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Longtime WFNZ personality Jim Celania retires

Jim Celania, who shares the morning airwaves on WFNZ-AM ("Fan" 610) with Chris McClain and crew, retires after nearly 20 years at the station, the station announced today.
Jim Celania, who shares the morning airwaves on WFNZ-AM ("Fan" 610) with Chris McClain and crew, retires after nearly 20 years at the station, the station announced today. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Jim Celania, one of Charlotte’s longest-running and best-known sports media personalities, retired Monday from WFNZ-AM (“Fan” 610) in hopes of not becoming one of “those guys.”

“I’ve seen it in TV and in radio,” said Celania, 67.

“Those guys who hang around too long. I didn’t want to be one of them. That’s the truth. It was time to get off the bus.”

Celania came to Charlotte in 1988 – the same year as the original Hornets – and took over as sports director at WCNC (Channel 36). When he retired from that job in 1995, he was replaced by Chuck Howard, with whom he was paired four years later at WFNZ on the “The Howard & Celania Show.”

In his 19 years at WFNZ, Celania held a variety of roles, but was best known for his work with two prominent co-hosts, Gary Williams and Chris McClain.

He and Williams, who were teamed up on the “Morning Sports Page,” developed a chemistry strong enough to propel the show with only a smattering of call-ins. Williams is now with the Golf Channel.

With the “Mac Attack” with Chris McClain, which is driven more by call-ins, Celania hit his stride as a story-teller of sports lore both in Charlotte and beyond. Celania and McClain were named last year to the Heavy Hundred list of top talk show hosts in the nation by the industry trade journal Talkers Magazine.

“It was an absolute blast,” said Celania, who decided about three months ago that it was time to retire. “I’ll miss it every day I’m alive.”

“I’ve had a lot of great men and women come through the doors of WFNZ over the past 20 years,” operations manager D.J. Stout said in a statement, “but Jim will always be my favorite. He understood the balance of talking sports and being entertaining.”

Son of an Evansville, Ind., radio and TV sportscaster, Celania was acting and working for radio stations while still a broadcast major at a branch of Indiana State University. He was a disc jockey at a country station in Evansville in 1971 when he answered an open audition for sports director across town a TV station.

After five years in Evansville TV, he moved to a station in Louisville, Ky., for two years and then on to a station in San Francisco in 1980.

After four years, he went into real estate, then did a short stint at a station in Denver and came to WCNC in 1988. Among his colleagues there: An up-and-coming young sports reporter named Hannah Storm.

He enjoyed radio far more than than TV, he said, because you got to interact with the audience.

Celania said that he’s in excellent health now, though longtime listeners will remember his bout with lung cancer in 2005. More recently, Celania had suffered bouts of vertigo.

What up next?

“I’ve got a lot of time to think about that,” he said. “Right now, I’m looking at some trees and bushes to trim.”

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs

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