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Carchidi Column: Saluting a Memorable Flyers (Broadcast) Team



Philadelphia Flyers. Tim Saunders (left) and Steve Coates (during their broadcasting days. (Photo provided)
Jokesters Tim Saunders (left) and Steve Coates will be honored by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association for their broadcast work.

The area has been blessed with numerous great broadcasting duos over the years, and the Philadelphia Flyers had one of the best when Tim Saunders and Steve Coates fit the hockey game into their (sometimes R-rated) comedy routine.

Coates retired after last season, but his terrific radio work — along with Saunders’ — has not been forgotten.

The pair will be honored on Wednesday, Jan. 17 at the Philadelphia Sports Writers’ 119th banquet for winning the prestigious Bill Campbell Award, presented for broadcasting excellence.

Campbell was a Philadelphia legend whose broadcasting touched parts of nine decades.

“I knew Bill real well.  I did a couple shows with him when he was the radio host (at WIP) and he was a good man,” Coates said. “I’m honored.”

On the air, Campbell kiddingly blasted Coates for the way he frequently criticized the referees.

“Mr. Snider always said, ‘Don’t ever blame us. It’s got to be something else,’ ” a smiling Coates recalled, referring to the late great Ed Snider, the Philadelphia Flyers owner. “He’d say, ‘If the referees suck, tell us the referees suck.’ ”

Early training

Saunders described working with Coates as “a trip,” and said he got early training for his future partnership when he was a morning and afternoon sportscaster for a radio station in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I had a host who was really good in the afternoon, and he would interrupt the middle of the sportscast to just chat about the last story and kind of ad lib,” Saunders said. “At first, it really threw me because I would write my scripts and I was very adamant about staying on script. But it kind of taught me how to get off a script and ad lib. Just loosen up and be yourself and have fun. And it was better radio to do that.

“… You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth.”

— Tim Saunders on Steve Coates

“That,” Saunders added, “was kind of early training for Coatesy, because you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. And you just had to have fun with him and be able to ad lib. We had a blast. It was more about entertaining each other than anything else.”

Campbell, a great storyteller who did play-by-play for the Eagles, Phillies and Warriors/76ers, was more of a straight shooter in his broadcasts. Saunders and Coates had a different style. They kidded each other endlessly during broadcasts.

Sample: Four years ago, Coates told listeners he was at Toronto’s parade after the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup in 1967.

Saunders: “Were you in third grade?”

Coates: “No, I was 17.”

Saunders, without skipping a beat: “So you were in fourth grade.”

Chemistry comes through

Working with Saunders, Coates said, was easy because they were pals outside of work. That chemistry came through on their broadcasts.

“If you genuinely are friends away from the business — and I mean genuinely — it’s a lot easier to be good on the air,” Saunders said.

Nearly three years ago, the duo did an outdoor Philadelphia Flyers game in Lake Tahoe, with Saunders at the event and his partner broadcasting from the Wells Fargo Center, where he watched the action on a TV monitor.

“We did the game and nobody knew I wasn’t there,” Coates said. “I had a better vantage point than he did because he was sitting on the ice level near the blue line with the glare of the sun coming across the ice. You couldn’t see a damn thing. I don’t need to see him, he doesn’t need to see me. I don’t have to look at him in the booth and all that. I knew when he was going to do something, and he knew when he was going to do something.”

Besides working as a broadcasting team the last nine years, Coates and Sanders were also together for a year and a half in the late ’90s before Coates went to TV.

“So when we got back for a second time, it was seamless,” said Saunders, who now works with former Flyer Todd Fedoruk on radio broadcasts.  “It was like I had never left.”

The duo did it flawlessly, entertaining fans and making the losing more bearable with their back-and-forth banter.

“It’s amazing,” Coates said. “with some of the bleep we got away with.”

“If you can’t ad lib, and if you take yourself too seriously, boy, you’re missing the mark,” Saunders said.

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at

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