People

Ty Tyson, the world's first sports broadcaster

WWJ sportscaster Ty Tyson addresses the crowd at a Northwestern High School baseball game over a police loudspeaker in 1938.

When Ty Tyson arrived at The Detroit News in 1922 for a job at WWJ radio, then the smallest department at the News, the managing editor’s first question was, “What’s your newspaper experience?” Tyson replied, “Well, I paid the paper boy back home a couple of months ago.”

It’s not known what the managing editor thought of Tyson’s answer but it’s no secret what radio listeners thought of Tyson’s broadcasting talents.

Tyson had come to Detroit from Pennsylvania at the behest of Bill Holiday, the nation’s first radio announcer and manager of the nine-month-old WWJ Radio. At that time Tyson’s previous work experience had been limited to jobs in the coal and wallpaper industries, a stint in stationery with his father, a job as a paper maker in a Pennsylvania mill, and as mercantile appraiser for Blair County, Pa. He had also spent two years of World War I in the 28th Division, 11 months of that time overseas.

But by the time of his retirement from radio in 1940 he had compiled an impressive record of firsts. Among them were broadcasting the first regularly scheduled baseball game, the first football game in the Midwest, the first Gold Cup races, and the first boxing matches in Detroit.

Tyson, center, at the mike for the first live broadcast of a baseball game from Navin Field April 19, 1927.Tyson, center, at the mike for the first live broadcast of a baseball game from Navin Field April 19, 1927.

 

 

Born Edwin Lloyd Tyson on May 11, l888, in Phillipsburg, Pa., Tyson grew up to become the leading ball player and — luckily for his future career — the leading actor of nearby Tyrone, the metropolis of that Allegheny region.

Another Tyrone boy was Fred Waring. They met when Ty played Uncle Tom in a hometown production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and Waring played the baby Eliza carried across the ice. They became fast friends.

Shortly after forming his famous orchestra, the Pennsylvanians, Waring played a J-Hop at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The band was such a hit that they were invited to Detroit to broadcast their music over WWJ radio.

Holiday was looking for someone to succeed himself as announcer at the radio station and Waring suggested his old pal, Ty Tyson. Holiday immediately fired off a telegram to Tyson:

The first complete announcer's panel, of the type used by Tyson, was built by Edwin Boyes in 1926The first complete announcer’s panel, of the type used by Tyson, was built by Edwin Boyes in 1926

 

“COME TO DETROIT AS MY ASSISTANT. SIGNED BILL HOLIDAY, MANAGER STATION WWJ.”

Tyson couldn’t afford a long telegram to ask for particulars of the job, so he merely wired back:

“WHEN?”

The double-button Western Electric microphone was used by Tyson beginning in 1923.The double-button Western Electric microphone was used by Tyson beginning in 1923.

 

The reply came back “AT ONCE.”

The year after he arrived at WWJ he married the former Catherine Luckenbach, a Tyrone girl. By the time he brought her to Detroit his career was well on its way.

His announcing chores at WWJ included broadcasts of the Detroit Symphony, the opening of both the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, presidential visits and the introduction to Detroit audiences of such notables as Charles A. Lindbergh, Fielding Yost, Helen Keller, E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Fannie Brice, Ty Cobb and Will Rogers.

He was the world’s first sportscaster.

On April l9, l927, he handled the first regular baseball game ever broadcast, and became the first anywhere to air a full season. That first game was at Navin Field (now Tiger Stadium), and Detroit beat Cleveland, 8-5.

Three years earlier he broadcast the first University of Michigan football game from old Ferry Field in Ann Arbor. It was the first broadcast of a Midwestern game (one game in the East had been broadcast two years before) and, again, marked the beginning of regular radio coverage.

The late Fielding H. Yost had given permission to broadcast the game against Wisconsin, which Michigan won 21-0, only because the game had been sold out. He was afraid broadcasting would hurt sales, but before the next home game the Michigan Athletic Association was swamped with ticket orders. Yost happily arranged more broadcasts.

In August, l924, Tyson broadcast the Gold Cup powerboat races here, and, later, all the Harmsworth Races.

Detroit had been the first city to put the Gold Cup Race in full view of the public. When cup races were held elsewhere, the spectacle was seldom visible from the shore and was seen only by yacht owners and their guests.

Tyson made it possible for Detroit to hear as well as see the race. WWJ’s microphone was on the judges’ float.

Tyson at ringside in 1930.Tyson at ringside in 1930.

 

Tyson also broadcast Detroit’s first boxing match at the Olympia and became the holder of a lifetime pass to Briggs Stadium. He also had a gold membership card in the Detroit Sports Broadcasters, of which he was past and honorary president.

When Tyson retired, Edwin K. Wheeler, then general manager of The News stations, gave him a gold-plated carbon mike of the type Tyson first used, which had to be tapped each time it was used to shake up the carbon so it would “listen”.

Such figures as Spike Briggs, Charlie Gehringer, Benny Friedman and Jack Adams attended the retirement simulcast in the WWJ studios, and the Tigers sent taped messages from their training camp at Lakeland, Fla.

For several seasons after he retired, he assisted at the WJR broadcasts of Michigan State University football games, doing the color as Bob Reynolds reported the game.

Crowds gather at Grand Circus Park in 1922 to hear WWJ World Series updates broadcast over loudspeakers.Crowds gather at Grand Circus Park in 1922 to hear WWJ World Series updates broadcast over loudspeakers.

 

Tyson’s last regular baseball broadcast was in l940, but he continued sports and other commentaries from WWJ microphones along with his administrative duties at WWJ.

In l95l he took over both radio and TV broadcasts of Tiger games during the final illness and after the death of his friend and successor, Harry Heilmann.

On Father’s Day in l965 he took over Ernie Harwell’s mike for one inning of a Tiger broadcast. It was such a success that Harwell, who often called at the Tyson home to drive his friend places, called him back several times afterward.

Many old-timers can remember Tyson’s game “reconstructions.”

Tyson behind the mike for the first television broadcast of a Tigers game in 1947.Tyson behind the mike for the first television broadcast of a Tigers game in 1947.

 

When the Tigers were out of town before direct lines and networks were commonplace, a telegraph operator in the opponents’ park would be Tyson’s “eyes,” tapping out a series of coded play-by-play messages.

Another operator in a WWJ studio typed out these notes, and Tyson would draw on his vast experience to fill in a complete play as though he were seeing it himself..

When the Tigers won the pennant in 1934, the broadcasting networks barred Tyson from the booth. They ruled that no announcer who had covered a Series contender for the season should cover the Series itself, to avoid any suspicion of partisanship..

They hadn’t counted on 600,000 Tyson fans in Michigan and other states, who promptly signed petitions to put their favorite back on the air. They loved his impartial, no-nonsense reporting style. He never stooped to the hysterical “boy-oh-boy” type of reporting that made a joke of early radio..

He was a reporter who simply related what went on before him. The network rule was waived in his (and the Tigers’) favor, and WWJ was permitted to be the only independent broadcaster of the Series. The next year, the National Broadcasting Co. took him onto the network staff for the classic when the Tigers got in the series again..

When Ty Cobb died in 1961, Tyson was asked his opinion of the star. Tyson said, “I agree with what the boys are saying today. Cobb was the greatest baseball player of all times..

“I don’t think Cobb’s records will ever be broken. His lifetime batting average will stand: no one will excel the number of hits he made, the number of bases he stole..

“He wasn’t the easiest fellow to get along with but you forgot all that in the splendor of his fiery competitive spirit..

“In many ways I’ve thought Cobb and Mickey Cochrane were alike. Both were better as players than just as managers. The Tigers didn’t win pennants when Cobb was concentrating more on managing: the same held true in Mickey’s day. But what fervor and fever they inspired in the fans.”.

To celebrate Ty Tyson’s 25th Anniversary of broadcasting, Mayor Jeffries of Detroit proclaimed May 26, l947 to be “Ty Tyson Day”, and hundreds of prominent Detroiters gathered at a banquet to do Ty honor..

The following poem was written by Detroiter Charles Hay to Ty in May, l937. At the time, Mickey Cochrane was in Henry Ford Hospital after having been injured during a game.


“While seated last Sunday at the typewriter desk,
Now don’t laugh, Mr. Tyson, I beg of you please,
I had no thought of jingles, just the boys on the team
As my fingers went rambling all over the keys.
The Browns must have smiled as each man went to bat–
They knew that the Tigers were going to town
And down in their hearts they must have acknowledged
That the Tigers can fight when the manager’s down.
For the day was a glorious one at the bat
Each man on the team dug in with a will.
And l8 runs were wrapped up for Mickey–
To cheer up the Old Iron Horse who is ill.
My verse may be wrong, but I’m just a fan dreaming
That the manager must be a lovable lad.
And if winning a ball game will help him get better
They went out to give him the best that they had.
Oh, the home runs of Walker and Greenberg were grand,
And the pitching of Gill was good to behold,
But I bet each one thought of the good it would do
Their Manager friend with the heart of pure gold.
I’m not much of a fan–and know less of the game–
Though Tyson explains every move that they make,
There are thousands like me who have faith when they lose
And are proud of the team every game that they take.
To me a sport must be a gentleman at all times
And as my one sore finger pecks on today
You must be a gentleman to be the sport you are
For as sports announcer, you’re the best we have today.”

Tyson died December 12, 1968, at age 80 in Cottage Hospital in Grosse Pointe Farms, from an arterial ailment.

Harry Heilmann, left, who succeeded Tyson as Tigers broadcaster, at a baseball luncheon with Tyson in 1938.Harry Heilmann, left, who succeeded Tyson as Tigers broadcaster, at a baseball luncheon with Tyson in 1938.