And interview with Ron-Jay Scott, GEARS radio announcer

Anyone who grew up in the Saginaw valley in the late 1960s and early 1970s listened to WSAM, “Big Sam” radio 14. In those days the station played Top 40 rock-n-roll and it was the coolest station in town with the hippest D.J.s on the air. It was an AM radio station which was just fine because most radios in anyone’s home or car only tuned AM anyhow. When the Saginaw Gears came to town the team needed to form a partnership with a local radio station in order to broadcast the Gears hockey games and WSAM was an exact fit. The station already had a wide audience and when someone was told that the Gears could be heard on WSAM, it was likely that their radio was already tuned to the station.

One of the D.J.s whose voice was as familiar as the station’s jingle, was Ron-Jay Scott. When the Gears came to town Ron-Jay was soon associated with the team and his presence quickly grew to doing “color” during game broadcasts, then play-by-play and finally serving as the team’s exclusive radio announcer and host. We here at Saginaw Gears Dot Com have been lucky enough to connect once again with Ron-Jay Scott and tap his brain for loads of terrific Gears memories.

SGDC: Ron-Jay, first of all thanks for coming onto Saginaw Gears Dot Com to share some of those memories from “back in the day.”

Ron-Jay: No, thank you Wes. This website is so original Saginaw Gear's fans a chance to relive what were, for me, some of the best and most exciting years of my life.

SGDC: Were you one of those people in Saginaw who discovered hockey by way of the Gears, or were you already a “hockey person?”

Ron-Jay: Oh, believe me I was already a huge hockey person. Hockey had been, and still is, one of my passions. Having grown up in a Detroit suburb, I played hockey as a youngster, and I was naturally a Red Wings fan and still am to this day. But, without trying to give my age away, the only coverage of the Wings at that time was on the radio and I grew up listening to Bud Lynch on WJR radio. And the only TV coverage of any hockey was out of Windsor, Ontario right across the river from Detroit- but it was good coverage....CBC Network (Canadian Broadcasting Company)....and that meant Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night. Back then, oops giving the age thing away again, there were only 6 teams in the NHL, but the schedule did have Toronto at home almost every Saturday night, and on the rare occasion they weren't, we got to see Montreal at home and the Red Wings played one of the two on occasion. Although my parents made me wait until Lawrence Welk was over at 9 o'clock, at least I got to see the last two periods. Eventually, there would be some limited TV coverage of Red Wing games on a Detroit UHF station.

SGDC: I have to confess that one job I’d always wanted to do was to be a D.J., so for my own interest let’s go on with some stuff about how and when you got into broadcasting in the first place.

Ron-Jay: I went to college at Central Michigan. Having played hockey as a youngster in Detroit and on a university club team my freshman year, by this time I certainly had put aside any hopes of making it to the NHL and settled on becoming a teacher like my older sister. I graduated with a teaching degree but my student teaching was as close to a classroom as I even got, as while at CMU I, by pure chance, got involved with broadcasting at the campus radio station.....and I never looked back. All I wanted to do was be on the radio. And although I had no radio job lined up at graduation time....I would shortly get as lucky as any guy could get.

I was heading to Saginaw to look into possibly getting a job at WKNX in Saginaw, back when their studios were out on State St. However, upon getting off of I-75 and heading west on Holland (M-46), I couldn't help but notice this huge broadcasting tower above the trees as I headed toward town. I kept my eye on it and as I got close I discovered that there was a building right at the foot of that tower with the call letters WSAM over the front door. So I figured that the studio's must be there and I may as well stop and apply there too. The owner interviewed me, listened to my audition tape and hired me on the spot to do summer vacation fill-in. I never did make it out to KNX. Needless to say it worked out well for me as Big Sam radio kept me on full-time after the summer swing gig.

SGDC: When was that, about 1971? At least that’s when I recall first hearing you on WSAM.

Ron-Jay: Yep....graduated June of 1971 and after a couple of unemployed and worry-some weeks....I started at WSAM later that month.

Less than a year later rumors started about a minor league hockey club coming to town....and then even better news, they were going to broadcast their games on WSAM.

SGDC: I recall from listening to “Big Sam, WSAM” in those days that they had a lot of DJs who used the air-name with “Sam” in it- DJs such as Sammy Mills, Sammy Todd, Big Sam Marcus, all having Sam or Sammy in their names to go with the call letters.

Ron-Jay: Yes, I think I was the first DJ hired there that they didn't make become a Sam or Sammy. Sam, or Sammy Scott?....not sure but it might have been a deal breaker.

SGDC: One of my greatest memories of 1973 was the first annual WSAM raft-race… at least I think it was “the first.” My mom wouldn’t let me ride my bike all the way down to “That awful river” so I had to listen to the whole event on “Big Sam radio.”

Ron-Jay: Wow, you're the first person to bring that up in many years. Yep...the Raft Race was a big deal alright. Here's a little known fact: a good friend of mine one year put on a divers wet suit including the hood, gloves and boots, inflated it with enough air so that he would float on his back, and got a small neighbor kid to sit on his stomach and with a canoe paddle, propel him the roughly 2 miles down the Saginaw River from Wickes Park to Ojibway Island. My buddy was literally the raft itself. And some years later, that same friend would be the one inside of the Gearilla costume at all those Gear's home games.

SGDC: Tell us something else about Ron-Jay Scott that most people don't know.

Ron-Jay: Okay, when I first got to WSAM I sure wasn't getting rich. But I stumbled upon a part-time job which sure helped at the time. When I was a teenager growing up in the Motor City, I along with the other guys I hung out with were really into race particular drag racing. So, the summer I started at WSAM, one of the other DJ's moonlighted on Saturday nights at Tri-City Dragway out by the airport and they were in need of a second tower PA announcer. So, just like hockey, I knew the sport pretty well and I fit right in...did it for several seasons. I also produced and voiced the radio commercials- who could forget, "Saturday Night, Saturday Tri-City Dragway!!!!!”

SGDC: Okay now on to hockey and the Gears. Many of us got close to the team starting off as casual spectators. Did you begin your connection with the Gears as simply a fan?

Ron-Jay: Of course, I wasn't a hockey announcer right away, but luckily, again, WSAM assigned me to be the "broadcast engineer" for the home games in the beginning. That's just a fancy title meaning I was the guy who set-up the equipment for Al Blade and Pat Shelter the first season and later I did the same for Al and Wally Shaver. But, it also meant that I got to go to the games. It was sometime after that, and I don't remember exactly the circumstances, but one of the two regulars was perhaps unavailable one night, and they already knew that I knew the game, so I started doing some color announcing. What a thrill, but over time it would get even better.

Several seasons later I was then traveling with the team on occasion and the Gears were playing a Saturday night game in Pt. Huron. We knew ahead of time that Al couldn't make it, so I went along on the bus with Wally to do the color commentating that night. Then as fate would have it, Wally started coming down with a sore throat and between the second and third periods he asked me if I thought I could do the play-by-play. I assure you that my hands were shaking like a branch full of leafs, but I sucked it up and wasn't going to turn down the opportunity. And while it wasn't very good I'm sure, I did manage to do the final period that night. I had them record it back at the station but luckily, I can't seem to find that particular tape.

I would continue to do the color announcing, but it wasn't till after Wally, and then eventually Al, left that I finally became the newest "voice of the Gears." My love for the game at that point had come full circle...played as a youngster, gave up playing when I got involved in broadcasting in college, but would end up broadcasting the sport that I still love to this day a few short years later. And, while I was there for the 76-77 Turner Cup Championship, I would eventually get to do play-by-play of the 80-81 championship- one of the true highlights of my life.

SGDC: It seemed that you became more and more involved with the team as the seasons went by. Give us an outline of how your role with the Saginaw Gears grew in a lot of ways other than broadcasting.

Ron-Jay: Well, just by being involved in some way with the broadcasts and being at the home games, I got to know many of the wonderful Gear's fans, especially the season ticket holders. I would also hang around the Civic Center as much as possible and got to know the players and Coach Perry. And then, when I began traveling to the away games I really began to feel a part of the organization. After Wally and Al had both left, I did work fulltime for the Gears in a Public Relations and Sales capacity for one season before returning to WSAM, but continued to do the broadcasts for several additional seasons.

SGDC: Almost none of the Gears fans who heard you on the radio knew how that broadcast was accomplished. Can you give us a description of a bit of the technical side of how your voice got from the announcer’s booth at some far away arena to WSAM, where it was broadcast across the airwaves?

Ron-Jay: It was actually pretty easy....just a long distance collect telephone call. Yep, this was long before cell phones connecting to satellites. We had a direct line from the Civic Center to the station for the home games, but on the road after I got all the mixers, microphones and tape decks set up, we would just plug all of that stuff into a special telephone and literally make a 3 hour plus long distance phone call back to the studio in Saginaw. It was perhaps a little more complicated than that but that's basically the way it worked. We were able to communicate off the air with the studio during commercial breaks and in between periods.

SGDC: You started on the air doing “color” and then went on to do play-by-play. Looking back over that how would you describe the differences between the two?

Ron-Jay: Really...the first thing that comes to mind is lung capacity. Seriously, one of the first things I learned in radio 101 at CMU is that radio is best described as "theater of the mind." The radio play-by-play broadcasts of almost any sport involves "painting a picture" of everything that's happening. By comparison, in television the picture does a lot of that work. A radio color announcer, however, will try to be a little more statistically oriented and help to verbally paint a re-play picture, in greater detail, of something that just happened...all at the same time and thus giving the play-by-play guy a chance to catch his breath.

SGDC: On the evening of May 11th, 1977 you were in the broadcast booth doing color commentary with both Al Blade and Wally Shaver for game 7 of the Turner Cup finals. The Gears went into the third period up 1-0 against Toledo, exactly the way they had two years before. You and Wally were in the booth together as the Gears first championship unfolded- can you take us back a bit to what it was like for you that night?

Ron-Jay: These are the most difficult questions to answer...the radio guy having trouble putting things into words....go figure. That was the most exciting day and night of my life. Even thinking about it today makes my heart beat a little faster. It was the very least until the spring of 1981.

SGDC: Following the 1977 championship, Wally left the Gears and your role in the broadcast booth changed. Tell us a bit about that.

Ron-Jay: Well, that's when I officially took over the play-by-play microphone, or headset as it was, which to me was the most important duty I had. Oh yeah, as I mentioned before I also worked full-time in the Gear's office doing public relations and sales. There I got to work with Marge Perry who, of course, is coach's wife. She was so nice to me, "the rookie", and taught me a lot.

SGDC: I guess some of those arenas that you broadcast from back in those days presented some interesting challenges and situations.

Ron-Jay: Two of my favorite Gears stories both occurred in Fort Wayne at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum where the Komets called home. First I must mention again, however, that I grew up with the old Hockey Night in Canada announcers, and Foster Hewitt always began every broadcast with, “High from the gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto…” Well, I sure was surprised in my first trip to Ft. Wayne when I discovered that the broadcast position there was in fact a hanging press box, a gondola in Canadian slang, unlike any other in the IHL, and I could begin every Gears broadcast from there with, “High from the gondola at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum…” I smiled every time I got to do it even though few if anyone else knew what that was all about.

Many times I would be totally alone doing the broadcast on WSAM, no color announcer to even give me a chance to catch my breath And on one particular evening in Ft. Wayne, there were only two of us in the entire press box area, myself and the official scorer for the game, who also doubled as the Ft. Wayne newspaper hockey reporter.

Well, if you’ll remember back the late seventies, the Komets had a big scorer by the name of Barry Scully. He had won the league scoring championship for several seasons running if my recollection is correct. The reason he did, I believe, was about to be discovered.

In the second period, the Gears were defending the goal to my right and at one point a Saginaw player stood behind his net, stopped cold, with total control of the puck, getting set for a breakout rush up the ice. He decided to headman the puck up the right wing but the pass was off the mark and a Fort Wayne player stepped in to intercept the pass, he shot quickly and scored. That player was not Barry Scully although he was on the ice at the time. So, when the goal was announced on the PA, the player who shot the puck got credit for the goal, but the official scorer also awarded not one, but two assists on the play including one to Scully. If you know your rules, assists can be awarded to the last two players from the same team touching the puck prior to a goal unless the other team gains full procession…which was certainly what had happened in that instance… no other Ft. Wayne players had touched the puck after the Saginaw player had clear control behind his own net and his pass was then intercepted and then shot directly for a goal.

Well, as soon as that period ended, keeping in mind that I am anything but a confrontational person, I marched down to the scorer and gave him a piece of my mind, including telling him it was no wonder that Scully won the scoring title every year.

I don’t remember saying anything on the air about it but I certainly told Don Perry after we got on the bus after the game. He really didn’t say anything, just smiled. And, I fully expected that the scorer would say something to someone who would then report it to the league and that I would be hearing from them. Nothing was ever said… never heard a thing. I don't know if it made any difference, but it sure felt good to call them on it.

The second Ft. Wayne story that I’ll never forget, we were again playing the Komets in their barn. The building itself has since been remodeled, but back then the bus would pull up on the west side of the building in a circle driveway, the players would grab their equipment bags and sticks, walk through a small lobby which was accessible to the fans, and then into the visiting locker room…not a problem when coming in.

Anyway, somewhere during the game a fight broke out… actually a BIG fight. And at the center of it was the Gears own Dennis Desrosier. It doesn’t really matter who he was fighting, just that he and the other guy where backed up against the glass just below my broadcast position. The two players were going at it pretty good when all of a sudden a fan somehow reached up and over the glass and grabbed a fistful of Rosie’s curly hair. Rosie turned and then tried to go after the fan. He never really got a piece of him I think, but by now the crowd was in a frenzy.

The game finally ended, I did my post-game wrap up, packed up my equipment and headed down towards that lobby area to get on the bus. As soon as I rounded the corner into the lobby, I couldn’t help but notice what I'm guessing was about 200 Komet fans standing around just waiting for a Saginaw player to come out of the locker room...and they weren't happy campers. I almost feared for my own life as I managed to get through the masses and onto the bus. Apparently the fans didn’t think it was worth their effort to go after the radio guy… thank you. As I finally boarded, Mitch, our bus driver, was getting some instructions from someone and the next thing I knew, we were driving out of the circle driveway with no players yet on the bus. I would then learn that we were driving around to the other side of the building. The players then came out of the locker room and walked the other way, across the ice with their equipment bags and boarded the bus on the other side of the building where the fans weren’t.

Now normally we would stop at a fast food place down the road about a mile from the rink for some post-game eats, but the Ft. Wayne Police were giving us a non-stop escort out of town, all the way onto I-69 and then some. We did however see a few Ft. Wayne fans in cars along side of the bus giving us the “we’re number one” salute.

BTW, we finally did stop for something to eat… I think it was in Coldwater.

SGDC: You have the distinction of being in the broadcast booth for both of the Gears Turner Cups, 1977 and 1981. Can you compare and contrast the two events?

Ron-Jay: Great....and then even Greater. No words can begin to express the euphoria. Any fans who were there for either and/or both know what I'm talking about. As broadcasters, we had to try to keep some control and to convey what going on down on the ice to the radio audience... the cup presentation and then the parade around the ice by the players as they handed the cup off to each other for their turn. Oh, but deep down inside we wanted to explode like the fans at the Civic Center were doing. And for the 1981 championship, after describing what was happening post-game, I went down to the Gear's locker room to do some interviews with the players. I got there before the guys had come off the ice though so I certainly took the opportunity to let lose myself, at least for a second or two. And then, while I was trying to remain a bit distant to let the players have their day, their time... Ted Tucker finally marched me up to take a sip of champagne from the cup. Words cannot begin to explain...

SGDC: For some reason all sports seem to have a lot of superstitions that go along with them. You must have been a good witness to a lot of those on the Gears.

Ron-Jay: Oh yeah. Most people who follow sports know that players can be very superstitious when it comes to their sport... and hockey players may be even more so. Same routine on game day... at home... nap time, same time... pregame meal, always the same... and then at the rink... equipment goes on exactly the same way every time... right shin guard before the left... and so on, with all of it. Wes, you mention on the site about your Dad always standing at the door as the team would come out onto the ice. Does anyone remember that Marcel Comeau was always the last player out of the locker room and onto the ice? Well as the broadcaster, I also developed a routine which became the same for every game... microphone #1 into the mixer before #2 etc. etc. And, during the play-offs against Milwaukee one year, we were already there a night ahead of time staying at our regular hotel. Game day, and I went down for my pre-game meal and happened to order steak, eggs and hash browns. We won that night and... well you guessed it... steak, eggs and hash browns before every game, even if I had to cook it for myself when we were at home.

SGDC: Hockey is a contact sport and players do get hurt. Can you recall your scariest moment involving a Gears player?

Ron-Jay: That one is easy. We were doing a game in Muskegon... Al, Wally and I were all there. At one point, a Mohawk player was carrying the puck right up the middle of the ice and attempt to go right between two Saginaw players who were skating backwards and converging in on the opponent. As he crossed the Saginaw blue line he tried to split the defense and he went forward in the air as he was hip checked from both sides and his skates also tumbled over the top. In what can only be called a fluke, one of his skate blades hit Gear's defenseman Kevin Kemp right in the forehead and continued to slice him right down the bridge of his nose. Blood was everywhere and it looked awful from the press box. We went to a commercial break and Al said off the air to us that we should be very careful how we "paint" this picture, not because we didn't want the listeners to know what's going on... but more importantly because Kevin's wife was back in Saginaw listening to the game on the radio, as all of the wives and girlfriends did. I went down to the first aid room to check things out, I was happy to be able to report that despite all that red on the ice... the docs had stitched him up. If his nickname among his teammates didn't change from Kemper, it should have- to Frankenstein.

SGDC: Toward the end of this web site I summarize the end and folding of the Gears- so there is no need to re-hash it here. But can you tell us what happened to Ron-Jay Scott immediately after the Gears folded- did you go back to WSAM?

Ron-Jay: Well, after working for the Gear's fulltime for the one season, I had returned to WSAM where I was doing the morning show, selling advertising and still doing all of the Gear's broadcasts. I even still managed to moonlight, writing the Gear's weekly press releases which went out to the leagues, other teams including all "parent" clubs, and to all local media- newspapers, radio and television.

SGDC: We're heading toward the end here. Tell us an unknown Ron-Jay/Gear's story.

Ron-Jay: Okay, let's see… Whenever we would play in Milwaukee, we bused in but always went in the day ahead of time, stayed at a hotel, and then bused back to Saginaw right after the game the following night. Well, on some of those trips on game morning, I would go with the bus drivers back down to a nearby truck stop to fuel the bus for the trip home. I was pretty good friends with them and after a few trips they gave me some bus "driving lessons" and I actually got pretty good at it. So fast forward and we are heading to Milwaukee for another game. Normally we would have two bus drivers so that one could relieve the other... Department of Transportation regulations I guess. Anyway, on this trip we only had “Mitch,” Bill Mitchell, our regular driver. We’re somewhere on I-94 around Battle Creek or Kalamazoo and I'm in my normal seat, second on the right side of the bus. Most of the players are sleeping and Bill turns to me and says come up here and relieve me while I head back to the bathroom for a minute or so. No problem I think. Now, to change drivers, the one in control just stands up while continuing to steer and the relief driver just slides in right into the seat underneath him and takes over. Mitch and I complete the maneuver without taking a foot off the gas. So, I'm driving along for a few minutes... I start looking for Mitch to return, and I find him sitting in my seat. He says he just wants to rest his eyes for a few minutes. Well, a few minutes later I look and he is sound asleep... so I just keep on driving... all they way to Milwaukee. Everyone begins to stir just as I'm pulling up right in front of the hotel. The only comment that was ever made occurred somewhere during my time behind the wheel. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Marcel Comeau's head rise up from his nap. He looked around to assess the situation and said, "God, we're all gonna die." Then he laid back down and fell back asleep. It's probably a good thing the DOT never found out about it.

SGDC: Of course we both know there is life after the Gears and life out of Saginaw. Where did life take you after Saginaw and the Gears?

Ron-Jay: With regards to the radio career, an old college friend of mine had called me and wanted me to come over the Grand Rapids and do the morning show on an oldies station they were just putting on the air. We also spent a year in Dubuque, Iowa in a production position, but eventually ended up on the radio in South Bend, Indiana where I would spend the next 20 years until I retired, in 2005. We moved to Florida for the winter months but also bought a condo back in Saginaw where we spend our summers. So now, I just relax and play as much golf as possible.

SGDC: You stayed close to hockey- did you make that a family activity?

Ron-Jay: We did. Our son basically grew-up in South Bend and although Indiana is known as a basketball Mecca, we were pleasantly surprised that they had a very active youth hockey program there and we jumped right in. I actually began coaching a couple of years before my son was old enough to play. But he started playing at age 4 and continued to play right up through high school. And, he was a much better hockey player than I ever was as a youngster. At age 16, he even had an opportunity to go play Junior B hockey for a team in Provo, Utah- but he decided to stay with us and finish his youth hockey years with the kids he'd grown up with and played with. But, through the youth hockey organization, I also got involved with the University of Notre Dame hockey program. I worked at their hockey camps for several summers with the ND coaches and players. In fact, Dave Poulin is a good friend of mine. He played his college hockey at Notre Dame and then had a long NHL career with Philadelphia, Boston and Washington. He then returned to coach the Irish for several seasons and now is the director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And, I also became an off-ice official for the Notre Dame home games. I was a goal judge for a couple of seasons, but eventually became the official game scorer. I proudly handled those duties for the final 13 years before retirement. So, to say that I stayed involved in hockey might be an understatement.

SGDC: Have you been able to keep in touch with any of the Gears folks?

Ron-Jay: Not as much as I would have liked. Several years ago Notre Dame was in an NCAA regional tournament in Grand Rapids and they had to play Minnesota. We were there strictly as spectators and were talking with some Gopher fans and I asked them if they knew Wally Shaver. They pointed up to the press box and said, "ya, he's up there somewhere." I had no idea that he was broadcasting the University of Minnesota college games. I knew without the proper press credentials, my odds of getting up there were nil and none so I didn't try but I sure would have liked to. I did run into Don Waddel one spring. He was the GM of the Orlando Solar Bears at the time and they were playing Ft. Wayne (with former Gear Scott Gruhl) for the Turner Cup Championship that season. It was game 7 which the Komets won. I spoke to Don just briefly outside of their locker room after the game but he wasn't in a very talkative mood, and understandably so. The only others that I do see are some of the Saginaw minor officials from back in the day. Ken Schueler who was a statistician lives in Indianapolis but comes down to Florida every winter. Also the former Gears chief of minor officials, Gordie Mefford, and his wife, after knowing him for close to 40 years, are still our very best friends both in Saginaw as well as down in Florida.

SGDC: Have you had the chance to attend and Saginaw Spirit games?

Ron-Jay: No, and I feel bad about it. They just get their season going about the time we head south and unfortunately, they're done before we come back in the spring. I do try to keep track of the results and standings on-line though. I have an OHL shortcut right on my desktop... along with an NHL, Red Wing, Maple Leaf, NCAA college hockey, Notre Dame hockey and CCHA. I also still subscribe to the Hockey News. I just gotta keep up with what's happening- Hockey guy forever.

SGDC: Well Ron-Jay I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to do this interview with us here at Saginaw Gears Dot Com. Your perspective of the team as being someone who was there from beginning to end is highly unique. I’ll speak for all of us on the site when I say we really, REALLY, want you to continue adding stories, memories and artifacts to the site. Just reading what you have to say takes us all back to those great days with the Saginaw Gears and the IHL. Thank you Ron-Jay.

Ron-Jay: is more than my pleasure. As I told you when we first talked, I've got plenty of stories to tell... some that you can post and some that perhaps you couldn't. I just have to shake them loose from my old gray matter. I've already sent you some pictures of various keepsakes that I have from those years and I've got some more you might be interested in. It has been a real treat to read the site as it has been, and it has forced a flood of great memories for myself. I know that is what your goal is Wes, and I hope that other Gears fans will get those feeling stirred as well. Keep up the good work my friend.

No comments: