Long before J. Paul McConnell’s 43-year broadcasting career began, sports were already in his blood. As a young boy, he collected Beehive corn syrup labels featuring photos of Toronto Maple Leafs,mailed to him by his grandmother. Canadian football, though, especially when it involved his hometown BC Lions, always occupied a special place for him.

McConnell’s parents were charter Lions’ season ticket holders. For years they sat behind original Lions coach Annis Stukus in Section E Row 27 Seats 28-29, while young J.P. was off in the Woodward’s Quarterback Club section underneath Empire Stadium’s north end scoreboard. Tickets cost just 25 cents then for McConnell and his buddies to cheer on favourite Lions By Bailey and Willie Fleming. Many people have a story like this and for most it ends there. McConnell’s is different. By a circuitous route he’d later become revered as the Lions’ long-time play-by-play voice, using his characteristic baritone delivery to describe some of the franchise’s most memorable moments to listeners across BC and beyond.

Growing up in Ladner, McConnell first became interested in working in the media from a family friend named Don North, later a celebrated ABC News correspondent covering the Vietnam War. McConnell got his foot in the door by working as a part-time ‘gopher’ for Vancouver radio station CKLG. Once, he was sent to Seattle to fetch an early copy of the Beatles’ new single ‘Yesterday’ before other Vancouver stations had it. His pursuit of a full-time radio gig later involved several short stops on the Prairies, before landing at Winnipeg station CJOB where he drove a news car and served as back-up to revered broadcaster Bob Picken.

In 1969, McConnell returned to Vancouver, working in CKWX’s sports department alongside another legend, Jim Robson. Down the hall was Red Robinson, who McConnell grew up listening to on a Rocket Radio crystal set clipped to his bed springs. Here he was in his element and for the next ten years, McConnell hosted daily sportscasts, presented a Canucks post-game show, and began doing Lions play-by-play alongside Frank Rigney and Norm Fieldgate.

In 1979, McConnell dove into television for a ten-year run with CBC Vancouver. Early on, he hosted late-night and weekend sports, before later joining Bill Good Jr., Cecilia Walters, and Phil Reimer on the CBC Evening News. While still working for the CBC, in 1984 McConnell was lured to once again doLions’ radio play-by-play by CFUN’s sports director, Tom Larscheid. Finding instant on-air chemistry, the pair memorably called Lions games together for the next 16 years, moving to CKNW in 1989. McConnell remained an NW mainstay until his retirement in 2006. In that time, he mastered the art of painting a vivid gridiron picture for listeners as BC won three Grey Cups and he had the honour of calling eight national Grey Cup broadcasts. His biggest compliment may have come from a listener at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind who said when McConnell called the play, “I can see everything that happens.”

For his outstanding contributions to Canadian football, in 1996 McConnell was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s Football Reporters of Canada wing. In 2007, he was presented with theCFL Commissioner’s Award.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.