Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Former Packers Radio Network Announcer Jim Irwin dies at 77 from Kidney Cancer

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Former Green Bay Packers Radio Network announcer Jim Irwin has died at age 77 of kidney cancer.  Irwin, who worked mainly for WTMJ-AM 620 Milwaukee in Wisconsin, announced games on the radio for the Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers (as a fill-in announcer) and Wisconsin Badgers for many years, starting in 1969 and retiring in 1998.  Irwin also occasionally worked as a sportscaster for WTMJ-TV channel 4 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Irwin was a mainstay of the Packers Radio Network** for years as first a color commentator, then a play-by-play voice.  Irwin called games for the Packers through many losing seasons before they finally got and stayed good in the 1990s; he retired after the Packers went to their second successive Super Bowl in 1998.   Irwin was the last remaining radio announcer from his particular broadcast team, as long-time color commentator Max McGee died in 2007 and statistician Jim Palm died in 2010.  (Note that in the 1997-8 season, Irwin called games with color announcer Larry McCarren as Max McGee retired one year before Irwin; McCarren continues those duties to this day with current Packers play-by-play announcer Wayne Larrivee.)

Irwin was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2003; prior to that, he had been inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame.  Irwin was named the Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year for a record-setting ten times in a row.  (Please see this biography from the Packers Hall of Fame Web site for further details.)

Irwin was an outstanding, passionate announcer who loved the Packers and didn’t try to hide it, but wouldn’t hesitate to call out plays he felt were dumb or unnecessary.  Irwin also could be caustic with regards to bad coaching, though it took a lot to get him there; as Bob Harlan said today on WTMJ radio 620 in Milwaukee during the Wisconsin Afternoon News program, Irwin was extremely “enthusiastic” about the Packers, was always “well-prepared,” but had “a temper” and would occasionally let it loose, especially if he felt something was wrong due to someone not doing his or her homework (either for the radio broadcast, or regarding the team itself).

Listening to some of the calls Irwin made fifteen years after the fact (as some were from 1996 and early 1997) reminded me how much I enjoyed the way Irwin called a game.  He didn’t insert himself into the commentary as so many do nowadays; instead, he let the game come to him, and he explained what he saw in a way that was both clear and entertaining.

I’ve missed hearing Irwin’s smooth voice and insightful commentary on a regular basis since 1998, but he had occasionally worked on behalf of WTMJ AM so I still heard his thoughts now and again in recent years.  There also had been an interview with Irwin on Today’s TMJ 4 (WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) last May that referenced the beginning of Irwin’s fight against kidney cancer, a fight Irwin was certain he’d win; that link is here.

Please see this link for a few transcribed Jim Irwin play-by-play calls, along with a great deal more information about what Irwin actually did for WTMJ radio and TV:

http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/137903348.html

Irwin led exactly the life he’d hoped to live, one filled with professional and personal success.  And my guess is, he’d not have had it any other way, as referenced by this quote from the TodaysTMJ4 article:

When asked about how he would rate his life on a scale of 1-10, Irwin answered, “Is there a 12 or a 14?”

Rest well, Jim Irwin.

————

** Wisconsin is unusual in that we’re a state that follows one, single NFL team, the Green Bay Packers.  The Packers Radio Network in 2011-12 is comprised of thirty-six separate Wisconsin stations (see list here) and stations in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  That’s why our broadcasters often have a wider scope than some in other, much bigger media markets.

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