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 feel that basketball was the driving force behind this 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.
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 president and general manager, Michael D. Fezzey. Sources say that Michigan State has been lusting after the mega-power WJR for the past six years. The Spartans have 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 they deserved. Many felt that was a sure- fire 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.
The Michigan Athletic Department was completely blind-sided by the move. 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 the news would affect them the most. It did. Smith is a 1975 U of M
graduate and a huge Michigan fan.
They were all taken to the Spartan Stadium where the MSU band was on the field playing the 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 Simon. It appears that the Spartans wanted to express their 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). The teams lost all of their fans in Indiana, Ohio and Ontario. WJR will no doubt be perceived as a “turn-coat” by many U of M fans. They have 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 fansl.
In May 2006, the University of Michigan reached a final decision regarding the much anticipated radio home of their sports teams.
Back on October 13, 2005, 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 be placed on 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.
Now fans can hear the Wolverines on WOMC-FM (104.3) home of Detroit's best known, hall-of-fame radio personality, Dick Purtan. Additionally, the games will be carried on Canadian powerhouse CKLW-AM (800) that reaches from Fort Wayne, IN to the far side of Cleveland. No other Detroit area AM covers that area keeping Michigan fans to the south pleased.
The long delay was 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, remains with Frank. They have a magical chemistry and most fans love ‘em. Steve Courtney, who is WJR’s morning sports reporter on the Paul W. Smith show is no longer working with B&B. The new field reporter is WXYT’s afternoon 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. U-M tailgate shows are still featured at major home games at WOMC. They will also continue with local station WTKA-AM (1050) in Ann Arbor.
Basketball is now carried on all-news WWJ-AM (950) and according to U of M Associate Athletic Director Bruce Madej, games are also available on urban-talk & sports WCHB-AM (1200). U-M hockey will be on sports WXYT-AM (1270) when not conflicting with the Red Wings. U of M Hockey remains on Ann Arbor's WTKA-AM (1050) as will Michigan Football and Basketball. WTKA has a very long-standing relationship with Michigan sports coverage.
Michigan games can also be heard border to border and coast-to-coast because U of M currently has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio. Another huge plus this season is the ability to hear Michigan Football games on-line over the Internet!.
Stay tuned. 2007 will be another interesting and exciting season of college sports from the University of Michigan and its network of stations.
Art Vuolo (pronounced Vo-Low), Jr. is actively involved in radio, television, video production and journalism. He is a 1969 graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a B.S. degree in speech. In his senior year at EMU he developed the concept of RADIOGUIDES designed for people who travel. Since 1972 his company has published over 100 million such guides directing listeners to their favorite programming. He has worked with many of the nation's most prestigious companies and radio stations. Today, he is president of the company he founded: The RADIOGUIDE People, Inc.
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