DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jim Leahey, left, and his son, Kanoa Leahey, had a friendly disagreement about the WAC basketball tournament over breakfast at Big City Diner in Kaimuki last week.
Leahey legacy looms
large in local sports
Hawaii boasts its share of sports-family dynasties but usually they are the ones receiving news coverage.
Chuck, Jim and Kanoa Leahey represent three generations of providing that coverage to the public.
The patriarch died in 1982 of emphysema after more than one long and storied career. His son Jim and grandson Kanoa swell with pride talking about Chuck -- and each other. They are father and son, but they are also colleagues. And they are buddies who can either see eye to eye or disagree on matters of sport.
The legacy started almost by accident.
Chuck Leahey was a Navy Chief who ran a public information office and lived in Ewa Beach with his wife and five children.
After retirement he worked as the athletic director for Naval recreation activities and ran Bloch Arena and other facilities.
He firmly believed "the military should not hide behind its fences," according to Jim, now 62.
It was the 1950s and Bloch Arena was a hive of athletic activity and a hub of the community.
A young Army soldier-athlete named Larry Price showed up for a boxing match.
"He said 'Thanks for coming,' and 'Good luck,'" Price said. That was before Price was sent overseas, but they would meet again.
The senior Leahey reached out to the University of Hawaii to offer Les Murakami and his baseball players a place to practice, or, in the case of the UH football program, a location for spring camp.
"They would feed us and let us stay down there and everything for spring practice," said Price.
Leahey and legendary Hawaii basketball figure Red Rocha established the UH Rainbow Classic basketball tournament, Jim said.
Early in those days, the senior Leahey met radio sportscaster Les Keiter, who regularly announced events from the venue. Jim would often tag along with his dad. Kanoa grew up the same way.
About 1950, "We formed the Press and Radio Bums that included Akuhead, Buck Buchwach and Dan Maguire. There was no TV then. We'd play games on different islands, play all-star teams for charity and finally played one game at the old Honolulu Stadium, the Termite Palace," Keiter said.
PIPI WAKAYAMA / COURTESY OF THE LEAHEY FAMILY
Al Michaels, left, and Chuck Leahey worked together broadcasting UH games in the late 1960s.
"Our umpire was named Arthur Godfrey."
THE Arthur Godfrey, Keiter confirmed.
Keiter was tasked to play and to cover the game for KPOA-AM, where he was sports director. He couldn't do both and tapped his friend Chuck Leahey to cover the play-by-play while Keiter was on the field.
A sports broadcasting heritage was born.
Keiter moved to the mainland for 20 years and by his return, Chuck Leahey had become a household name, not just in the sports community, but among radio and television audiences statewide. Leahey and Al Michaels, now an NFL announcer, would cover all sorts of sports side-by-side.
Chuck Leahey and Larry Price got reacquainted during Price's days as a University of Hawaii football player, and then as a coach.
"He was much more than a broadcaster. He was ubiquitous, he was everywhere, and he was always very fair," said Price.
In the early 1970s, Chuck Leahey was instrumental in establishing the University of Hawaii Easter Baseball Tournament. Now played at a different time of year, a tournament highlight is the presentation of the Chuck Leahey award. "It signifies a person who in their lifetime has celebrated and supported baseball in Hawaii," Jim said.
Leahey and Keiter are both honorees in the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.
Jim started out as a teacher at Campbell High School and also worked with Chuck at KITV, where he eventually became an anchor.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Over breakfast at Big City Diner last week, Jim Leahey, left, and his son, Kanoa Leahey, talked about how they got started in sports broadcasting.
Kanoa, the third of Leahey's three children, was born in 1977. Not long after that, Jim was approached by KGMB-TV news anchor Bob Sevey about joining the station to replace Joe Moore, who had been hired by KHON-TV.
Jim tried to decline, but Sevey offered to double his $12,500 teaching salary. Leahey enjoyed living in the community he was teaching in. He could ride his bicycle to work, he said. Then Sevey offered to triple his salary, asking, "When are you going to start thinking about your own children, instead of everyone else's?" He made the move to KGMB, where he stayed until 1984.
He moved to Channel 13, then known as KIKU-TV, recruited by Rick Blangiardi, a former UH football player who had become a broadcast executive but who also did color commentary to Leahey's play-by-play on KGMB-TV and radio. The two appeared on many other stations as well.
Blangiardi intended to put as many games on television as he could, Leahey said.
"He was visionary and exciting to work for.
"He fired me twice," Leahey said. It never lasted long. The night of one of their job-terminating fights over policy, Leahey's phone rang. Blangiardi's voice was on the other end saying, "Hey we had a pretty good one today." He was un-fired.
"I probably fired him every day that we worked together," Blangiardi laughed.
With a couple of exceptions, Jim Leahey has been a leading University of Hawaii play-by-play voice for more than 20 years.
By 1990 Blangiardi was running KING-TV in Seattle and Leahey took him up on the opportunity to do play-by-play for the Seattle Seahawks during NFL pre-season play.
Leahey's microphone time in the islands was also interrupted by a life-threatening illness. On Sept. 11, 1997, Leahey was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a cancer that leaves more decedents than survivors.
His wife Toni took leave from her job and spent every day caring for him.
Hospitalization and intensive chemotherapy put him into remission. His oncologist told him last September that his annual just-in-case screenings were no longer necessary.
Jim and Toni celebrated their 38th anniversary on Thursday at Sam Choy's Diamond Head. Kanoa picked up the tab.
By the time of his diagnosis, Jim had already seen his son get off to a strong start in sports broadcasting. Kanoa, a 1995 Iolani graduate, called his first game, girls high school basketball, on KGU-AM 760, as a senior.
He had grown up going to games with his dad, turning the sound down on the TV and practicing on his own, doing the play-by-play as he and Jim played whiffle-ball outside.
Jim knew his son would prepare well, but "after the tip, all bets are off," Jim said. He expected halting delivery, but his son described the action to a "T." The chip off two old blocks had nailed it.
Proud as he was, Jim admonished Kanoa that he would have to pay his dues and his son poured himself into it, calling high school and NCAA games for radio and cable television until he was offered an audition at KITV in 1999 by sports director Robert Kekaula.
He got the job and is now weekend anchor, reporting on sports three days a week.
There are two generations' worth of big shoes to fill.
"I see it as an honor to use the last name," Kanoa said. The only pressure he feels is self-induced. "I still have a ton of dues to pay."
But at least one industry veteran thinks he's coming along.
At a Honolulu Quarterback Club function last week, master of ceremonies Les Keiter introduced Jim Leahey as "Kanoa Leahey's dad."
"He's doing a hell of a job," Keiter said.