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Ted Heusel

Memories of Ted
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Memories of Ted

Scott Westerman III shares his memories of Ted:

A final word about Ted Heusel from the computer keyboard of Scott Westerman III (AA Pioneer, '73).  Scott shares his father's name who was the superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools in the late 60s and 70s. 
 

In the days when my dad was an administrator at the Ann Arbor Public Schools, election nights took on a special significance. It was a time when people actually voted “yes” on school bond issues and the money drove the construction of what was then called Scarlett Junior High and the venerable Huron High School.

 

I don’t remember my age, but I was probably in my single digits when I’d tag along with dad to the Wells Street Administration Building where the votes were tallied on huge chalk slates in the board room.

School elections were news and back then radio stations covered them live. I remember being fascinated that night by the gray control boxes and black wires that connected them to temporary antennas set up outside, and by one of the men who was talking into the microphone.

He noticed my staring and called me over. “What’s your name,” he asked.

“Scotty Westerman.”

“Dr. Westerman’s son? Pull up a chair and let's talk.”

And talk, we did. I have no recollection of the conversation but it all ended up on the air. It was my first broadcasting experience and the man who made it possible was Ted Heusel.

Ted passed away on April 27th. He’d been on the air for 56 years.

He was a true Ann Arborite, growing up in my old neighborhood on Dewey street, just down the way from our house on Granger. Ann Arbor High was still in the Frieze Building when Ted graduated and it was during his time at Eastern Michigan University when he got the first taste of what would be a lifelong love of the theater. It also lead him to his first radio gig at WPAG.

But it was at WOIA where Ted “invented” talk radio. The year was 1956 and, tired of just playing records, he decided to take phone calls and talk with his listeners on the air. When he learned how to operate the stations Marti remote broadcast equipment, he took his show on the road to every corner of Ann Arbor. If something interesting was happening, Ted was usually there.

We met again in 1970. I was a bus boy at Lurie Terrace with dreams of a radio career. WPAG’s studios, located above the Hutzel’s ladies clothing store. (We joked that WPAG stood for Women’s Pants And Girdles.)

Ted didn’t have much of a budget for covering local news. So when a young kid with a tape recorder showed up, he put me to work. My main beat was the Ypsilanti City Council but I found my way into the midst of the post-Woodstock turmoil that was going on in Ann Arbor.  I remember covering the Black Panthers, student unrest and the pot-laced John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena.

Ted also let me substitute for him on his venerable Community Comment program, usually during holidays or when the guest was a third tier mayoral candidate.

He introduced me to Howard Heath, WPAG’s legendary farm director and got me the job of running the controls at the studio, while Howard broadcast his 6 AM farm show from his Milan home. Thanks to Ted, I talked about pork bellies with authority, long before I realized that they were bacon.

What I really wanted to be was a disc jockey and Dean Erskine and Tim Shy had better voices, but Ted taught me the magical art of on-air conversation. He was an excellent listener and had the gift of being able to ask tough questions in a way that made people want to answer them.

Ted taught us to read the news like you “sound mad, because it’s authoritative.” He said that even when you made a mistake, “if you make it authoritatively, people may think you know what you’re talking about.”

Mike Whorf may have earned the kudos for his Kaleidoscope program on WJR, Ted’s occasional Memory Time programs were every bit as good, and sometimes better. His mellow delivery painted vivid word pictures of times past and he weaved his words amongst the records in way that turned the entire production into a sort of aural poetry that Ken Nordine would later coin as Word Jazz.

Ted was a mentor to several generations. John Landecker, the famed WLS DJ, learned the trade from Ted. Skip Diegel, the long time WAAM general manager was a Heusel protégé. And whenever I hear Dean Erskine on a national Auto Owners commercial, I hear echoes of Ted.

One of my favorite Ted Heusel memories happened during the summer of 1972 when I was working the control board for the morning farm show. Ted had 15 minutes of news that followed the 7 AM ABC national broadcast. We were lean and mean. There were no news writers, no support staff and the only audio reports you had were what the afternoon news guy left you.

Among my duties each morning was ripping the newswire copy and posting it on the hooks labeled "Local," "State," "World," and "Sports" in the newsroom.

I have a vivid picture of Ted’s daily arrival. He’d burst into the news room at 7:03 with yesterday’s Ann Arbor News under his arm, grabbing the state wire copy off of the hooks and rushing into the tiny news studio. While reading the sponsor introduction live, he was dialing up the Ann Arbor Police department to get the latest details on all of the overnight traffic stops, breaking and entering and arrests.

If Tom Rieke at the University of Michigan had a fresh tape running on their telephone newsline, Ted would have me record it on the fly as he paraphrased the jumbled pile of news data on his studio desk, re-writing it in his head as he read to make it more meaningful to his Ann Arbor audience.

While our family didn’t always agree with his politics, Ted was very supportive of my father during his years as Superintendent of Schools, telling me again and again, “your dad was the best superintendent we ever had.”

I happened to be in town on the day he celebrated his 50th anniversary on the air and called to wish him well. That lead to a hour long on-air visit last year when we reminisced about our adventures and talked about the sad decline of local public interest programming on most radio stations.

WAAM is one of the few to run against the grain. AA native Lucy Ann Lance nurtures and continues to celebrate Ted’s skills. As his health started to fail, he cut back to a weekend program and whenever I found my way back to Ann Arbor, I enjoyed hearing that voice, softened by the years, but still providing continuity and comfort, helping us to make sense of how current events impacted us.

This past weekend I had the chance to speak to a crowd of cancer survivors here in Albuquerque. My company sponsored a community walk that attracted nearly 20,000 participants.

“Whatever you do, make it meaningful,” Ted used to say.

I said those exact words to the crowd. I had not yet heard of his passing, but in that instant, felt Ted Heusel again at my side.

- Scott Westerman III