A true story by Art Vuolo, Jr.
In a stunning turn of events, the University of Michigan had to find a new radio home for their football and basketball games after the 2005 season when 50,000 watt WJR-AM (760) abruptly announced on Thursday, October 13, 2005, that they would no longer be carrying any U of M sporting events.
Even more shocking was the news that The Great Voice of The Great Lakes had signed a new five-year deal to carry the Michigan State Spartans! The reason it all took place was MONEY. The answer to almost every “business decision” is money. There was simply more “GREEN” coming out of East Lansing than Ann Arbor!
Insiders felt that basketball was the driving force behind the move. The MSU basketball program is, generally speaking, stronger and there are more than twice as many basketball games as football. More games, equals more spots (commercials) and that equals more money. Simple economics. However, in recent years Michigan basketball and MSU football have both improved.
The news thrilled the Green and White MSU fans and caused great distress to thousands of maize and blue Michigan fans at the same time. The deal was put together by, WJR’s former president and general manager, the late Michael D. Fezzey. Sources say that Michigan State had been lusting after the mega-power WJR for many years. The Spartans had been aggressively perusing WJR since the spring of 2005. It was also thought that the station was not getting as much “love and respect” from the Wolverines as they felt was deserved. That seemed like a perfect recipe for defection. Some insiders felt the Wolverines had become somewhat complacent regarding the U of M’s relationship with the radio station. Others felt the culprit was the network coordinator Host Communications, but that could not be confirmed, nor is it considered feasible. Today the games are produced by the Michigan Sports Network, a division of IMG College Sports which took over Host..
The Michigan Athletic Department was completely blind-sided by the move. Former Athletic Director Bill Martin actually heard the news first on the radio…WJR radio! It was incredible news since he was dealing with the station and it’s network arm, Host Communications, in “good faith,” or so it seemed.
The trio of broadcasters who cover the U of M Football games; Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter and Steve Courtney, were also stunned by the news. The staff of WJR was taken by bus to East Lansing, unsure of what was going to happen. En route the bus was pulled over at a rest area near Fowlerville, by a State Trooper. This action was pre-arranged so that Beckmann, Courtney and Paul W. Smith could be pulled off the bus and receive the news separately since it was thought this move would affect them the most. It did. Smith is a 1975 U of M graduate and a huge Michigan fan. Beckmann felt betrayed and like a “lame duck” for the rest of the 2005 season. Brandstatter was not on the bus, but was unsure what this was going to do for the 2006 season.
They were all taken to the Spartan Stadium where the MSU band was on the field playing their fight song and the WJR logo was already up on the electronic scoreboard. They were treated to a warm reception at the MSU stadium and then were taken to an elegant dinner at the home of Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon. It appeared that the Spartans wanted to express their deep appreciation for this new association in a first class manner.
Fans no doubt compared this to when the Tigers and the Red Wings moved from powerful WJR to the far lesser signal of sports WXYT-AM (1270). Those teams lost all of their fans in Indiana, Ohio and Ontario. WJR was perceived as a “turn-coat” by many U of M fans at that time, and some still do. They had been broadcasting Michigan football and basketball since 1976 when the late Bob Ufer segued over from Ann Arbor’s WPAG, now WTKA-AM (1050). Michigan fans can be pleased that an extensive network of stations have kept the Wolverines within ear-shot of most!
Back on October 13, 2005, when the big radio switch happened, I was flattered to be asked to help find a suitable replacement for news-talk WJR-AM (760). Because no station is bigger than ‘JR, I recommended that the games segue to an FM signal which is as strong after sundown as it is in the daytime. That cannot be said about any AM stations in SE Michigan. My exact words were “boys it’s time to take these games to FM.”
The station I strongly recommended was WOMC-FM (104.3) home of Detroit’s Greatest Hits. It was also suggested (by myself) that WOMC would now stand for Where Only Michigan Counts! Sadly, that slogan was never actually used on the air.
There was a long delay in consummating that deal due to negotiations with WJR management over the university’s desire to have Frank Beckmann call the games while remaining a key mid-morning talk host on 760 AM. Jim Brandstatter, who is a free-lance talent, would have no problem remaining with Frank. They had a magical chemistry that most fans loved. Steve Courtney, who is WJR’s morning sports reporter on the Paul W. Smith show is no longer working on UM games because he now does the pre-game tailgate shows for MSU. The new field reporter is WXYT’s mid-day sports co-anchor Doug Karsch, who actually lives in Ann Arbor, in the shadow of the Michigan Stadium, and is well-connected with the Michigan Athletic Department. The IMG network is still carried on local station WTKA-AM (1050) in Ann Arbor. WTKA has a very long-standing relationship with Michigan sports coverage.
As of early August of 2011, the five year deal with WOMC had expired and no new station had been secured to carry The Wolverines! The University wanted to continue it’s relationship with CBS Radio Detroit, but programmers of their FM stations WOMC 104.3 (classic hits), WYCD 99.5 (country) and WDHZ 98.7 (top 40 Amp Radio) did not want to interrupt their music formats for six to seven hours of football coverage. The CBS AM stations are WWJ-AM 950 (all-news) and WXYT-AM 1270 (all-talk) with the star-player being FM sports powerhouse WXYT-FM (The Ticket) at 97.1. The Ticket carries the Tigers and Red Wings. So, Michigan football and basketball struck a deal with WWJ-AM 950. Fans, spoiled by HD television and high-quality digital audio, miss the clarity of the powerful FM signal, but because the Pistons and Lions left WXYT-FM, several UM football games will now be featured on 97.1 The Ticket.
Michigan games can also be heard border to border and coast-to-coast because U of M currently has a contract with SiriusXM Satellite Radio. The U-M announcers; Frank, Jim and Doug are featured on Sirius satellite radios. As of October 8, 2011, has ALL Michigan football games are also on HD Radio! Games can be heard clearly on 97.1 FM HD-2, which is the 2nd HD channel of WXYT-FM (known as “The Ticket”) Finally, a huge plus is the ability to hear Michigan Football games on-line over the Internet on the web site www.MGoBlue.com!
As previously stated, much juggling was done to keep Beckmann & Brandstatter together in the radio booth at The Big House. However, at the end of the 2014 season and after 33 years, Frank Beckmann “retired.” Many feel it was not his choice. During the Dave Brandon administration as Director of Athletics, several longtime names exited the press box and the stadium, like: Bruce Madej, Jon Falk and John U. Bacon, among others. Most have returned in various capacities. With the arrival of new head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2015, a new broadcast team was installed. Jim Brandstatter was promoted as the new play-by-play announcer and longtime NFL broadcaster, and former Michigan player, Dan Dierdorf emerged out of retirement to assist as color analyst! Their enthusiasm for the Maize and Blue is abundantly evident on the air.
So, let the Sparty Party have “the big stick.” Michigan Football and basketball is alive and well on WWJ-AM (950) and WXYT-FM (97.1 FM The Ticket) and Jim Harbaugh is making the broadcasts fun to listen to once again.