Remembering John Short

Jason Gregor
6 months ago
Life’s path is often unpredictable and unplanned, yet for some their path leaves an undeniable impact.
That describes the life of legendary reporter and broadcaster John Short.
John passed away on last Thursday, January 11th, 20 days shy of his 87th birthday, with his loving wife Marta by his side. It is amazing how a man born on the kitchen table of his family home in Toronto, and who grew up on the tough streets of Detroit, ended up in Edmonton with a family and an incredible legacy in the Edmonton sporting community. In high school, when he was on the verge of going down the wrong path, a radio station manager gave him a shot to work from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. It turned Short’s life around and for sports fans, and those who worked beside him, we are happy he did.
I was one of the hundreds of thousands of fans who listened intently to Sports Talk with John Short on the AM dial in Edmonton for decades. Any Sport, Any Time was his motto. He could discuss any sport. Boxing was his favourite, but he knew as much about the NHL as he did horse racing, auto racing, football, the University of Alberta sports teams, virtually every high school basketball and football program and, of course, his beloved Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball.
Short was a fixture on my bedroom airwaves from the time I was 11 years old. I stayed up much later than I should have many nights. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those evenings I was receiving a sports broadcasting course for free. Who would have thought a young lad from New Sarepta would end up working for the gentleman he listened to and even called into his show a few times to talk sports with so many years ago? It was unexpected and amazing.
My break in my broadcasting career came before it had even started. I was in my third semester of the Radio and Television program at NAIT when I met John at Northlands racetrack for an interview. It ended up being the easiest interview of my life. Short needed an on-site producer to work on home games for the Edmonton Oilers. John asked me sports questions, and while he never told me if the answers were satisfactory or not, he hired me and my career in media began on January 10th, 2001. Twenty-three years later, almost to the day, Short passed away after a short battle with pneumonia.
I started part time in January, and when his regular producer, Rob Kerr, got sick for a few weeks, I ended up working every night — another lucky break that gave me more opportunities and led John to asking me to do my practicum with him. I ended up working for John in a unique set up. John and his business partner, Bob Suitor, rented the 9 p.m. to midnight slot on Oldies 1260. Bob was the sales guru and John the on-air talent. After my practicum, John said I could work with him, but I would have to do sales to make enough money to live. I had no sales experience, so I went on a few sales calls with Bob. Sometimes, John came along and when he did, those two thought they were Abbott and Costello. They spent the entire meeting chirping each other, or cracking jokes. It worked. They often got the sale. A few times they didn’t even show the sponsor a sales package.
While producing his show, and reporting on the Eskimos and Oilers, I did play-by-play on their website Anysportanytime.com. I called hundreds of games for the Fort Saskatchewan Traders and the rest of the Alberta Junior Hockey League as well as ACAC games for NAIT, Concordia and Grant MacEwan. I spent hours on the bus with the Edmonton Huskies, learning more about football and having a blast. They won back-to-back National Championships in 2004 and 2005 and it was some of the most fun I’ve had in my career.
While calling games, John’s show moved from Oldies 1260 to the drive slot on 930 CJCA for a few years. It was there that I got to host my first show. Every Tuesday at noon I hosted the Gridiron Show from Smitty’s in Kingsway. I helped sell the package and John told me to host the show. I’d been on his show regularly as a guest, but never hosted. I wanted an opportunity and John gave it to me along with a massive boost of confidence. “You’re very skilled. You ask good questions and aren’t afraid to give your opinion. This will be the start, but you will have your own show soon he enough,” he said. I can still picture him telling me this in the studio of CJCA. A year later I was hosting Just A Game with Jason Gregor weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on CJCA. Kerr was the initial host of the show, but he left after nine months when the FAN 960 in Calgary hired him to be host the drive show and do Flames pre and post-game shows.
The next year we moved our shows to the new start up TEAM 1260. It started in September of 2003, and we joined in February of 2004. We rented a four-hour time slot, with John hosting 9-11 p.m. and I had the 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. slot. In February of 2005, after a long conversation with John, we split. John owned his show, and I would own mine. If John hadn’t told me I needed to learn sales, I’d never have had the business career I’ve been able to enjoy. We spoke about it often. It was another unplanned path that turned out to be more fruitful than I could have ever imagined. Those early years on Anysportanytime, allowed me to call Edmonton Rush games for a decade. Another incredibly fun time.
I’m grateful John and I had a nice 30-minute conversation just before Christmas. When I asked him how he was doing he replied, “Do you want me to say good, or tell the truth?” I replied with the latter, and he told me how the radiation treatments for his acute leukemia weren’t working and he wouldn’t be looking for other options. It is crazy how our relationship has evolved and grown from when I listened to him nightly in my bedroom, with my clock radio under the quilt, to muffle the noise so my parents didn’t know I was up late listening to sports talk radio, and now 37 years later, when John and I had become close enough to have an honest conversation about his life. He was at peace and overall, he felt fine. He was still sharp as a tack, and we planned to go for breakfast early in the New Year and discuss him being a guest for a segment on my show, which he had done many times in the past. Unfortunately, John started feeling quite tired and was admitted to the hospital on Monday, January 8th. He never left.
It was a friendship I truly cherished. John was my mentor. He had a wealth of knowledge, and always willing to listen when I had a question. The only time he gave me advice without asking was when he told me about the day he quit drinking. He went on the radio after too many drinks. He lasted 15 minutes, before his producer wisely cut him off. That was in 1987 and John never drank again. He quit cold turkey the next day. He could be incredibly stubborn when necessary, and he vowed never to drink again. And he didn’t. He told me to be careful about socializing before you go on air. He said it calmly, without suggesting I was going down a path to do it, but I loved a good a party when I was first starting in radio — hell, I still do — and he let me know about the possible pitfalls, by sharing his story.
It worked. I’ve always been aware of that, among other lessons he shared. I feel blessed that I got to know John Short the person, not just the reporter and broadcaster. Trust me, I was thrilled to know John the writer at the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun and the radio host at 840 CFCW, Oldies 1260, 930 CJCA, TEAM 1260 and TSN 1260, but having him as my mentor and friend was an unexpected, and highly appreciated, path in my life journey.
But I wasn’t alone. Short’s impact in the sporting community reached far beyond listeners and sponsors. His wisdom, energy, enthusiasm and advice spread to many aspiring broadcasters and helped them forge their own path. John entertained listeners, but he also influenced many reporters who are still working today. Many of them worked for John, when he ran his Anysportanytime.com website or beside him on the radio or at the Edmonton Journal.
The John Short broadcasting tree is large.
Mark Spector (Sportsnet columnist): In our business, there are a finite number of jobs. Especially back in 1987. I was a young writer looking for a job; John was a veteran at the Edmonton Journal. John could have looked at me, or a Gregor, or any of young cubs as a threat. But he never did. John encouraged me incessantly, always reading my stuff and making sure to say how good he thought it was. I can still hear him say, “Boy, you’re really making an impact in this town, Spec. You’re really finding a voice.”
That’s what I’ll remember, and take forward, from the time I spent with John. Encourage the next generation. Don’t fear them — help them. If tomorrow’s sports journalists speak of me as I will always speak of John, I’ll rest easy in retirement.
Bob Stauffer (Host of Oilers Now and colour analyst for Oilers games on 630 CHED): There is no question that John Short impacted the lives of several of us who are fortunate enough to work in Sports media today. John was incredibly gracious with his time, always giving. He knew sports and politics! A smart, knowledgeable person, who had great passion. John also had tremendous patience, something he displayed regularly with his, at-times, nervous callers.
The breadth of his show was impressive. One night a guest would be a Wayne Gretzky, the next night it would be Warren Moon, and then it would be Golden Bears Basketball head coach Don Horwood. He treated every guest the same. With class. A great lesson for us all. I went from a caller having fun calling about the Baltimore Skipjacks losing streak (18 games in a row back in 1987), to a guest in the late 1990’s talking about the University of Alberta and the Oilers, to someone who was part of the same “Team” with him over at 1260 in the mid 2000’s.
In 2002-03 when I was doing the Drive Show on 1260 opposite of John on 930 CJCA, I nominated John for the Fred Sgambati Award for “distinguished achievement in journalistic coverage of collegiate sports”, while I was the also the SID at the University of Alberta. John deservedly won! John was also a leader in the coverage of the transition of Edmonton Oilers into the hands of the Edmonton’s Investor Group (EIG) last 1990’s. He had the respect of everyone who worked in sport in the city, not just the Oilers or Eskimos, but also the U of A, Boxing, Horse Racing Community, Baseball, Junior Football, etc.
Bottom line. John loved Edmonton. He will be missed, but not forgotten.
Rob Kerr (Alberta Sports Hall of Fame inductee): John Short wasn’t just a legendary name on the radio in Edmonton; he was a mentor who truly shaped my path in the world of broadcasting. From that first call I made to his show as a 12-year-old, to an unforgettable conversation on a bus trip back from the first-ever game in the Saddledome in Calgary, he was always more than a media voice – he was a guiding presence. His passion for sports and commitment to integrity resonated deeply with me, molding not just my career but my approach to life. He taught me the importance of valuing every level of sport, and of treating each story and caller with respect and empathy.
Still to this day, I find myself constantly reflecting on ‘What would John do?’ in various situations. His mentorship was a rare and generous gift, one that I feel I have a responsibility to do the same where and if I can. John’s legacy is etched in the principles he championed and the lives he touched, including mine.
Dustin Nielson (Host on Edmonton Sports Talk and CFL play-by-play on TSN): John gave me my first opportunity to do play-by-play in the Edmonton market with AnysportAnytime.com. He was actually my colour analyst for my first AJHL game and gave me the most important piece of advice that I still reflect upon before every game I call regardless of the league. “It’s okay to be nervous before a broadcast, it shows you care,” he said. He didn’t give a lot of advice, but when he did it was very impactful.
Reid Wilkins (Oilers pre and post-game host on 630 CHED): I remember listening to John many nights, and especially after Oilers games in the 1980s. One night Gretzky had a rare off night. A caller phoned in and said maybe the Oilers needed to consider trading him. I remember John just chuckled and said, “Are you drunk?” and moved on. He did it with class and a firm hand.
I always respected John’s knowledge of all sports. He really could talk about any sport at any time. He always made whatever he was talking about sound big and important. Don Horwood being a guest to talk about “b-b-b-basketball” still sticks with me. John and Don’s combined energy made me feel I had to go to a Golden Bears basketball game! Not only did I do that once I became a U of A student, but I was also lucky enough to do six years of their play-by-play. Without John’s influence I might not have gone down that path.
AJ Jacubek (Host on TSN 1200, play-by-play for Ottawa Redblacks, Blackjacks and Atlético Ottawa):  In the fall of 2001, my career was at a crossroads. I had three great years of radio in Trail, BC. But my move to Kelowna wasn’t as smooth. Less than 24 hours after the Rockets season ended, I put in my notice, packed up and moved home to Edmonton. A few months later, I was still out of broadcasting. Delivering papers and working odd jobs while living with my parents. Interviews with the ECHL Augusta Lynx and Macon Whoopee led to an opportunity calling hockey and basketball at the University of Vermont. But that was quashed after 9/11 and my opportunities to coach hockey (two) outnumbered those in broadcasting (zero). Days away from accepting a job coaching roller hockey in Singapore, it felt like my broadcasting days were over. Then I met John Short.
If you grew up in Edmonton in the 1980s, there was a pretty good chance you liked sports. The Oilers dynasty. The Eskimos dynasty – back when they were every bit as big as the Oilers in Edmonton. We hosted major events like the Commonwealth Games and Universiade. There was Trapper’s baseball, Drillers/Eagles/Brickmen soccer, the U of A Golden Bears and Pandas, junior hockey and football, boxing and so much more. John Short covered it all. He was the one person who could make the high school racquetball phenom seem as important as Wayne Gretzky or Warren Moon. Any sport. Any time. We all grew up with that. Went to bed listening to John – whether it was allowed or not. John always had a great connection with the audience. But that especially rang true with my generation. He hosted Kids Night on his Sports Talk radio show, entertaining numerous calls from squeaky voiced fans. The first time I called in was on a sleepover with good friend (and now USports broadcaster) Doug McLean. I had three different questions for him, and we discussed them all for a few minutes. John made me feel like I was on top of the world. Doug went next and asked John what he thought about the New England Patriots. “I don’t think about the New England Patriots.” Click. We laughed and laughed. John also laughed about it many years later when I told him about it. That was John. Honest. Blunt. Funny. Passionate about local. He had a certain way of dealing with people. Especially if he disagreed with them. “Everyone has a democratic right to be wrong.” A legendary line from an iconic man.
When John Short asked me to be a part of his new Internet broadcasting company ‘Anysport Anytime’ I jumped at it. Singapore sounded interesting, but how do you say no to a legend? For two years I did play-by-play of countless events and sports: University of Alberta basketball, the AJHL, the Viking Cup, lacrosse and auto racing. I’ll never forget the first time he did colour commentary with me for an AJHL game in Grande Prairie. We drove up together from Edmonton. It was amazing to hear all of his stories and experiences. When the game was finished, John turned to me. “You’re really good. You’re going to go a long way in this business.” It was surreal to hear from someone of his stature. Just an incredible boost of confidence in what can be a tough business. After two years working with John, I got my big break. A full-time sports gig at TEAM 1200 in Ottawa. 21 years later I’m still here. You can’t overstate how crucial John has been to my life and career.
Last summer I was able to reconnect with John one last time. He had a monthly gathering at Hap’s Diner with the likes of Roger Gelinas, Gregg Pilling, Bob Falkenberg, Al Hamilton and Bryan Hall. He was weak physically but mentally sharp. “I’m so proud of you” is what he said to me at the end. And for me that’s his legacy. He had an incredible career. From athlete to print media to broadcasting. But John was so humble and more interested in paying it forward for the next generation. Rob Kerr, Jason Gregor, Will Fraser, Dustin Nielsen, Corey Graham, Reid Wilkins. He had an impact on all of us and many more. A special man. Thank you, John. Rest easy.

He Will Be Missed

My deepest condolences to Marta as well as John’s children Michael and Erin, his grandchildren and all his friends and family. He will be missed, but never forgotten.
Thank you to Marta and his entire family for sharing a part of him with all of us sports fans.

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