Remembrances by Art Vuolo, Jr.
It was very tempting to have gone for the sensational and somewhat misleading headline "JR signs off," but Joey Ryan wouldn't have wanted that, even though he had a great sense of humor. He also wanted no fancy ceremony to commemorate his life and multifaceted career in radio. However, we can still remember him as one of the most familiar voices on Detroit radio and TV, and he was one of the very best ever. Joey died on Wednesday June 23, 2010.
Seemingly, of late, I am mostly writing about friends whom we've lost, and we're losing a lot of them. Earlier this year, a group of us went up to Grand Rapids where Joseph Pietruska, best known as Joey Ryan had been transferred from the Dingell Veterans Hospital in Detroit. Back in December, legendary Detroit radio personality Lee Alan, and I went to visit Joey at the facility down near Wayne State University. Frankly, we left feeling it would be the last time we'd ever see him. I said "Lee I don't think he'll make it to the end of the year." Well, he did. In fact he lasted another 6 months! When we all went up to GR on February 13th he stunned all of us when he asked "well are ya gonna shoot a video of me before I die?" I raced to my car, where my video camcorder was stashed in the trunk. You can see that video here.
My first meeting with Joey Ryan came back in the very early 70's at WHFI Birmingham at 94.7 FM (now WCSX). He is probably best remembered, by longtime radio listeners, for his years at WDRQ in the mid-1970's, which is where he was dubbed "Mr. Boogie." In the early 1980's he was the evening DJ at WTWR (Tower 92) which is now WMXD Mix 92.3. The Tower was an oldies station and Joey did his night show 7 pm till midnight from high atop the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. That was the only time I managed to get video of him while on the air, and a clip of that footage is on the end of the video shot a few months ago up in Grand Rapids.
The group who went up to see Joey in February included Kevin O'Neill, most recently with WNIC, Kevin Sanderson, now with Metro Traffic, "the reel" Tom Ryan, former CKLW & WYUR engineer and myself. We were joined with current Grand Rapids radio folks Kim Carson, who once worked at WCZY when it was Z-95.5 and the well-known Bill Bailey who worked with Joey at 93.1 WDRQ in the 1970's. Right now, we can all say that we're certainly glad we took the time and made the effort since it turned out to be the last time we would see him. Personally, I am amazed that he hung on through nearly half of 2010. You can hear recordings of Joey on the amazing web site www.detroitradioflashbacks.net.
The last station I recall hearing him as a DJ was the short-lived Star 97 WYST (97.1 FM) now WXYT, The Ticket. While there he also did a great deal of, what is known as, booth announcing at WJBK-TV 2. Both the FM station and WWJ-AM shared the same building on 9 Mile Road in Southfield. Joey voiced hundreds of commercials, promos and presentations. He died from a number of complicated health issues and the last few years were tough on this talented radio broadcaster.
I, for one, am going to miss him, but will always be grateful that on three separate occasions had a chance to preserve his image forever on videotape, hold his hand, give him a gentle hug and assure him that he was loved by dozens of radio fans who have a superb eye and ear for exceptional talent. Joey Ryan would have been 63 on July 12th. Rest in peace my friend.