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RALPH HUBBELL SET THE MARK FOR SPORTS RADIO

Ralph Hubbell spent seven decades in radio, but near the end of his life, he just couldn't bear to listen to local sports talk anymore.

"There's a lot of talk and noise, but not much substance," he told me two years ago when he officially retired from the microphone. Hubbell, 90, best known as the dean of local sportscasters, died Thursday after a brief illness.

The man affectionately called "Hub," exhibited a command of the language and articulate, intelligent sports commentary that no other local broadcaster could match.

Radio sports talk today is dominated by trash-talking hosts who toss in sexual innuendo, rumors and vulgar language to make their points and prove their toughness.

Hubbell was a throwback to another era when civility and wit meant more than screaming and cursing.

Back then, announcers painted word pictures for the dominant medium of radio.

Hubbell began his career in 1934 as a staff announcer at the old WEBR. He spent much of his airtime at WBEN and covered every major professional sports team in Buffalo. He worked part-time during the last decade, making occasional appearances at local stations.

Above all else, Hubbell set a personal and professional standard.

"I'm proud of what I've done," he said in 1998. "But there comes a time to step down. I don't want the feeling of sliding down hill just to keep working."

Hubbell spent the last years of his life living in a country home in Newfane, with his wife, Olive.

He was among the most honored broadcasters in local history. He was elected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame and the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hubbell was a mentor to a generation of Buffalo sports announcers that included Rick Azar, Van Miller and Ed Kilgore.

"His influence is everywhere," Miller once said. "He has done a lot of television but I really think of Ralph as a radio guy."

Sports and radio have always been intertwined. Hubbell broadcast Buffalo Bisons baseball games during the golden years of the '30s, '40s and '50s. He just had a way of using words to make the game come alive.

Joe Overfield, Buffalo's baseball historian who also died this year, once described Hubbell's announcing style this way: "He kept it short, he kept it clean and he was fair. He has a wonderful voice and a keen knowledge of the English language."

Such values have lost their meaning in the current radio environment of ratings, demographics and corporate ownership.

Hubbell stood for something more: professionalism, quality and character. We may never see -- or hear -- his like again.

A memorial service for Ralph Hubbell will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Ascension Lutheran Church, 4640 Main St., Amherst.

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