The University Record, September 6, 1994

Hemingway, Burton team up for broadcast of football games

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

Michigan’s game against Boston College last weekend not only marked the opening of the 1994 football season for the Wolverines, it also featured the return of Michigan Radio and long-time announcer Tom Hemingway to the football airwaves after a six-year hiatus.

Hemingway, WUOM sports director and the play-by-play voice of U-M football on Michigan Radio from 1963 to 1987, was excited but a little nervous about his return to the gridiron broadcast booth.

“I’ve had a lot of mixed emotions,” Hemingway said prior to last Saturday’s game. “It’s been a long time, but everybody says it’s just like riding a bicycle. Until I do that first game though, there’s going to be a little apprehension.”

As was evident by Hemingway’s broadcast of the U-M-Boston College game, he has no plans to change his “easy-going” but informative on-air delivery, a popular trademark appreciated by legions of maize-and-blue fans.

“I don’t see that I’m going to change my style any,” he said. “I’m a laid-back type of broadcaster. I certainly get excited when the occasion presents itself, but I’m not one who can start at a high level from the opening bell and continue on. I just don’t think you can sustain that energy over the whole broadcast, because I think you’ll tire your listeners out.”

Hemingway has never been accused of lacking energy. During his first 25 years of announcing Wolverine football, he also called games for U-M basketball and baseball on Michigan Radio. Moreover, he worked as a sportscaster for Channel 4 in Detroit in the late 1960s and served as the Detroit Pistons radio play-by-play man throughout the 1970s, including a couple of stints on their television broadcasts.

It was not uncommon for Hemingway to announce a U-M football game on a Saturday afternoon and then call a Pistons game later that night—in a different state; or do an afternoon U-M basketball game, drive to Detroit for a 6 p.m. sportscast on Channel 4, run over to Cobo Hall for the Pistons game, and rush back to the TV studios for the 11 p.m. sportscast.

“I don’t know how in the world it all fit in, but it worked,” he said. “That was about as hairy as it got.”

Hemingway credits his announcing success to fastidious preparation, an intense interest in sports, a “decent command of the English language,” and the ability to adapt to unexpected situations in the booth. He also says he has been fortunate to have great broadcast partners, and is especially pleased to be working with new partner Tirrel Burton, assistant director of licensing for the athletic department and a former U-M assistant football coach.

“Tirrel is such an interesting person,” he said. “He has all this knowledge of Michigan football and is very articulate. I think it’s going to work out very, very well.”

Despite announcing thousands of games over the years, Hemingway said he’ll always remember his first U-M football broadcast in 1963 when the Wolverines defeated Southern Methodist, coached by Hayden Fry, now at the helm of Big Ten foe Iowa’s football team.

Hemingway rates U-M’s stunning victory against “invincible” Ohio State in 1969—Bo Schembechler’s first season at Michigan—as the most memorable football game he called.

“It was thought that NFL teams would have a tough time beating Ohio State that year because they were just so powerful,” Hemingway recalled. “There was absolutely no one who gave Michigan a chance of even staying within three touchdowns of Ohio State, let alone beating them, and we came out and just dominated the game.”

Hemingway remembers vividly his first Rose Bowl assignment in 1977, not so much for the on-field action as for the pre-game antics of his broadcast team.

In those days, he said, the Rose Bowl lacked adequate space for announcers. Instead of a broadcast booth, the Michigan Radio team was given two phones on the roof of the stadium.

“There was absolutely nothing else—no table, no chairs, nothing, let alone a booth,” Hemingway said. “We found two garbage cans and put some planks across them, and got a couple of chairs, which I think we just outright stole from the pressbox. Our engineer set up his equipment on the lip of the roof, and we did the game on planks and garbage cans. I’ll never forget that.”

In fact, there isn’t too much that Hemingway has forgotten from his broadcasting days, which began as a student announcer for Michigan State hockey games in the late 1950s. He fondly recalls players and coaches and individual games and plays from all the sports he has broadcast in a career that now spans parts of five decades.

But not being “actively involved in the games” is what Hemingway missed most about being off the airwaves the past few years.

“It’s one thing to watch a game, but another to be a part of it. I’ve always found play-by-play to be invigorating. It’s as if I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

And with Hemingway back in the broadcast booth, U-M football fans are sure to feel the same way.