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James Albert (Jim) Elder was a sports announcer and analyst whose dry style and encyclopedic knowledge of baseball, football, and golf amassed a huge following the last thirty-five years of the twentieth century. Elder was sports director for KARN (earlier KARK) radio for most of those years, and he did the play-by-play broadcasts of the Arkansas Travelers professional baseball team for thirty-three years.
Jim Elder was born on July 25, 1924, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, to Albert Elder, a construction worker, and Dorothy Moore Elder, who, following a divorce, worked at a bank to support her only child and her songwriting. When Elder was small, they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he became an ardent fan of the Philadelphia Athletics major league baseball team, which triggered his passion for sports.
During World War II, he fought with the Eighty-fourth Infantry Division in Europe. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for bravery and the Purple Heart for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. In high school, he worked as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he developed an interest in journalism. He wanted to study journalism at the University of Pennsylvania after the war, but a two-year waiting list for tuition assistance under the GI Bill persuaded him to go to Florida to attend a baseball umpiring school. He spent several years umpiring in the Cotton States, Southeastern, and Florida International leagues.
While umpiring games of the Hot Springs Bathers in the Cotton States League in 1948, he met Betty Gadberry, who was working at the army/navy hospital at Hot Springs (Garland County), and they were married on October 6, 1950. They had one daughter.
In 1951, Elder was general manager of the Hot Springs Bathers. For the next two years, he umpired games in the Florida International League, which included a Havana, Cuba, team. He then gave up professional umpiring and began working at the Bush Caldwell sporting goods store in Little Rock (Pulaski County) while officiating high school and collegiate football, basketball, and baseball games. Bud Campbell, who was broadcasting Arkansas Travelers games for KARK, gave Elder a job keeping statistics in 1960 and soon had him providing on-air commentary. When Campbell moved to another station in 1965, Elder became the voice of the Travelers, a job he held until 1993, when deteriorating eyesight caused him to quit. When a new baseball park, Dickey-Stephens Field, was built in North Little Rock in 2007, the press-box was named for Elder and Jim Bailey, a longtime baseball writer for the Arkansas Gazette.
Elder was one of the last broadcasters to do re-creations of baseball games for radio, reconstructing plays from reports sent over a ticker tape and later telephone calls from a press-box stringer in other cities. He developed a library of sound effects to support the illusion.
From 1970 until his death, he was the statistician for the Arkansas Razorbacks football broadcast team. For nearly forty years, he maintained an elaborate statistical record of baseball, football, and golf, which made him an unrivaled analyst.
In the mid-1970s, he began hosting a sports talk show on KARN, interviewing such sports notables as baseball legends Willie Mays and Sparky Anderson, television basketball commentator Al McGuire, and Arkansas sports figures; he also fielded questions from listeners. He got to the station each morning at 4:00 a.m. for the first of the four-an-hour sports shows he broadcast during drive time on KARN’s AM and FM stations, in which he delivered a dry, quirky version of sports news laced with old anecdotes and weird statistics. On June 25, 1998, he finished his morning shows, packed his briefcases of statistics, and went home for lunch and rest before the afternoon shows. He died of a heart attack at home. He is buried in Crestlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Conway (Faulkner County).
Elder was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 2009. He was named Arkansas Sportscaster of the Year eleven times. The Jim Elder Good Sports Fund, endowed in his honor, pays for journalism and broadcasting scholarships, baseball clinics, and other programs for youngsters. His library of sports documents is in the archives of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
For additional information:Bailey, Jim. “Stumping Jim Elder Took Some Inside Help.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 30, 1998, p. 2C.
“Jim Elder: You Knew His Voice.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette. June 30, 1998, p. 6B.
Schroeder, George. “Elder, Voice of the Travelers, Dies at 73.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 26, 1998, p. 1C, 5C.
Ernest DumasLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 1/21/2011
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