Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
As I sit here at my computer with a large box of Kleenex at my side, feeling far less than 100% with a form of "pink-eye" and a very sore throat, I know why my later in life mantra is "Golden Years...my ass!" Then I reflect on the news I got today about the untimely passing of two people I knew, one from radio and one from music and high school, and it puts all things in perspective.
My hope is that, by looking at my picture, it's hard for you to believe that in July, God-willing, I'll be attending my 50th Class Reunion of Ann Arbor High School (now known as Pioneer). Bob Seger was in my gym class ... but another AAHS graduate who had a national pop-single was Deon Jackson.
Deon sat in front of me in English class in 1964. He was on the bus with me to Detroit's historic Fort Wayne facility for our US Military Draft Physical and was managed by the same man who discovered Del Shannon, Ollie McLaughlin of "Ollie's Caravan" on local station WHRV 1600, now WAAM, in Ann Arbor.
He was best known for the pop hit, "Love Makes The World Go Round," on the Carla label in 1966. The song reached #3 on the R&B charts and #11 on Billboard's Hot 100! Three more singles, however, failed to crack the top 60, but Deon kept performing-- a fact that he kept secret from his students at a Wheaton, Illinois school where he later served as a counselor. They finally discovered him in 2008 on YouTube.
He died in his sleep at his home in suburban Chicago April 19. He was 68. That 50th Class Reunion of AAHS is coming up in 90 days. Deon almost made it. Damn shame. I was really looking forward to seeing him again.
Now, I just got word that Tony the Tiger has also lost his voice with the shocking news that Lee Marshall has died of (ironically) esophageal cancer. He was only 67. You probably didn't know that Lee was the most recent voice of the famed Kellogg's Frosted Flakes mascot, but he was, following in the footsteps of the original voice of Tony, Thurl Ravenscroft! You might remember Lee best, if you are of a certain age, as one of the big-voiced sensational sounding news hounds at The Big 8-CKLW. He was one of over twenty news guys under the leadership of another local radio great, who died far too early in life at only 46, and that was the unforgettable Byron MacGregor. You hear his wife Jo-Jo Shutty MacGregor on WWJ doing traffic reports. Lee was also featured in the sensational documentary "The Rise and Fall of The Big 8-CKLW" which aired several times on Detroit Public Television.
In my last column about the new broadcasters for Michigan Football, I indicated that prior to the upcoming team of Jim Brandstatter and Dan Dierdorf, there had only been two other announcers who covered nearly seventy years of calling the Maize and Blue action; Bob Ufer and Frank Beckmann. It's true that Ufer was THE original, and longest running (37 years), voice of Meeechigan Football from 1945 until midway in the 1981 season when he died on October 26th.. It's also true that Beckmann began calling the games at the start of the 1981 schedule, but Bob Ufer's last game was on a bleak and rainy mid-October day versus Iowa, and U of M lost! So, from 1945 through last year only two men had the job on what was once called The Michigan Football Network starting on WPAG (now WTKA) in Ann Arbor, then shifting over to WJR from 1976 through 2005 and since 2006 on WWJ.
Back in the early days, in the old press box along Main Street, the top floor had as many as a half dozen, or more, radio booths as a number of stations were able to broadcast the games. Michigan's own public/NPR station WUOM-FM (91.7) featured Tom Hemmingway for nearly 25 years. WAAM in Ann Arbor did the games, as did WTRX in Flint and many others. Slowly, over the years, it went down to just two; WJR with Ufer/Beckmann and WWJ with Don Kramer and later, Larry Henry. After 1996 the NCAA decided only one station could have the rights and WJR won out for the 1997 season. Interestingly that didn't last even ten years, as in mid-October 2005, WJR stunned Wolverine fans by dropping UM for the MSU Spartans! If you go to my web site: www.vuolovideo.com and click on UM Football, at the end of the page is a story about how all that happened entitled "Why WJR repainted the Blue Room with Green Paint." My hope is that this clarifies the purists who reminded me that there were more than just two who sang the praises of the Yellow and Blue.
Contact Art Vuolo, Jr. via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org