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Feb. 14, 2022

Podcast: Remembering WJR radio legend Frank Beckmann

Frank Beckmann, 72, a fixture at WJR-AM (760) for 48 years, died Feb. 12, 2022, of vascular dementia.

I’m remembering Frank on the program today. In 2006 on a beautiful June day at MSU’s Forest Akers Golf Course, Frank told me he was hired on Sept. 11, 1972, in the news department at WJR.

“At time, I was the youngest newsman they’d ever hired at WJR; I was 22 years old when I started there. People move around a lot in radio. My goal was to be at one place for five years, and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do next.” Frank cites Van Patrick, Bob Reynolds, and J.P. McCarthy as mentors.

Conversation Highlights:

On always wanting to be in radio. “I grew up with a tape recorder in my hands and I would announce tabletop games sitting at the dining room table. Then I would watch TV and announce football games that were on television. Then I would critique myself later. My parents had a son who talked to himself at the dining room table so they could either try to nurture that or have me committed, and I’m glad they chose the former!”

On the transition from news to sports then to play-by-play: “It wasn’t too long after covering the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance – for which we won a lot of awards – that WJR was looking to do some new things in the sports department, which was run by Bob Reynolds at the time.” Frank became sports director when Reynolds retired.

He talks about beginning the transition to play-by-play by doing the Lions pre and postgame shows from the studio. Then he lobbied to go on the road to do the show and began to do that. Eventually Mike Lucci left his role as color analyst and Frank began doing color on the game with Bob Reynolds.

“One time Bob became ill when we were in Chicago; he went to the hospital with some heart problems. He was out for a couple weeks so I did the play-by-play while he was sick. Bob’s health continued to deteriorate, and I became the play-by-play guy for the Lions. It became natural, then, that when Bob Ufer became ill, I got that opportunity, too.”

On his surprise when WJR transitioned from U of M to MSU: “I was shocked and stunned. You don’t expect 30-year relationships to end that suddenly without warning.” He describes what he says was the right decision that allowed George Blaha to continue to broadcast MSU games while Frank continued to broadcast U of M games.

On the notion that he’s somehow anti-Spartan: “Tell that to my father-in-law. He’s a graduate and has a master’s from Michigan State and we get along quite well and never fight. People are going to draw their own opinions, and they’re often misguided. Most of the time you can’t do anything about that, so I don’t worry about it. I’ve always admired Michigan State. I just happen to be the announcer for the University of Michigan, which is State’s big rivals. People should relax and enjoy the lore of the rivalry. There’s no need to have any dislike for one another in the rivalry. What bothers me the most is when people feel they can’t like me because I do U of M football, as if your affiliation with a college should have anything to do with the way you view a person. I’ve never understood that.

“Michigan State football has always been close to my heart. The first college game I ever saw was in Spartan Stadium when I was at Cousino High School in Warren. My dad was a huge Spartan fan. He resented Michigan because Michigan kept Michigan State out of the Big Ten for so long. He was a guy who always loved the underdog. We always followed Michigan State at my house and cheered for them. I know who I am. I’ve got great friends at Michigan State. I love them dearly. They’re just two different schools. I do Michigan Football. And Michigan State wants to beat Michigan. That’s it, end of story for me.”

We’re remembering WJR radio legend Frank Beckmann talking with me there in 2006. Nine years later in 2015 at that same spot - Forest Akers Golf Course at MSU – Frank reflects on his just-completed 30+ years doing radio play by play for University of Michigan football.

Other Highlights:

On the changes in college football during his time broadcasting games: “There are people who want to go after it because they think it’s too violent. This is a sport that builds character, teamwork, and personal responsibility in young men. All those skills lead to your success in the real world. The game itself is still about blocking and tackling. That’s the bottom line. You can have all the spread offenses and throw the ball all over the place. You still must block and tackle. If you don’t do that, you can’t play football and that’s never going to change.”

On the beginning of the Harbaugh/Dantonio rivalry: “Harbaugh will bring Michigan back; he’s a terrific coach. Mark Dantonio has done a super job at MSU. He’s put Michigan State into the upper echelon of college football. Jim Harbaugh has a chance to do that at Michigan. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been. My question is how long will he stay at Michigan? His track record is that he stays somewhere for about four years and then he’s out.

“It’s great to be here. I love East Lansing. I love the golf course. I love the people here. I’ve always had a great relationship with the people at MSU and I hope it continues for many more years.”
MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on WKAR News/Talk and Sunday nights at 8:00 on 760 WJR. Find, rate, and subscribe to “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

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