The sports world lost one of its all-stars Friday when talk radio host Armand Chevalier passed away at the age of 62.
Chevalier, better known as Papa Joe, suffered a stroke in April that had paralyzed his right side. He was originally from Pittsburgh, but it was Las Vegas he called home and where he established many lasting relationships, one of which was working with Chuck DiRocco for GamingToday.
His Sports Buffet radio show went national, but had a distinct Las Vegas flair to it as he invited callers to give their picks for the week. His radio was unlike any other where the callers were the show and he was the moderator.
He despised the Yankees and Cowboys, yet did it in a way that fans of those teams still loved him.
For over two decades Las Vegas sports fans were treated to this type of delicious radio. Callers became celebrities, like "Bubba" with his lead pipe cinches or "Top Gun" from Florida who had his own intro music. They would give their picks and Papa Joe would grade them. It was next to impossible to get in on the show as the lines were always jammed.
I used to be a regular caller myself during the early 90’s and had a system of trying to get in that worked about half the time. Knowing there was a five second broadcast delay, I would try to time when the on air call sounded like it was almost over and then phone in trying to beat the hundreds of others trying the same strategy to get on to the show with that open line.
His afternoon daily show was contagious and allowed for myself and thousands of others to vent frustrations with anything in sports with his "Bite Me Wednesdays" edition. No matter how good or bad any of his calls were, he would find the angle immediately and spin it in an instant to make it sound more interesting.
His show was a lot different from what we have on radio now where the hosts are the stars who rarely take phone calls, opting to talk about what they want to discuss. Papa Joe let the callers set the topics and let them be the stars, chiming in with his two cents in his own clever way, usually with a good-natured zing at the end of the conversation.
Papa Joe loved all his callers and wanted to meet them. Organized gatherings were arranged where he and all the callers could meet. He had a weekly softball team that invited listeners to show up and see him pitch with his ‘79 striped Pirates box hat.
Papa Joe was genuinely loved by everyone because he actually seemed to care about us. He was one of us, and would have a beer and discuss topics like regular guys do at a bar. It was that same type of comfortable approach that made him such a loved icon on the air.
A few years later I ran into him while I was running a sports book and we had a good laugh about his early years on the radio and how I used to get in to the radio shows. When talking about the show and everyone in his radio world family, he glowed with the same pride he did when it was initially happening.
Papa Joe had quite a few relationships with people all over town, but he especially was fascinated with the job of sports book directors, who he always called "Boss Bookies." He was intrigued with the way our operation worked along with how and why numbers were moved along with what the "wise guys" were doing.
When talking about the wise guys on air, he would stretch out the pronunciation in a different hush-hush tone, "Wiiiizzze Guyyzz", as if he was telling a secret and if it got out, someone might get whacked. I always chuckled every time the voice came out.
I was proud to have been invited as a regular guest on his shows and reflect fondly of my younger years trying to get on his shows as a caller, but I was more honored to have just been his friend.
Las Vegans, and everyone else who had the chance to know him, or hear him are going to miss him, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Not only did he have one of the most unique relationships with his callers, but he was also somewhat of a pioneer with syndicated sports radio shows. He set the pace and tempo of an industry we know as commonplace today.
Thanks for the memories, Papa Joe!
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