Broadcaster

CHML veteran Bill Sturrup retires

7/2/2003

HAMILTON - The legendary voice of Canada's Steel City, especially its local sports scene, has retired. Radio veteran Bill Sturrup called it a career on Friday after 42 years with Corus-owned CHML.

The following is an article re-printed with permission from The Hamilton Spectator

CHML veteran Bill Sturrup calling it quits
But most recognized voice in Hamilton radio can't let go completely
by Doug Foley
Hamilton Spectator

Bill Sturrup retire? Yeah, right!

The Hamilton-born and bred radio reporter/announcer may be ending his 42-year, full-time association with CHML on June 30, but anyone who knows the man behind the voice of Hamilton sports knows darn well Sturrup will never walk off into the sunset, as long as there's a microphone and a game to cover.

"I will still do everything I do now except getting up every day to go to work," said Sturrup, owner of the most recognized voice in Hamilton.

He may even be back at CHML before too long.

"I plan to take the summer off but discussions are ongoing about going back to 'ML in the fall, if everyone agrees, for some weekend duties or filling in or covering major court trials. It's pretty open-ended.

"People do seem to have things in mind for me," he said.

Count among those people Sturrup's wife Kathy, his two children Deb and Mike and his three grandchildren.

There is also talk about some instruction at Mohawk College media courses and interest from people in the local travel industry who figure they can put Sturrup's skills and knowledge to work.

And come fall his public announcer talents will have him back behind the microphone at various sports events like the Hamilton Bulldogs and Kilty Bees hockey games and football, basketball and baseball at McMaster University.

In other words, business as usual for the affable Hamilton sports icon, who turns 65 today.

Sturrup wouldn't seem to want to have it any other way.

He's been handling public address and play-by-play action at city sporting events for almost 50 years, so why stop now?

From his teenage years in the 1950s with the Hamilton Cardinals baseball team to his patented Bulldogs yell at Copps Coliseum today, Bill Sturrup is one of the best-known sports personalities in Hamilton history.

He has been working in the radio/announcer business in one way or another since he was a kid growing up on Lorne Avenue in the Gage and Main area and started playing disc jockey with his parents' 78 r.p.m. records.

"They always told me I would go into radio," says the short, bespectacled Sturrup, much greyer in the hair now although at 5-foot-6, maybe not all that much taller than in those early platter-spinning days.

"I loved radio and was interested even in public school in the '40s."

DJ-ing, whether at home or later at dances at Delta High School and Ryerson United Church, wouldn't be enough for Sturrup. He also had a voice with a smooth, resonant, microphone-friendly tone made for radio.

That was confirmed early at Adelaide Hoodless Public School where he won a public speaking award.

Sturrup also sang in Delta's choir and glee club and took on Gilbert and Sullivan roles in The Mikado and other shows.

"They say my voice is distinctive," says Sturrup of his dulcet tones.

"I sound relatively the same on and off the air. I had a normal kid's voice that just developed through the years."

With a shrug of his shoulders, he says pipe smoking has probably been a bit responsible for his resonant tone but is quick to add he does not smoke a lot.

"But I have a great source of tobacco in Flint, Mich. I've been going to Paul's Pipe Shop every year we are there for the CANUSA Games."

Sturrup has been involved in one way or another in those friendly encounters between young athletes of the two cities since their beginning. He has also long been involved in the BIG Games between the two Burlingtons, in Ontario and Vermont.

That's just like Sturrup. If it's a good cause, he can generally be counted on to lend a hand.

He gets paid for professional sports announcing, but a lot of his work is free of charge, as a favour or to give back to a city sports world that has given him so much.

"I have had so much luck, all sorts of good breaks," he says of his illustrious career.

Sturrup's sports announcing days began with high school basketball at Delta.

Showing he was a man of many media, he also helped found the school newspaper, Omnia, which earned him the nickname Scoop that some still use to this day.

His first paid job was writing a high school sports and old country soccer column for The Hamilton Spectator. He also wrote for the Hamilton Daily News and, as a student, he also delivered that paper.

"I was carrying a paper that carried my byline. I was a full service guy."

With so much going on in his life, Sturrup had to be reminded to devote some time to school work. He admits he wasn't the best student and while he generally aced English and history, he once scored a four on a math exam.

"I think I got that for putting my name down correctly."

But there was a lot going on for him outside the walls of Delta.

His dad, Francis, had been involved in program sales in the old PONY baseball league that had a team in Hamilton, the Cardinals, and Sturrup used to play records before the games over the PA system.

CHML sports director Norm Marshall knew young Sturrup from the old ball park beside Civic Stadium (as Ivor Wynne Stadium was then known) and eventually helped him land some radio play-by-play work.

"Bill had been our Delta sports correspondent and I was intrigued by him," recalled Marshall.

"He was such a hard worker. He does a great many things very well and he just seemed to be able to work hard at whatever he tried to do. "And everytime I recommended him him to someone for a job , he not only did it, but he did it better than I said he would."

Marshall also helped Sturrup land work at The Hamilton Forum on Barton Street East after local media magnate Ken Soble took it over. Soble was Marshall's boss as owner of CHML and the founder of CHCH-TV.

Sam Hebscher managed the Forum and remembers Sturrup as one of the most enthusiastic people he ever met.

"He was right there all the time," said Hebscher. "He did everything and got along with everybody.

"He never had a bad word to say about anyone and no one ever had one for him."

Sturrup spun records on skating nights at the Forum and soon graduated to public address work for the junior hockey team, the Tiger Cubs, which grew into the Junior Red Wings, farm club for Detroit's NHL team. Marshall handled the play by play while another local sports legend, Joe Watkins, tapped out the game story on a telegraph key and sent it across the country.

"I was 16 and started to do everything else down there," Sturrup recalled. "I used to do my homework in the office at night."

He also did sound duties for wrestling and talent shows. Sturrup had learned about audio by working for Bill Anderson Sound, giving him more insight into the industry that would dominate his life.

When he finally did graduate from high school, Sturrup didn't find a university that would take him and he ventured into the real working world of Hamilton in the late 1950s.

Bob Hanley hired him part time at The Spectator but told him times were tight and if he got a chance at a full-time job somewhere, he should take it.

He did try his hand at manual labour after an uncle landed him summer work for the city digging sewers on the rapidly-expanding Mountain.

"I was digging sewers out of the clay in the hot sun. I came home that first day on the bus and everyone moved away because of the way I looked and smelled."

His efforts resulted in a cheque for one day's pay from the city and Sturrup looking harder for work in the media.

"I don't know why but I sent an application to CJOY (radio) in Guelph, the only application I ever sent out, and I got hired covering news and sports," he said.

"It was a small town station but had a great staff and I learned a lot in the 10 months I was there."

In 1961, Sturrup had job offers from CHCH and CHML and did a short TV stint as a news writer and reporter before accepting the 'ML offer and started work there on March 1, 1961.

"That was where I always wanted to be," he said about the station that was then at Main and Springer streets, only a few blocks from Lorne Avenue where Sturrup grew up.

"It took five or six years before they could convince (station manager) Tom Darling I wasn't the high school kid who did the ball games," Sturrup said.

'ML's Mayor of the Morning Paul Hanover used to call Sturrup Mr. Everywhere and Mr. Everything.

"There wasn't a job he couldn't do or didn't want to do at the station or in the community," said Hanover.

"Bill was always there, always dependable."

Sturrup had met Hanover many years before as his paper boy delivering the Hamilton News to the announcer's Cumberland Avenue home.

When he returned to Hamilton, Sturrup also headed straight back to the Forum to resume PA duties. Those duties grew over the years.

He worked with the Hamilton Tiger Cubs, Red Wings, Fincups, Steelhawks, Skyhawks, Dukes, Canucks, Cardinals, Fire Wheels and Kilty Bees.

He is the announcer for The Spectator Indoor Games, McMaster University, various and sundry high school championships, NHL and NBA exhibition games and Memorial Cup and Canada Cup games at Copps Coliseum.

His voice is even heard in Hamilton Place, telling patrons there is no smoking in the auditorium and that the performance will resume in five minutes.

He has taken his golden voice down the QEW to handle PA duties for the old Toronto Toros and the Argonauts and Vanier Cup and NFL games.

And, lest we forget, for almost 25 years, he was the voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium. That relationship ended abruptly in 1995, with some hurt feelings when the team dropped him without notice.

That story had been told before and Sturrup doesn't dwell on it anymore, but does call it "one of the strangest things that happened to me."

Over the years Sturrup became ML's crime expert, covering police and court news and was the station's eye in the sky helicopter traffic reporter for several years.

His cachet with Hamilton police is such that the proceeds from the Bill Sturrup Roast on Thursday at Carmen's Banquet Centre will go to Crime Stoppers of Hamilton Inc.

Sturrup is also CHML's go-to guy in snow storms, known to man the weather desk for hours on end.

Sturrup freelanced for CBC and CFTO-TV and has had chances to move on to other stations but is too ensconced in Hamilton to consider it.

He has covered just about every big news story in the last 40 years and cites the Jon Rallo murder case and trial and the mid-'70s scandal known as Harbourgate as two of the real biggies.

And he laughs when he reveals he has never covered a Hamilton city council meeting, something that does not bother him in the least.

"They were on Tuesday nights and I was always covering hockey," he explained.

Over the years, he has watched AM radio shaken to its foundations by changing tastes, corporate monopolies, syndicated and computerized programming, the growth of FM radio and countless other diversions.

"'ML has stayed the course," he said. "The newsroom has soldiered on despite cutbacks and we have survived. But for me it's a good time to go when you see what's happening.

"I really haven't had any regrets. I have generally been happy and well-treated at 'ML."

Sturrup is cited by many younger reporters as a mentor and a good friend. He was generally helpful to the people he was supposed to be competing with because, as he said, "a lot of people helped me and I did what I could to help others."

When asked his favourite sports memories, Sturrup mentions the Canada Cup in which Mario Lemieux scored the winning goal at Copps Coliseum, Grey Cups, Memorial Cups and the Bulldogs' run at the Calder Cup.

But topping his list is the World Junior Hockey Championships held in Hamilton in 1985, the year Copps opened.

"It was a brand-spanking new arena and Hamilton was hosting a world championship."

And it's fitting that his memory included his mentor, Norm Marshall.

"We were sitting in Copps and I said to Norm, 'it's a long way from the Forum, isn't it?'"

Not really. It was sports, it was in Hamilton and Sturrup was there. That's something that hasn't changed in the last 50 years.

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