‘Hawaii lost a legend’: Tributes pour in for Jim Leahey, longtime voice of UH sports

Leahey officially began his decades-long involvement with UH as the announcer for the inaugural Rainbow Classic in 1964.
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 4:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If Hawaii had a sports soundtrack, undoubtedly Jim Leahey’s voice would be the one doing the play-by-play.

For decades his calls of sporting events drew listeners and viewers right into the action.

He had a special knack for doing it.

“The words that you use come from reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, and it doesn’t have to be sports, it can be anything else, because then you can compare and contrast. That ball is Aloha -- homerun. That ball is Aloha,” he once said in an interview.

“I remember working with him for so many years. There were times something would happen in the course of a game. He would describe something and I was getting ready to jump in to say something, and he’d grab my arm and basically said, ‘No. Let the crowd do the talking,’” said Artie Wilson, a friend and broadcast partner.

Leahey’s trademark style utilized a command of the English language that never failed to paint a vivid picture, and he was meticulous in his preparation.

“He would spend hours and hours and hours preparing for every game and color coding this and that – a tremendous amount of preparation. I remember walking by his desk and saying, ‘Do you really have to do all of this to do a game?’ And he looked up and me and he said, ‘No, you don’t have to. Only if you want to do it right,” sportscaster Larry Beil said.

Leahey followed in the footsteps of his father Chuck, who pioneered Hawaii sports on the radio. But Jim took the family business to another level. He was a master storyteller on radio and television.

“He kept you right in the game, but there were those times when all of a sudden, he could talk about the Great Wall of China, and you’d be like, ‘This is amazing! How’s Jim know all this about that?’ sportscaster Neil Everett said.

Leahey worked for KGMB, KFVE and OCSports, and co-hosted the “Leahey & Leahey Show” on PBS with his son Kanoa.

Jim Leahey, the voice for University of Hawaii sports for over 60 years, has died, his family confirmed. He was 80 years old.

He was the voice of UH athletics for over 40 years.

“Every big call that occurred for the University of Hawaii or other sporting events, Jim Leahey, that was the voice that your heard,” Wilson said.

His work earned him accolades. He was named Hawaii’s Sportscaster of the Year 19 times and is a member of the UH Athletics Hall of Fame.

He wasn’t selfish with his talent. He helped to groom the next generation of sports broadcasters.

“He was a great mentor to me, personally,” Beil said. “I really feel that if I had not been around Jim, I don’t that I would be where I am today.”

“How blessed were we in Hawaii to have Jim as a part of our lives for as long as we had it. And I think Jim Leahey would say how blessed he was to have Hawaii in his heart for as long as he had it,” Everett said.

Leahey graduated from St. Louis School and the University of San Francisco.

He was a husband, father, and grandfather.

“I respected and admired Jim so much for the way he loved his wife Toni,” Wilson said. “Hawaii lost a legend today. I lost a friend. As I get older. I value friends even more and losing Jim, that’s a huge loss for me. A huge loss.”

“I’ve always believed in three things. One is, always be yourself. Always be yourself. You’ve been given this talent. Don’t try to be don’t imitate anybody else. Two - never tell a lie. Never tell a lie when you’re in play by play, and three, and you’ll get this. Never ever trust broadcast management.” Leahey joked in that early interview.

When he retired, Jim Leahey said he just wanted to go away quietly.

It’s pretty hard to do that when you’re a legend.