Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
This season has been, to put it mildly a bit of a problem for those of us who enjoy listening to the Michigan Wolverines on the radio. Going all the way back to the days of "the ultimate homer" Bob Ufer, fans have often preferred the radio audio over TV commentators who (are supposed to) remain neutral since their signal goes into the cities of BOTH teams.
For thirty years U of M fans enjoyed the super -signal of WJR-AM (760) but on October 13, 2005 the Great Voice of the Great Lakes stunned fans and the top brass at the Michigan Athletic Department with the news that they were going to abandon the maize and blue. They were switching to the green and white of the Michigan State Spartans. This necessitated the need for a new radio home for the boys in Ann Arbor. The result was a nice five-year deal with WOMC-FM (104.3) which was still (at that time) home to Dick Purtan and a great format of oldies music. M-fans got spoiled with an FM signal of nearly 200,000 watts! It was short-lived. Music stations do not like to stop the music, especially for six or more hours of pre-game, the game and post-game coverage. So, this year marked the end of the FM deal and no more WOMC, even after I came up with the promo slogan that WOMC stood for "Where Only Michigan Counts."
By late summer of 2011 there was still no signed deal with a Detroit radio station for U of M Football and the clock was ticking. We had a new coach in Brady Hoke, a multi-million dollar makeover for the Big House and a thrilling home schedule of eight games....but no radio contract signed. Athletic Director Dave Brandon, who is a brilliant businessman, felt it would be best to consolidate Michigan's two most popular sports; football and basketball, on one station. CBS Radio owns WOMC as well as WWJ, which was already carrying Michigan basketball, so Brandon and the radio network (IMG) put together a deal with WWJ-AM (950) for both sports.
True, WWJ is one of only two AM stations in the Detroit area that gets good ratings and is truly a prestigious radio station. Unfortunately, WWJ, even with 50,000 watts employs what is known as a directional signal, which (at night) is mostly sent straight north from its multi-tower transmitter site down in Berlin Township, just north of Monroe. At night, it reaches all the way to the Big Mac bridge, but sadly falls short of Ann Arbor after sundown. Out in Washtenaw County, and if you're in the stadium, the strongest signal is 10,000 watt WTKA-AM (1050), but at sundown that station drops to an anemic 500 watts making it a rough pull even on the west side of Ann Arbor.
Because the Notre Dame was such a big deal (first night game ever, etc) that broadcast was simulcast on WWWW-FM (102.9) in Ann Arbor and in Detroit on WXYT-FM (97.1) The Ticket...but who knew? It was poorly promoted. Now, on October 8th Michigan will play another night game versus Northwestern in Chicago (Evanston, IL) and no 102.9 FM coverage will be available and for it to make it onto 97.1 FM in Detroit there needs to be no conflict with either the Tigers or the Red Wings. The pro-sports take precedence on The Ticket and the Tigers, Wings, Lions and Pistons are ALL on 97.1 FM leaving little (if any) room for the Big Blue. Personally, I also hope that WWJ will come out of their standard 15 second delay so that the broadcast matches the action on the field. WTKA is right on the mark to within 1.5 seconds behind, which is acceptable.
My hope is that an arrangement can be made between the university, IMG and CBS Radio Detroit which would allow the games to be broadcast on one of their HD channels. WXYT-FM's HD-2 is WWJ but during games they run their regular all-news format. This leaves WYCD (Country), WDZH (Amp Radio hits) and WOMC (Classic hits) to offer up their HD side-channel for football. WOMC makes the most sense since they used to carry the games. We can only hope.
Meanwhile for those of us who prefer a good solid clean and static-free audio source for Michigan football it is available on satellite radio! It does run about 16 second behind "real time" but that's the case with all satellite radio transmissions. If you have a Sirius radio the UM-San Diego State game will be on Sirius Channel 128 at noon and XM subscribers can hear the game on Channel 195. Both will feature the broadcast team of Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter and Doug Karsch. This holds true only for HOME games. When Michigan is on the road, the opposing team's announcers are featured. This is why we need the HD carriage of these games. Stay tuned there's more to come and Michigan fans CLEARLY want to hear the games in sync with no static at all.