He does five shows a day, five days a week. The big one, he says, falls in the 5:30 to 5:45 p.m. slot known as "drive time," when his homeward-bound audience is trapped in cars on the Los Angeles freeways. Listening to most radio shows aired at this time, motorists tend to be more irritated by traffic than interested in what is being broadcast. But among those who tune in Metromedia's KLAC and hear Jim Healy for the first time, there is an urge to wheel for the nearest off ramp and pay attention.
Healy is a 54-year-old throwback to the tie-yanked-loose, unbuttoned-collar days of radio. "Some sports people call me Dr. Heckle and Mr. Snide," he says. "And some call me a lot of other things as well. But I do the kind of stuff that isn't pap."
Healy is being modest. In addition to avoiding pap on his show, Healy punctuates his items with a clacker. Nobody has used a clacker since the 1950s when the late Walter Winchell would bark, "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea...let's go to press!" A clacker, for those too young to remember, is the amplified sound of a telegraph key sending messages in Morse code. "I like the pace of it," Healy says. "Those of us in radio have come up with things like that to keep the folks from falling asleep." To that end, Healy also serves as his own engineer, inserting other background sounds, commercials, music and laugh tracks into each broadcast. But the clacker is the main gimmick.
Watching Healy edit and announce The Jim Healy Show reminds one of that marvelous Wizard of Oz scene in which actor Frank Morgan generated all the sounds and magic of Oz from behind a curtain: "Clackety, clack, clack. Dateline—Anaheim. It's two Zops for a beer at Angel home games, and for 50� extra you can get a handle to hold it with. Better go for the extra 50�. Otherwise, when you grab hold of the cup, your beer will spray all over Orange County. Clackety, clack, clack. UCLA has yet to sign a single top high school basketball player while USC—USC!—is doing a fantastic job and has already signed two. Clackety, clack, clack."
Healy tries to cram 50 items—"all different and hard-hitting"—into each 15-minute broadcast. His efforts, however wild, have won him three Greater Los Angeles Press Club awards, four Golden Mikes from the Radio-TV News Association of Southern California and three Associated Press awards for the best sports segment in radio. "I've been doing this for more than 30 years in Los Angeles; I haven't been sued yet and don't intend to be," he says.
It seems a wonder that he hasn't been, because Healy does not stop at the California border. He takes on top sports personalities all around the country. UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan is "J.D. Boredom," and Michigan's Bo Schembechler becomes "Blow-Top Bo." Even Chick Hearn, the beloved Laker announcer, who also works for KLAC, does not escape. Healy constantly rides Hearn, calling him "Chickie-Burger."
Healy may be the first sports announcer to criticize other sports announcers, and he has zingers for all of them: "Clackety, clack, clack. Is TV basketball commentator Al McGuire trying to become another Dizzy Dean? Sample of McGuire's exquisite command of the English language—'It was a hairline foul. It could have went either way.' " Howard Cosell also is one of Healy's targets: "Clackety, clack, clack. Alibi of the century! It has taken How-wud Cosell five months, but he has finally manufactured an alibi for his terrible work on the 1977 World Series telecasts. You won't believe how How-wud explained it to a San Francisco newspaperman. 'I purposely mimicked Vin Scully's clich�s, and sure enough, the writers jumped on me for using sports jargon.' Comment: no comment!"
It is Healy's contention that the best year-round story in Los Angeles is the plight of the Rams: "USC football outdraws the Rams at the gate, but when it comes to conversation around town, the Rams beat the Trojans by better than 3 to 1," he says. "Concern about the Dodgers is always large, but the Angels are moving up. Slowly. I also report TV ratings on my show—which telecasts did well and which didn't. Anyone who believes that fans don't know the meaning of ratings, particularly in this town, is naive."
Healy first worked as a reporter for the Hollywood Citizen-News, and in 1951 began writing copy for the late Bob Kelley, one of L.A.'s most celebrated announcers. "I got my first chance when Kelley didn't show up one day," Healy says. "It was at KMPC, which carried the Rams and UCLA games and Pacific Coast League baseball. I just went on the air over those 50,000 watts and did the show. I started getting chances to do my own program right away. The rule in those days was that you couldn't knock the Rams, UCLA or the PCL. Now we carry the Lakers on KLAC, but I knock them pretty good."
The lights on Healy's phone seem to be constantly flashing with incoming tips. He was the first to announce the free-agent report on Catfish Hunter, and he is usually first in town with coaching changes and player trades. This winter Healy scored a coup with the story of Seattle Slew's syndication a week before it was officially announced. "I have a lot of sources in front offices," he says, "and people in sports always have axes to grind. But for every call that comes in, about five go out to check on the story. Los Angeles is a fascinating town for an announcer to work in." And considering that clacker, a forgiving town as well.