|Just ‘Cawley’ was enough for radio icon
Not J.C., or Jimbo.
And certainly not Slim Jim.
He ascended to the top of the broadcasting business during an era when many a colleague came up with their own self-serving moniker to draw an audience.
Jim Cawley needed no such gimmick.
Just, Cawley, was enough.
Like many who earn the status of “elite” in their chosen line of work, his surname alone separated him from his competitors.
All the great ones seemingly, are so recognized.
Basketball had Jordan.
Politics had Reagan.
And there’s been only one Ali.
The name Cawley — over a 35-year broadcasting career — became synonymous with the best of the best in an industry that is often rightly scrutinized.
He demanded accuracy and fairness, both of himself and his sources.
And while he often privately joked that he’d answered to other designations, he was most often widely-recognized by his last name.
Whether entertaining radio listeners with his call of more than 5,000 athletic contests or reporting of the most-harrowing of news events, Cawley’s eloquent voice, even tone and uncompromised commitment to professionalism, often softened even the most controversial of subjects.
His masses were left both more knowledgeable and entertained after either a game broadcast or a newscast. Mostly, that was because he tirelessly researched his topics and the characters involved in his reports beforehand.
When Cawley spoke, his audience heard.
More importantly, they listened.
Cawley was often given the ultimate compliment by those who regularly listened to his ballgame broadcasts.
And for those who experienced his work via the airwaves, it was indeed “just like I was there,” as he was told countless times by those who depended on him to be their eyes and ears at such events.
My friend, Cawley, finally succumbed to cancer and its effects after a 20-month battle early Wednesday morning.
Ours was a unique relationship not always enjoyed by other professionals in the same media industry.
Though we often competed for the same news- or sports-seeking audience, we regularly chased the same leads and shared tips from different sources.
Cawley began his radio career about 10 years before I broke into the newspaper industry.
He immediately made me feel comfortable by including me as an analyst on his weekly “Countdown to Kickoff” pregame football show.
That experience that both provided me exposure to another media outlet and also gave my current employer free advertising in the radio medium, continued for 15 years.
During that time, we shared countless late-night meals together and also made unforgettable memories during tapings with local prep coaches and other townsfolk with similar interest.
I was stunned by Cawley’s thoroughness early in our association. He had accumulated in-depth records and statistics of players and coaches from hundreds of contests — all by hand and long before computer programs sorted and crunched such numbers for you.
His attention to the smallest of detail was remarkable, and I immediately attempted to emulate that quality while absorbing many of his other practices.
Since those early days, we traveled many a mile together — sometimes in the same car, sometimes not — covering local athletes and athletics.
We both reported on seven state basketball championships won by our three county high school teams in the last 23 years and three more state runner-up football finishes.
During Union City’s most recent state title run, I spent my last quality extensive time with Cawley doing a piece for The Messenger’s keepsake edition that was published afterward.
And, just like when we had lunch together a handful of times after he was originally diagnosed with brain cancer in the fall of 2006, his recall was amazing.
The chemotherapy and other treatments that had essentially poisoned his body while trying to fight off his fatal disease amazingly had virtually no effects on Cawley’s uncanny ability to remember names of players 20 years beforehand as well as perfect directions to venues we’d traveled.
During those aforementioned lunches, too, he regularly chuckled when flawlessly detailing a real-life shootout he’d covered some 25 years ago when Nathan Malray had eluded several dozen law enforcement officers and his then-Messenger cohort David Bartholomew had squeezed his way under a Volkswagen despite his considerable girth in the process.
It was vintage Cawley.
Given just a few months to live after first being diagnosed terminally ill, Cawley could only shrug when asked to explain how he’d proven that prognosis wrong in our last in-depth conversation.
What he was more interested in talking about, was a more active and extensive role he planned on having in this fall’s sports broadcasts after a year in which he felt he didn’t carry his share of the load because of his condition.
That attitude, his preparedness and attention to detail indeed made him a one-of-a-kind.
Or, just Cawley.