Tuesday, June 19, 2012

RIP Jim Packard: Madison Radio Legend

He didn’t have the really deep baritone or bass voice that stereotypical radio announcers have; it was a baritone voice, to be sure, but Jim Packard mastered what all radio announcers aspire to: total control of the vocal instrument, perfectly modulated, with remarkable elocution.  Jim’s voice wasn’t really a lyric baritone voice, like Jonathon Overby’s gorgeous pipes; what it was, was….perfect for radio.

Jim passed away Monday, only 71 years old.

He had a lot of jobs in radio, but his signature gig was straight-man and announcer (and, of course, score-keeper) for Michael Feldman on Whad’ya Know, from the show’s first airing in 1985.  Jim’s voice was heard on a variety of announcements that aired throughout the day on Wisconsin Public Radio, and he was producer and fill-in announcer for the Larry Meiller Show on WPR.

Jim’s broadcast career spanned five decades, and before his gig at Wisconsin Public Radio began as a news announcer in 1981, he was familiar to Madison listeners from his days at WISM-AM and WIBA-FM.  Jim’s “Radio Free Madison” broadcasts on WIBA-FM were classics.  Back in those heady days of the 60’s, FM radio was pretty much a classical music service.  AM radio was where all the action was, and Jim helped create that action during his WISM-AM days.  Gradually, FM became cool – when guys like Jim started doing shows like “Radio Free Madison”, the medium caught on and eventually supplanted AM radio as the dominant radio medium.

I met Jim a few times when our radio paths crossed for one reason or another; my first meeting with him was a chance encounter in the hallowed halls of WPR, around 1989, when I was co-hosting a morning show on what used to be WISM-AM with the wonderful woman who would become my wife. We were arranging for joint radio coverage of Governor Tommy Thompson’s State of the State speech with WPR, and I met Jim in the hallway and we chatted briefly.  My news delivery style was vastly different than Jim’s, and he gave me some good-natured ribbing about it.  I remember liking him immediately.  Not a pretentious bone in his body.

Guys like Jim pretty much don’t exist any more.  Jim Mader, Ben Bennedetti….not many more names come to mind, that mastered the art of radio announcing and entertained and informed generations of Madisonians.

Rest in peace, Jim.