Les Levine, a fixture on the Cleveland sports scene for more than five decades, died Feb. 3 after a protracted battle with diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, according to his family. He was 74.
Levine, a Twinsburg resident, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2018.
After being a household name for more than four decades on television, he joined the Cleveland Jewish News in October 2011. His columns started to appear in the Columbus Jewish News in 2018. His final column appeared Jan. 1.
Levine introduced his first column, which was published on Page 1 by writing, "Today marks the beginning of the change for me from a lifelong reader of the Cleveland Jewish News to being a weekly contributor. Starting today I will share with you my observations of the Northeast Ohio sports scene that have been gathered from a lifetime of sports participation, as a player, fan, and for more than 40 years, a member of the media covering sports on radio and television on a daily basis.”
Levine hosted an annual sports breakfast for the CJN, “Les is More,” and also served as the emcee during the CJN’s high school player of the week banquets.
He hosted and sold commercials for “More Sports & Les Levine” on Fox Sports Ohio, Cablevision and Spectrum Sports for more than two decades and most recently on Cleveland.com.
Levine was inducted into the Jewish Community Center Softball Hall of Fame, Greater Cleveland Slo-Pitch Softball Hall of Fame in 2011 and received the 2019 Excellence in Broadcasting Award for Radio from the Cleveland Association of Broadcasters.
He was the vice president of the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame board of directors and was the recipient of numerous radio, television and newspaper awards. Prior to joining the CJN, he wrote a column for The News-Herald in Willoughby.
As the self-proclaimed “voice of truth and reason,” he made “how come quickies” a household phrase.
“Known for his quick wit, strong opinions and fantastic sense of humor, Les Levine was a trailblazing multimedia juggernaut on radio, TV, in print and on the internet,” his family said in a statement. “In the early 1980s, Les was the first radio personality to invite local team beat writers and columnists on air to share their opinions – unheard of prior and now commonplace in today’s multimedia world.
“His television show was the first sports talk show nationwide to break the fourth wall by inviting the audience to call in live on the air. Callers could now interact in real time with the host and special guests while Levine expertly conducted interviews with team owners, general managers, coaches, players and notable celebrities.”
Levine’s popularity was instant. Shortly after Levine arrived as a columnist at the CJN, a woman came to the newspaper’s office to tell an editor she had never followed sports until he joined the CJN.
Levine rarely could go anywhere without being recognized. On one occasion, he was doing grocery shopping at Giant Eagle at Legacy Village in Lyndhurst when a woman ran up to him after she recognized him.
As emcee at the player of the week banquets, parents often wanted to take a photo with Levine and share sports stories with him as if they were his lifelong friends.
Levine freely gave of his time to talk sports to Jewish and non-Jewish organizations across Northeast Ohio. On one occasion, a speaker failed to arrive for a synagogue men’s club program and a club officer called Levine, who showed up quickly to save the night.
Levine was a graduate of Brush High School in Lyndhurst and The Ohio State University in Columbus. He received a degree in political science and was certified to teach elementary school.
But his first love was always radio.
He enrolled in broadcasting school and answered an advertisement for a disc jockey at a radio station in Jasper, Ind. Even though he never heard of Jasper, he needed a job. Without a demo tape, Levine showed up at radio station WITZ, read some news stories and was told to start the following Monday.
He played records and also did sports news. That was in 1970.
In 1971, he returned to Northeast Ohio as sports director and sales manager of then-WKNT radio in Akron.
Among the stations he worked for were WKDD, WSLR, WWWE, WHK and WERE.
At different times, Levine broadcast Kent State University football games and Cleveland State University basketball games. He also did Cleveland Crusaders hockey games.
Levine did play-by-play for more than 2,000 high school, college and professional sports games.
He did pregame and postgame shows for the Browns, Indians and Cavs for several media outlets.
“Levine’s sum total of all broadcast hours on TV and radio in 50 years is the most prolific output of anybody in the history of Northeast Ohio, and quite possibly the world,” his family said.
In 2019, he was the Parkinson Foundation’s honorary walk chair.
Levine was born Nov. 12, 1946, in Cleveland to Jack and Beverly Levine. Faye E. Levine was his stepmother. He grew up in South Euclid.
Levine is survived by his wife of 21 years, Allison; his son, Jeremy (Melissa) Levine (the late Allison); daughter, Jamie Levine (Elan) Daniel of Indianapolis; stepchildren, Adam Mesnick of San Francisco and Mara (Victor) Bendersky; grandchildren, Noah Alexander, Vida and Mayla; step-grandchildren, Leia Bendersky and Mallory Bendersky; and brothers, Stuart (Leslee) Levine and Bill (Nancy) Levine
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Levine closed that initial column in the CJN by writing, “I have been the play-by-play voice of three teams that have folded under my watch and have worked for several radio stations that no longer exist. And I have faithfully followed sports franchises that haven’t won a championship since 1964. Despite my history, I expect the Cleveland Jewish News will survive. And I look forward to being part of it.”