Boomer's Brutal Honesty
With his fans-first attitude and his controversial commentary,
XM Radio's Jim "Boomer" Gordon is poised to become a
breakout star in the hockey media.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- What strikes you first is the voice.
You'd expect a radio personality with the nickname
"Boomer" to have pipes like a diesel engine, like Mike
Lange after a cigar bender. But Jim Gordon's delivery is
at once laconic and loquacious, dazed but unconfused;
imagine hearing the vocal love child of Keith Jones and
Carl Spackler from "Caddyshack" talking about tonight's
slate of NHL games, and you're getting close.
If his voice doesn't "boom," his opinions land with one: He is
a brutally honest observer of the NHL, but one whose views are
based on keen insight and a formidable memory bank.
This was my first month with access to NHL Home Ice, Channel
204 on XM Radio, where Gordon and co-host Joe Thistel hold
court on the "Face Off" program for an hour prior to
play-by-play coverage of League action every weekday.
The insight, the nickname, the delivery ... when I added it
up, I assumed Boomer was an ex-player.
"People always think that, and I have to tell them I'm not,"
said Gordon, in a phone conversation while he waited to
participate in an XM Radio commercial shoot. "Anyone who
Googles 'Jim Gordon' finds the drummer that killed his mother.
Musicians will tell you that this guy was considered by some
to be the greatest drummer of all time ... who did too many
drugs and ended up killing his mother and spending the rest of
his life in an institution.
"But I'm not him."
No kidding. So who is Boomer Gordon?
those guys that has so much information stored in his
head that you wonder where he stores it," said Thistel,
who's also the program director for Home Ice. "He's
the same off air as he is on the air ... he's never at
a loss for an intelligent observation or an honest
opinion. And in my experience, the best sports
broadcasters are the guys that aren't controlled by an
on-air light. They're the same whether they're on the
air or not. That's Boomer."
Looking back on it, I was a little embarrassed to have
thought that Gordon was an ex-NHL player. Because his
opinions aren't anchored down by old friendships or
locker room protocol or the callow politeness usually
associated with ex-pros in the sports media. You know:
The kind of "good 'ol boy" protectionism that makes
the mainstream hockey media so tedious.
"I think why [my
honesty] hasn't been discouraged yet and the word is 'yet'
is because we do have good-'ol boys on our channel, and we've
been accused in the past of being a sponsor of the League
instead of covering the League," he said.
As an outsider to the hockey media, honesty continues to be
the policy for Boomer, 37, which is why he's been a revelation
"Boomer represents every fan," said Thistel. "What he says
comes from the heart because he loves the game of hockey and
fights for its integrity, in all situations."
"I freak out a lot over the little things," said Gordon. "Like
I freaked out over the three stars one night. In Nashville,
two of the three guys didn't even come out. They went as far
as the door, looked up and waved. And I'm thinking, 'People
are paying a ton of money. You should be out signing
autographs and thanking people for all the money they have to
Does he think the league has the best interests of the fans in
"No, I don't," he said "And I think that's a huge problem, and
there's a huge disconnect there. But a lot of those problems
stem from the fact that the league and the players never sit
down and say, 'This is where we are and this is where we need
to be.' "
THE BOOM IS BORN
Gordon grew up in Burlington, Ontario, watching OHL games and
seeing players like Steve Yzerman as fresh-faced teenagers. He
played hockey when he was younger, and his best friends father
was Dave Draper, then an OHL coach before embarking on a
legendary career as an NHL talent scout.
Eventually, Gordon played more soccer, golf and basketball
than puck and then came his stint as a competitive skier.
"It's incredible in Canada, because no family gives up hockey
for skiing. But we skied on the weekends, did a lot of
traveling, and gave up hockey," he said.
"I never chose hockey or broadcasting as a career."
Broadcasting, in a way, chose him. Gordon said his sister
ended up marrying Stephen Tapp, the CHUM media big-wig who
went on to become president and COO of XM Canada.
"He came to me and said, 'We've got to get you into
broadcasting,' " recalls Gordon.
When Home Ice started, Gordon sought out a role on the
production side, despite a lack of experience.
"Boomer worked for many years at Taylor Steel," said Thistel.
"He came in for a job interview unannounced, inexperienced,
and I just saw something that I liked. I had no idea it would
come so far so fast. To be truthful, the on-air component
wasn't on the original agenda. We just took a shot one day and
he was fearless, and clicked with the listeners like no one
else I've ever seen."
Gordon joined the channel, eventually earning the nickname
"Boomer" from morning host Scott Laughlin due to his 6-foot-4,
245-pound frame and strong resemblance to Major League
Baseball pitcher David "Boomer" Wells.
"I've never been 'Boomer' before in my life. When I was a kid,
I was 'Slim Jim'. But I filled out," he said.
Things change, as Gordon has witnessed first-hand. One of the
reasons he works so well on the air is because his journey to
the microphone wasn't predetermined; that makes his delivery
sound unrehearsed, connecting with his audience in a way that
other more polished broadcasters cannot.
"I didn't get into this thing to be an on-air personality,"
said Gordon. "It's like my boss says: 'I've created a monster
THEY'RE JUST VANILLA
When the monster decides to roar in his patented laid-back
manner, that is Gordon is unlike anything else on the
XM Home Ice is a godsend for any hockey fan who lives in a
media market where NHL news is about as welcome as an outbreak
of mumps. Twenty-four hour coverage, live game broadcasts,
constant news updates; for an American fan, it sure beats
trying to tune in a static-filled AM station from the Great
White North on a starry evening.
But it's not without its flaws. There aren't enough interviews
with coaches, players and general managers throughout the day,
and the "experts" that phone in with a few exceptions
offer uneventful commentary or pathetically fail to generate
any buzz. The hosts themselves tend to sound alike minus
Gordon, Phil Esposito and the New York-based boys on "NHL
Live" which is a symptom of the over-Canadianization of the
As a producer on Esposito's show and as an on-air talent
himself, Gordon is aware of these issues. He said one of the
early mandates for the station was to balance the geography of
the voices and the coverage; thus, XM will have a West
Coast-based program on the air soon.
When it comes to guests, he said, "it is hard, and the teams
themselves don't help."
Gordon said he needs to line up guests for Espo's drive-time
program, but there are only 18-20 teams that will offer them
up. That's despite the fact that the teams are obligated to do
"Technically, we're supposed to be first in line [for guests].
Technically, a team like Detroit is supposed to look to us
before they look to local media, because we're rights holders
and we pay a lot of money," said Gordon, estimating that XM
will spend around $130 million during the course of its deal
with the NHL.
But even when a player does come on the air, the results don't
often make for good radio, because they're as reserved as they
are on the ice these days.
"They're incredibly boring. Nowadays, it's not sports it's
sports entertainment. I think these guys have just been
brainwashed for so long: Hockey players don't talk, they don't
promote, they don't hot dog. A lot of those things are things
that people like about the league, but at some point you have
to sell the product," he said.
"I'm not saying you have to put Chad Johnson in the NHL, but
if every once in a while if someone had a little Chad Johnson
in him, it wouldn't be a bad thing."
He points to a situation last season in Nashville, when
Alexander Radulov went from being a spirited player to
somewhat more reserved.
"I saw an interview with him about a month into the season and
he said that a couple of the veteran guys pulled him aside and
said, 'That's not the way we do things here.' That is so weak.
Let Radulov be Radulov instead of having 700 robots out
STRIKING THE BALANCE
If there's one thing Gordon isn't, it's another hockey drone
enslaved by politeness and cuckolded by the League. His
opinions, his snark and his passion for the sport are his own.
"But it's also going to get me outed, you know?" he said. "I
ain't gonna be on any networks whatsoever. It's not just the
hockey media, it's hockey in general. They're just vanilla,
they don't say anything, they're afraid to get outed if they
say anything controversial. It is tired."
What Boomer has been able to do is strike a balance between
being a hockey critic and being a hockey cynic a cynicism at
which the downright predator-like Toronto media excels.
"They're not that clever, the media here. They're not that
bright and they don't think things through," he said. "Every
year they pick out a punching bag. Last year, it was [Andrew]
Raycroft; no matter how many games he won, they were going to
jump him. This year, it's [Brian] McCabe. They're not jumping
him because he's a horrible defenseman which he is, by the
way but they're jumping him because he's a horrible
defenseman making $6 million a year."
McCabe, the Toronto media, overpaid players... in one
statement, Boomer can lay waste to several targets, and you
hang on every word because he sounds like someone you don't
mind having a pint with at the neighborhood pub, even if the
game is on the flatscreen.
You listen because there's finally a voice in the mainstream
hockey media that isn't speaking on behalf of the League in
guarded tones and careful words.
You listen because he sounds like a fan, because he is a fan
just one that happens to be able to talk circles around the
alleged "experts" and then back it all up.
He's such a rarity, you leave his program worrying that XM
will have to end up muzzling him one day.
"My job as boss isn't to tell Boomer what to say, or what not
to say. It's to present all sides of an issue," said Thistel.
'Boomer generally takes a firm side and there's nothing worse
in broadcasting than someone who won't take a stand. Never had
that problem with Boomer.
"But tone him down? Not on my watch."
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.