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Pat Delsi, radio pioneer and popular broadcaster, dies at 86

His 67-year career included owning WSSJ-AM in South Jersey, and being the longtime voice of Drexel basketball.

Pat Delsi began his 67-year career in broadcasting in 1953 at a small station in Vineland.
Pat Delsi began his 67-year career in broadcasting in 1953 at a small station in Vineland.Read moreCourtesy of the family

Pat Delsi, 86, of Haddon Heights, a pioneer in radio broadcasting and the longtime voice of Drexel University basketball, Big Five college basketball, Temple University football, and countless other events, died Wednesday, Dec. 1, of heart disease at home.

A mentor to many, known for his basso profundo voice and insightful interviews, Mr. Delsi fashioned a 67-year radio career that featured more than 150,000 newscasts, 5,000 college and high school games, thousands of interviews, and more than a million records played on the air.

He was an announcer, newsman, sportscaster, narrator, and disc jockey, and told The Inquirer in 1986 that he likely worked as a freelancer at some point for nearly every radio station in the Philadelphia market.

“I always wanted to be in radio, even as a kid,” Mr. Delsi said. “I’ve done everything that can be done in this business. And for a long time.”

Versatile and indefatigable, he was both a color analyst and play-by-play sports broadcaster, and he traveled with the Drexel men’s basketball team to China, the Temple football team to Japan, and the Camden High School boys’ basketball team to Hawaii.

He also covered college women’s basketball and high school football. Quick with a quip or observation, he would declare, “There’s another pot of gold,” when a basketball player made a three-point shot.

Off the air, Mr. Delsi was the general manager at Camden’s WCAM-AM and then the owner of Camden’s WSSJ-AM. He was inducted into half a dozen halls of fame, and became an enthusiastic contributor to dozens of professional and civic organizations, from the Philadelphia Press Association to the Sons of Italy.

He won several awards, including the 2014 Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia person of the year and most recently was president of his own broadcast and entertainment consulting company, PDS Broadcasting Inc. He sold WSSJ in 2000.

“Most of all he was the nicest gentleman you will ever meet,” said Dan Baker, Mr. Delsi’s college basketball and football broadcast partner for 40 years. “He was old-school, chivalrous, and he loved people. When he was at a game and talking to people, he was in his element.”

Born Pasquale Del Signore on June 2, 1935, in Sulmona, Italy, Mr. Delsi knew he needed a catchy name for radio, so he signed on first as Don Stevens. But another disc jockey at WCAM had that last name, too.

So Mr. Delsi, using the “Del” and “Si” of his surname, combined with the popular Delsea Drive that was mentioned so often in his local radio ads, renamed himself Pat Delsi. For music and dance shows, he called himself the “Swinging Shepherd.”

Mr. Delsi’s family moved from Italy to Camden when he was 3. He graduated from Camden Catholic High School in 1952 at 16, and was drawn to working in radio as a teenager after winning a contest that featured a tour of the WCAM studios as a prize.

He attended the Columbia School of Broadcasting, got a job at WWBZ-AM in Vineland in 1953, and moved up to the city-owned WCAM in Camden a year later. He became general manager at WCAM in 1973, was fired by new owners in 1980, but returned to buy the station, renamed WSSJ, in 1983.

“If you open your horizons and learn to do different things in the field, everybody will take notice of you,” Mr. Delsi told students at a Rowan University career day in 2004.

He broadcast Temple football games in the 1970s and ’80s, Big Five basketball from 1973-83, and hosted the Big Five Pipeline talk show. Beginning in 1983, he was the voice of Drexel men’s and women’s basketball for 20 years.

“At home, he made us feel special,” said his son Paul. “He was always involved. I don’t know how he did it.”

In an online tribute, one former colleague wrote: “They just don’t make them like Pat anymore.”

In addition to Margie, his wife of 64 years, and son, Mr. Delsi is survived by daughters Diane and Eileen; sons David, Dean, Mark, Frank, and Glenn; 19 grandchildren; and other relatives. Daughter Linda, son Adam, and a sister died earlier.

Services were Monday, Dec. 6, and Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Donations in his name may be made to Bringing Up Down syndrome, 504 Centennial Blvd., No. 1444, Voorhees, N.J. 08043.