Former BYU sportscaster Paul James died on Saturday, Oct. 6. He was 87. James worked for KSL-TV and radio and was the “Voice of the Cougars” from 1965–2000, covering many legendary moments for both the football and basketball teams.
Although James is gone, he has cemented a legacy at BYU that will not be forgotten.
James, a native of Ogden, Utah, graduated from the University of Utah in 1953 with degrees in English and speech. He spent six years covering games for the University of Utah before joining KSL and covering BYU sports. He called over 400 football and 900 basketball games during his tenure with BYU.
Current Director of Broadcast Media for BYU Athletics Greg Wrubell talked about how important James was to BYU fans at a time when radio was the main way to find out about the games.
“At the time, the games weren’t as easily accessible by a broad audience beyond the radio,” Wrubell said. “Not every game was televised back then, and so for generations of BYU fans if they weren’t at the stadium they were listening to Paul.”
Wrubell joined James’ broadcast crew in 1992, where he first worked as the sideline reporter for the radio broadcast. Wrubell said he attributes much of the way he runs the radio broadcast to observing and learning from James.
“I got to learn while watching (James) do what he did and hearing his product on the air on game day,” Wrubell said. “Knowing all the preparation that went into it really assisted me in what I would later do. Literally, all of my broadcast routines and habits were acquired from observing, conversing and interacting with Paul James.”
Current BYU football radio color commentator Marc Lyons has been covering games since 1980. Lyons, however, first got to know James while Lyons played football for the Cougars.
“(James) would travel with us on our road trips, and he was quite entertaining,” Lyons said. “He did magic tricks and card tricks on the plane, so I got to know him as being a little different person as the play-by-play announcer.”
Lyons later went on to take over for former BYU quarterback Virgil Carter as the color commentator alongside James. Lyons talked about some of the advice James gave him during his first game in the radio booth in 1980.
“His first mentoring came during that first football game,” Lyons said. “He said to me ‘Now, I’m not going to let you say anything until you have something of value to say.'”
Wrubell said James’ connection was “strong and lasting” with Cougar Nation because, at the time, radio was the “primary way of connecting with program.”
Former BYU kicker and U.S. Representative for Utah’s 3rd congressional district Jason Chaffetz reflected on James’ impact after hearing of his passing.
“He was a fixture in Utah sports — his voice called some of the biggest moments in sports,” Chaffetz said in a tweet. “He was a friend to this young BYU kicker. A good man. God bless.”
Saddened to hear of the passing of Paul James, the iconic Utah radio personality for @kslnewsradio He was a fixture in Utah sports - his voice called some of the biggest moments in sports. He was a friend to this young BYU kicker. A good man. God bless. https://t.co/FdtII10H4M— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 9, 2018
Other former BYU athletes and fans took to Twitter to reflect on James’ life:
For generations of BYU supporters, "Voice of the Cougars" is a title that could really only belong to one person, and it was Paul James. May his countless fans and his dear family members be comforted by their memories of "PJ" and the many ways in which he enriched their lives.— Greg Wrubell (@gregwrubell) October 9, 2018
Just catching up on the Paul James news. I was the weird little kid that asked for a headphone radio so I could listen to his call at every game and share stats with all the old guys around me. Thank you good sir. You will be missed.— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) October 9, 2018
I echo all of the tributes to my good friend Paul James. First, I am saddened by his passing. Second, I appreciate the great opportunity I had to broadcast football games with him for 20 seasons. He thrilled me with his call of "touchdown" for BYU or opponent— Marc Lyons (@marclyonsbyu) October 9, 2018
This weekend we lost a #BYU Legend. As a kid in Orem, I spent countless nights listening to Paul James the 'Voice of the Cougars' bring to life the great moments of @BYUfootball & @BYUbasketball. The two will always remain inseparable in my mind. Thanks for the memories PJ! ❤️🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/LkDHb3S9Ih— Duff Tittle (@dufftittle) October 9, 2018
BYU is planning on having a short tribute for James tonight, Oct. 13, at LaVell Edwards Stadium shortly before their 8:15 p.m. kickoff against Hawai’i.