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Jim McCarthy, a founder of ‘Sports Huddle’ radio talk show, dies at 91

Mr. McCarthy kept the show going with Mark Witkin for nearly 30 years
Mr. McCarthy kept the show going with Mark Witkin for nearly 30 years

Boston talk radio was never the same after three buddies who used to meet after work to banter about the state of the Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots began broadcasting their conversation on WUNR-AM in 1969 as “Sports Huddle.”

The three were insurance executives Jim McCarthy and Eddie Andelman, and attorney Mark Witkin. A WUNR manager overheard their lively discussion at Patten’s Restaurant in Boston and proposed they give it a try on air.

“No subject has been spared their darts and thrusts, delivered usually with the imperious confidence of a barking quarterback,” Sports Illustrated reported in 1972 in a feature about the Sunday evening broadcast. The piece added that “if its three-man backfield becomes at times unbearably righteous in its indignation, its time-tested defense is The Plight of the Fan.”


Mr. McCarthy, who kept the show going with Witkin for nearly 30 years, broadcasting at the end from Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, died in his Hingham home Aug. 28 from cardiac-related complications. He was 91 and previously had lived in Cohasset.

After its inception, “Sports Huddle” eventually moved to radio stations WBZ, WEEI, and WHDH. Andelman went to WHDH in 1983 to do his own show, but also stayed with “Sports Huddle” until 1993.

Mr. McCarthy, a football and basketball star at the former Mission High School of Boston, was “a sort of a Dean Martin to Eddie Andelman’s Jerry Lewis,” said Richard Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum in Boston. “Along with Mark Witkin, they made sports talk a raucous, irreverent forum and helped launch a lively enduring genre of sports entertainment.”

The show’s targets included the old Boston Garden’s rat population, the food at Fenway Park, athletes, and media.

“When we criticize, people jump us,” Mr. McCarthy told Sports Illustrated. “But theater critics rap shows they feel aren’t good, and people admit that’s part of their job. Some people just can’t see that we’re trying to serve a purpose, too.”


Mr. McCarthy, “who was a really classy guy, was a nice balance between Mark and Eddie, and each brought a different perspective,” said former Channel 5 sports anchor Mike Lynch, who was among the show’s admirers.

“They were therapy for the Boston sports fan,” Lynch said. “They would be the salve, the ointment, on Sunday night to ease the pain of a Patriots or Red Sox loss. They were unvarnished and we saw something of ourselves in them.”

Among the trio’s memorable escapades was searching for nontraditional kickers for the Patriots. Their travels took them to Great Britain, where they discovered “Bigfoot” Mike Walker, a soccer player who had a brief stint with the Patriots, and to Australia, where they found “Kangaroo Kid” Mark Harris, a rugby star who went on to play in the Canadian Football League.

In 1973, Time Magazine noted that the “Huddle” also once made a telephone call to the commandant of the soldiers guarding Buckingham Palace to ask if “he would trade two of Her Majesty’s finest for a pair of Patriot guards.”

Andelman recalled that Mr. McCarthy, who was nicknamed “Jazz,” especially enjoyed those telephone calls, including one to the pool at a hotel in Maui where the NFL meetings had been held.

“We spent the entire show having them page people like Abraham Lincoln and Ty Cobb, and Jim laughed the entire four hours — and he had a very infectious laugh. He was always fun to be with, and you couldn’t find a better friend,” Andelman said.


He noted that the inaugural “Sports Huddle” show included only himself and Witkin. “I had a chance to review the tapes and there was a missing ingredient,” Andelman said, “so Jim, the archetypical Irish Boston sports fan, came on to the second show and never left.”

When Andelman became a principal owner of the former Foxborough Raceway and renamed it New England Harness Raceway, Mr. McCarthy was its president.

Glenn Ordway, cohost of WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria” sports talk show, said he has never forgotten Andelman’s and Mr. McCarthy’s kindness.

“I was involved with a show in the late ’70s which was canceled, and I was out of work when Eddie and Jim found a job for me at the race track until I found something else,” Ordway recalled. “It was a real nice gesture but not surprising since Jim, who had a gruff exterior, also had a big heart.”

As a former athlete, Mr. McCarthy understood what it took to perform to the best of your ability with no excuses, Ordway said, “and that’s what Jim did so well, getting the best out of himself and out of life.”

Born in Boston, James Joseph McCarthy was the son of Joseph McCarthy, a postal clerk who also worked as an usher at Boston Garden, and the former Anna Boldt. He graduated from Mission High School, served in the Army in Europe from 1945 to 1947, and graduated from Suffolk University.


After working in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Mr. McCarthy worked out of the Boston office of Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., and then founded his own insurance agency in 1978.

While skiing in North Conway, N.H., Mr. McCarthy made the acquaintance of Patricia Madden of Brookline. They met again the following summer in Falmouth, where “he reintroduced himself and said, ‘Hi, North Conway,’ ” she said.

They married in 1955.

“I was struck by his loyalty and friendship to others, and when he was comfortable with the people he was with, he was the life of the party,” said Patricia, an accomplished artist who taught at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset.

“Jim loved the beach, and on our vacations — including a memorable trip to France — we usually ended up at the beach,” she recalled. “When we had a summer place in Truro, we would walk along the beach to Provincetown.”

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, Mr. McCarthy’s family presented him with “All the Things We Love About Dad” — a lengthy list of attributes that included proud, patriotic, generous, his smile, his hugs, undying love for his wife and his family, and a lover of sea, surf, and sun.

In addition to his wife, Mr. McCarthy leaves two sons, Mark of Hull and James of Norwell; two daughters, Robin Pelissier of Hingham and Lisa Vanderweil of Boston; and seven grandchildren.


A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Wednesday in St. Anthony Church in Cohasset.

Mr. McCarthy “brought authenticity and credibility to the show, and he was very funny,” said Witkin, now a sports agent. “When he sat down behind the microphone, he was just being himself.”

One day in the late 1990s, as the two were driving home from a show at Foxwoods, “we sort of looked at one another and agreed we had a great time that night, and that it was time to walk away,” Witkin recalled. “It just felt right.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.