To many, he was the Godfather of Boston sports radio production and sales spanning the second half of the 20th century.
So no wonder that Paul Kelley, Sr. is receiving the career-capping accolade that the trailblazing sports radio producer and sales guru has long deserved: election to the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
A Beverly native, long-time Wenham resident and former Gloucester resident who currently resides in Topsfield, Kelley will be inducted into the exclusive club that boasts many of the biggest names in Boston and Bay State radio and television history during a luncheon ceremony Thursday, Sept. 30 at the Boston Quincy Marriott.
Kelley, who turns 90 later this month, will be honored along with Boston and national network sportscaster supreme Sean McDonough, currently of ESPN; Laura DiCarlo of WCRB-FM, Nancy Quill of WMJX-FM, Jorge Quiroga of WCVB-TV, Gerald Walsh of WLVI-TV and WFXT-TV, Eric Jackson of WGBH-FM, and Michael Baxendale and John O’Brien of WAQY-FM in Springfield.
Kelley will receive the Association’s Pioneer Award, established in recent years “to recognize individuals who do not appear on-air, but their role helped influence and inspire the Massachusetts broadcast community to reach a pinnacle of excellence.”
“It’s an amazing group of which I'm proud to be among for this recognition,” said Kelley.
His biggest claim to fame (of many that he had) would have to be his establishing the first all-talk sports radio station in Boston and New England at WMEX/WITS (1510-AM) in the mid-1970s. That gave Lynn’s Glenn Ordway and Swampscott’s Mike Lynch their break in Boston sports media. Kelley also gave now-retired WBZ news anchor and Hall of Famer Diane Stern her big break on the Boston airwaves.
At the same time, after securing radio rights to the Boston Red Sox, Kelley expanded the Red Sox radio network from 40 stations to 80, second in size among major league teams only to the Cincinnati Reds, and also acquired radio rights to the Boston Bruins. During the fall, he carried Harvard, Boston College and Holy Cross football and basketball games.
Those successes and others led to the founding of Kelley Communications Corporation (KCC) in 1983. Kelley Sr.'s own company spanned 31 years and specialized in the creation and production of radio and TV programming, media internet buying and broadcast consulting. KCC merged in 2009 with East Coast Associates but retained the KCC name.
It's all been an historic, extraordinary run in the business, most, but not all, of it sports-geared. It followed a four-year hitch in the United States Air Force that included combat missions during the Korean War, yielding four Bronze Silver Stars among his decorations. He eventually made his momentous career decision to try radio sales in 1961 with local flagship standard bearer WESX-AM in Salem/Marblehead.
“Spike Brown, the lead voice of local radio sports for many years, said I should talk to Jay Asher at WESX,” Kelley remembered. “I got hired and learned a lot about the business, particularly advertising sales, but also some about the on-air mechanics. I stayed with this business for 60 years.”
The Boston bigshots saw young talent in Kelley. Thus, his 11-year tenure at WHDH — the gold standard in Beantown radio at the time — made all the difference in the world, from 1963-1974. The former member of the undefeated state champion 1949 Beverly High golf team, Kelley started at ‘HDH as an account executive and ended his stint there as national sales manager and assistant general manager.
“That was when ‘HDH broadcast the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics,” Kelley said. “I learned how stations and pro sports teams did business with each other.”
During the next part of his career, Kelley served at GM at WHUE-FM (now WZLX-FM), did sales and sports consulting for WBZ-AM and WBZ-TV, and made his biggest impact during his years at WMEX/WITS as vice president, GM and president of the sports division.
“It was a busy, exciting and lucrative time for me and the stations I worked for,” Kelley recalled; “a sign of what was to come in Boston sports and talk radio.”
Kelley joins a long, distinguished group of Hall of Famers who have strong North Shore roots, among them Norm Nathan, Bill McGrath, Gary LaPierre, Jim Coppersmith, Mary Richardson, Joe Green, Dr. Timothy Johnson, Stanley Forman, Stern and Dana Hersey. But only Kelley stands as the true innovator that raised Boston radio sports to a new level of attention and respect among the population.
Among Kelley's mnay career highlights, he created:
Della Chiesa, a legend in Boston radio music programming, will introduce Kelley at his induction.
No one is more grateful for Kelley’s lofty status in the Boston media world than Mike Lynch, long-time former sports anchor for WCVB-TV, Channel 5. As he tells it:
“In August 1977 Paul interviewed me for a position with 1510 AM, WITS. He was very kind and gave me my first break in the business — $10 per game to be a statistician for Harvard football broadcasts,” said Lynch. “In the interim he let me hang around the station and absorb as much as I could about the business, and I found it intoxicating. The following year he hired me as Ned Martin‘s partner on Harvard football for $100 per game, which led to me filling in on morning drive sports casts and filling in as a talk show host.
"I'm forever in Paul Kelley’s debt for giving me a break I needed to get in the business," continued Lynch. "Not many people would take a chance on a person with zero experience, but Paul took a chance on me. I’m thrilled that he is going into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.”
For all of his unparalleled success, Kelley, a long-time co-chair of the Mike Frangos Memorial Commodore Open, admits he would not have thrived in the business without the support of his wife of 65 years, Leah, and four children, Peter, Paul, Pamela and Paula. The two boys, in fact, enjoyed their own success in the business, Paul with his own company, Kelley Media, and Peter as a sales rep for KISS-108 and a producer of the North Shore Sports Desk and Red Sox broadcasts on WBOQ-FM in Beverly.
“My father worked with a lot of people and helped many of them in the business, a whole bunch I would guess are in the same Hall of Fame,” Paul declared. “He created great programs for radio sales and radio on-air. His family could not be prouder of him.”
“I doubt anyone in the Boston/New England broadcast community is more respected as my father,” Peter Kelley noted. “He became a giant in his field.”