Long before Ernie Harwell became Detroit’s “Voice of Summer”, WWJ’s Ty Tyson served that role by developing a loyal legion of listeners from the very first Tiger radio broadcast on April 20, 1927, the home opener from Navin Field against the St. Louis Browns.
In the April 19, 1927 edition of the Detroit News, a small article appeared entitled: “Tiger Opener to Go On Air: WWJ to Broadcast All Home Games Play by Play; Tune In at 2:30.” The article in part read:
“Arrangements have been made whereby E.L. Tyson, chief announcer of WWJ will occupy a place in the press stand at all the home games of the Tigers this season…….A microphone for the use of the announcer will be placed in the press stands and in various parts of the field there will be concealed for the picking up of crowd noises to lend realistic atmosphere to the game as heard by the listeners in their homes….WWJ’s broadcast of tomorrow’s’ game will make the first time any such event ha been put on the air direct from the field by a Detroit broadcasting station.”
It was also announced that for away games Tyson would recreate the games by broadcasting them at 4 PM from telegraph reports at the WWJ studio.
Three years earlier Tyson broadcast the first University of Michigan football game aired on the radio. As the station’s chief announcer, he later broadcast the opening of the Ambassador Bridge and Windsor Tunnel, boxing matches at Olympia and the Gold Cup races on the Detroit River.
“Good afternoon everybody this is Ty Tyson speaking to you for WWJ the Detroit News, he uttered into his oversized microphone from high atop the press box as 33,971 jam packed into Navin Field for the home opener.
In that first broadcast, Tyson described all the colorful action in a 7-0 Tiger victory thanks largely to the four hit pitching by Earl Whitehill and a three run homer by the powerful left fielder Bob “Fats” Fothergill.
In the book “Voices of the Game” by Curt Smith, long time Tiger fan and Saturday Evening Post senior editor Maynard Good Stoddard said this about Tyson:
“Ty was so vivid, he made games come alive. There was an excitement about him. Ty talked real slow, but he had urgency inside him and he transmitted that to us. He just looked around the ballpark and talked about what was going on, and he made you feel like Gehringer, Cochrane, and Goslin were right next door. ‘It’s going, it’s going, it’s a home run!,’he’d roar. And we’d all cheer.”
When the Tigers won the pennant in 1934 baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred Tyson from broadcasting the World Series over any networks assuming Tyson would be partial in his remarks. However after Tiger fans bombarded Landis with letters of protest, Landis relented and allowed him to announce the games locally on WWJ. The following year Tyson did the Tigers and Cubs World Series over NBC radio.
In 1934 Tyson had some competition when WXYZ radio hired former Tiger slugger Harry Heilmann to broadcast games to outstate Michigan. Ernie Harwell told writer Curt Smith:
“It was unique the way it operated. For years these two guys broadcast games against each other. They were rivals in a sense. If you were in the UP or western Michigan you heard Heilmann and if you lived in Detroit or in some nearby area and could pick up WWJ you got Ty. And I think that Tyson, being more popular got the better of it.”
Tyson broadcast Tiger games through 1942 but the following season the team granted exclusive rights to WXYZ with Heilmann.
Tyson however once again became a broadcast pioneer when on June 3, 1947 he handled the first televised Tiger game for WWJ-TV. Tyson continued to do Tiger telecasts until his retirement in after the 1952 season. In addition, during the 1951 season Tyson also handled the radio broadcasts after Heilmann became ill and passed away from cancer on the eve of the All Star game in Detroit.
Beginning Father’s Day 1965 Ernie Harwell invited Tyson back up to the booth at least once a year where the radio pioneer called an inning or provided commentary.
Tyson died December 12, 1968 in Grosse Pointe from an arterial ailment just two months after his beloved Tigers won their third world championship.
Remarkably, Tyson has not received the Ford Frick Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame despite his pioneer work broadcasting baseball.
*****On a side note, every reference regarding the first Tiger broadcast has mistakenly stated that it occurred on April 19, 1927 from Navin Field. However when I checked the 1927 Tiger schedule online with Baseball Almanac, it showed that on April 19th they played a game in Cleveland. I then went to the Detroit Public Library and looked at the Detroit News microfilm and discovered that the first broadcast was indeed at Navin Field but that it was on April 20th for the home opener. It just shows how “history” can continuously be inaccurately reported. —Bill Dow