he came over and he was just so caught up in the moment, and having been around him he’s never like that. He was a machine. You wouldn’t see a ton of emotion from him. I had some good interviews with him when I’d set them up in advance and everything was set at a certain time. But this, he was absolutely overwhelmed, and all he kept doing was going back to Chooch (Carlos Ruiz). That moment, to be able to talk to a guy who I had so much respect for who had just done something so ridiculous, his first ever playoff game and he throws a no-hitter, it’s still amazing to this day, the crowd was still roaring. That would be a moment that stands out.
— jaiden (@steph_turkey) September 19, 2020
SJSW: You just launched your own broadcasting school. How did that come about?
Jackson: Well over the years I’d have kids reach out to me — and sometimes not kids, but adults getting into the business — through LinkedIn or various platforms and I’d try to get back to them or call them, set up a phone conversation. Critique their reels, too. And it was something I really liked, but it wasn’t something I had a lot of time to do. When you’re doing baseball and hockey, it’s pretty much (working) 365 (days a year). You get some days off, but on the days off you basically want a day off. And then I’d get vacation with each team’s All-Star breaks, but that was it. And I’d get my family out of town and go somewhere.
So I just didn’t have the time to do it. But once the Phillies situation developed and I knew I’d get into a sort of normal rotation with summers off, I said, let’s do it. I knew I’d have a few months to get it started before hockey starts, so it was something I talked about with my agent. And once I knew I wasn’t going to be working with the Phillies anymore I knew I had the time.
So we put it together: JJBroadcastingCoaching@gmail.com Basically you send an email there if you’re interested, and I’ll give you 2-3 sessions, depending on what your needs are, and then I’m basically a mentor for life. I’m not just going to forget about you. We talk about broadcasting in general, we talk about play-by-play. It’s been an overwhelming response. I’m going to end up being pretty busy right up to until the start of the NHL season. … But I’ll still take some clients on during the season. And then in the summer, hopefully when hockey ends, we’ll ramp it up again.
It’s been really fun. I’ve been getting to meet and getting to know so many people from different realms. I have a veteran who served three different terms in the Middle East, I have a 50-year-old who is into streaming sports, I have a woman who wants to be a sideline reporter.
There’s such a wide lot, and it’s great to get to know them, and once I find out what their needs are, to hone in on where they want to go. And if they have materials (video or tape) I try to critique it and see how they can get better. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and now I have the time to do it.
Just completed my first broadcasting coaching session. Loved it! Spots are beginning to fill up so if interested, get your email in to jjbroadcastingcoaching@Gmail.com pic.twitter.com/AbOrmXUOZZ
— Jim Jackson (@JimJPhilly) November 13, 2020
SJSW: Of all of the interviews you’ve done — because in addition to play-by-play, you’re talking to athletes all the time — who would you consider your all-time favorite interview or person to talk to?
Jackson: My favorite all-time person might be Billie Jean King. She came on the (Phillies) pregame show, for a while almost on a regular basis, because she was promoting some things. She was an unbelievable person. We used to do the pregame show on this table, a table that moved or rolled before we got the (current) booth (down on the concourse) and someone came and bumped the table and Coke spilled all over the place. Billie Jean is the guest and it’s right before she’s going on, I’ve got the engineer on (and I’m) saying “We’ve got to get this cleaned up!” And there’s Billie Jean King on her hands and knees, toweling stuff off. She was just amazing to talk to, so much energy and a passion for so many things in life. So she was always my favorite because she was so easy to interview.
Jamie Foxx (is another). I got to so many people who aren’t athletes. As for athletes, I got to talk to Mike Schmidt every year to talk about Skin Cancer Awareness and we’d also talk baseball; I loved that. Rob Reiner, too. And all of the baseball people. Joe Torre, Tommy Lasorda. I’ll miss that as much as anything, all of the people you’d get to talk to.
But in terms of the interviews from the teams I covered? From the NHL, I’d probably go with (former Flyers goalie) Marty Biron, because he’d have something to say about everything. But there are so many. They are all such good guys in hockey. Scott Laughton the team right now. Ron Hextall was a guy I found to be introspective and a standup guy when things we’re going bad.
And I’ll tell you one from baseball. I’ll never forget Brad Lidge. Of course he had this great year in ‘08 and then he wasn’t so great in ‘09. But after every blown save, you know this because you saw it, too, he’d be there. I’ve said that to him, “You showed me more in ‘09 then in ‘08. It’s hard to be more perfect than he was on the field in ‘08, but what you went through in ‘09 and the way you handled it was tremendous.”
It’s such a tough question, though. Larry Bowa is another. I could talk to him every day of every week. He always has great things to say. And when my mom passed away about 5 years ago I got this unbelievable heartfelt letter from Larry Bowa. Now I’ve interviewed him and see him here and there, but I wouldn’t say I was best friends with him or anything. But that letter was unbelievable. Those are the things you remember.
Dallas Green was another because you never knew where it was going to go, another forthright guy … And the reason most of them are baseball is I did a lot more interviewing in baseball … Chooch and Shane Victorino, too.
SJSW: How about a favorite player to watch?
Jackson: Hockey-wise it probably was Lindros. Early on, Lindros was just a terror. So big, so fast and I remember the first time I came down I went right to a practice at the old Coliseum and they didn’t have numbers on and I was at ice level, so it’s a little hard to see what’s going on, but you just knew which one was Lindros. He was bigger, stronger and faster than anyone by a pretty wide margin. And then you’d see him unleashing shots and making these quick passes. Wow, this is going to be fun to call him.
And it was, for 3-4 years until the concussions started to get the best of him and then things didn’t end well. Thankfully they did reconcile many years later. But to watch him in my first 3-4 years with the organization was amazing.
I will say Peter Forsberg when he came, the first 20 games of Peter Forsberg, until his ankle started acting up, the first 20 games, on a line with Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble I think, he was just unbelievable. You couldn’t play better than he played in those games.
SJSW: It’s funny it’s those two guys because I think my favorite sports “What If” for me in Philly is what if Lindros wasn’t awarded to the Flyers by the arbiter and instead he went to the Rangers while the Flyers kept Forsberg, along with Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall and the others. Because, as we saw, Forsberg was an all-time great.
Jackson: If you were around and I was a broadcaster — the trade was before I arrived but I still was in the league as those other players were making their mark — as great as Eric was, if they trade doesn’t happen, you’d think there is probably another (championship) banner hanging.
SJSW: And it’s easier for both of us to say this in retrospect, because none of us would have reversed that trade when it went down.
Jackson: No. And Peter Forsberg doesn’t help get what’s now the Wells Fargo Center built. He didn’t have the cache and name that Lindros did … If you think about the timing of that, they hadn’t made the playoffs for the last 3 years … The signing, the acquisition of Lindros, there was just starting to be pockets of empty seats. And then they were packed every night when I got here and it’s really been that way ever since. They got that fan base right back.
SJSW: Did you have a favorite athlete growing up?
Jackson: Yeah, I’m a New York guy so people in Philly will hold this against me, but I was a fan of New York sports, so Harry Carson, a linebacker for the New York Giants. He was rock solid for a whole decade so I’m glad he got to the Hall of Fame. My father would take me to one Giants game every year.
Keith Hernandez was one of my favorite baseball players. That was later, when I was college-aged, but I loved the way he played the game. And in hockey, Eddie Giacomin, the goaltender for the Rangers was my guy. I was very young, but I remember he had gray hair and my father also had gray hair. And probably Walt Frazier in basketball.
All of those guys remind me of my father because I’d watch the games with my father and I lost him when I was pretty young, I was only 23. That’s kind of where it’s at. And that’s why I’m still a Giants fan.
SJSW: Sorry to have to put you on the spot here, but who is going to be the next team in Philadelphia to win a championship?
Jackson: Well, I only work for one now. [Laughs]. I honestly really do think the Flyers have an outstanding chance. They have a young team with some veterans, a good goaltender, a really good coach and some more good young players coming. I think they’re in a great position.
And as I look across the landscape, I could see the Sixers making a huge jump this year because they kind of did what the Flyers did last year, they got an established coach … so I think the Sixers could contend this year. That’s still evolving. I think the Sixers have a chance. The Eagles are having a little bit of a problem right now (with the quarterback controversy) … The Phillies, in all honesty, should have been better than they were last year … And with what’s going on financially, I don’t know how it’s going to go.