Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, November 26, 2006
By: Mike Austerman
The ties between broadcasting and sports have always been incredibly strong. Clear examples of this relationship were on display this past week through area radio and television.
When legendary University of Michigan former head football coach Bo Schembechler died Nov. 17, the news was deemed important enough to interrupt regular programming on our two sports radio stations, WXYT-AM (1270) and WDFN-AM (1130), along with news-talk WJR-AM (760) and all-news WWJ-AM (950). All four devoted considerable time and resources to covering the story, as did their TV cousins.
WXYZ-Channel 7 carried coverage of the story for several hours Friday, pre-empting regular programming and even skipping some of its regular commercial breaks. Channel 7’s work was especially courageous, considering it was in its Southfield studios where Coach Schembechler collapsed as he prepared to tape his weekly college football show. Sports reporter Don Shane appeared to be especially affected by the events and showed a ton of courage in his appearances on 7’s newscasts that evening. Anchor Dave LewAllen was rock solid as the station’s primary anchor throughout much of 7’s coverage.
WDIV-Channel 4 also provided extensive reporting and skipped some of the afternoon soaps to report a story that seemed to eclipse coverage of this past February’s Super Bowl.
Both WDFN and WXYT showed remarkable restraint in their reporting that Friday morning and afternoon. When news got out that Schembechler had collapsed and was taken to the hospital in very serious condition, neither station speculated on his condition — despite many dire reports coming from people at the hospital. And once the news of Bo’s death was made official, I was incredibly impressed by the responsibility of the discussions at both of the normally lighthearted sports stations.
Then this past Tuesday, the day of Schembechler’s memorial service at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, WJR, WWJ, WDFN and WXYT once again set aside their regular shows to cover the three-hour event without commercial breaks. WJR had Michigan play-by-play host Frank Beckmann behind the mike at the Big House to bring listeners coverage of a heartfelt ceremony featuring Jim Brandstatter, CBS-TV’s Dan Dierdorf and Bo’s son, Shemy, among others. Channels 4 and 7, along with Fox Sports Net Detroit and ESPNews, also covered the service live.
It was heartening to hear WJR step up Tuesday afternoon, as it was on its station that Schembechler co-hosted the “Brandy and Bo Show” for a number of years with Brandstatter when ’JR was the flagship for Michigan football. It was great to hear the classy description of the events by Beckmann — and especially fitting.
Bo Schembechler’s influence reaches far beyond the football field. The passion he brought to his job inspired not only his players and coaches, but even worked to trickle down to kids attending elementary school in the 1970s at the height of the “10-Year War” between Bo and Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes.
I was a student at Wilde Elementary in Warren, where a teacher named Mr. Szykula, a huge Ohio State fan, worked. He was very proud of his mustache — and he lost it in a bet with the students when a Rick Leach-led Wolverines squad defeated the Buckeyes to win the Big 10 and advance to the Rose Bowl. I can remember this as if it were yesterday, even though I was only about 10 years old then. Already a fan of Michigan football, thanks in no small part to hearing Bob Ufer on the radio, living that kind of excitement in elementary school certainly helped cement my passion for Michigan football.
While short in duration, my two brushes with Bo were both memorable. The first time was when I was introduced by fellow columnist Art Vuolo, and I found him to be incredibly easy to talk to. I left that quick conversation with a huge smile and a better understanding of just how special this man truly was.
The second time was on the concourse of Michigan Stadium before a game. He was headed to the press box as a passenger on a golf cart, and there just wasn’t much room to maneuver. Amazingly, word traveled through the crowd that Coach Schembechler was on that cart, and it was as if the path had opened by magic. He truly seemed to be basking in the shouts of encouragement from the crowd. I’ll remember forever the smile on his face as he interacted with his fans on that autumn day.
I find it appropriate that Bo’s passing happened during this week of Thanksgiving. The outpouring of thanks for his life from family and friends was thoroughly covered by the media. It offered us folks on the sidelines at least a glance into the life of one of the most influential men the state of Michigan has ever known. May he rest in peace and those closest to him find comfort in his life’s work.
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Columnist Mike Austerman has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.