Friday, April 21, 2017

Good Luck Terry Foster. We'll Miss You

(This is a Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog, but this is NOT a science fiction and fantasy post. I know most of my readers come here specifically for that kind of content. I respect that and I respect you. This is, however, my blog and I've got something I want to get off of my chest. My normal insanity will return soon. I have a blog planned about the best and worst predictions in SF, a review of Sarah Hoyt's Through Fire and several other books planned. Today though, it's my bloggy and I'll post if I want to. You would post too if it happened to you!)

As a lifelong Detroiter (well, minus a year in Tulsa) I've followed the sports scene in the D since before I can remember. I remember the voices of George Kell and Al Kaline on a hot summer day. I remember Ernie Harwell doing the radio broadcasters. I've heard Mark Champion say "Man, oh man." so many times during Lions games that I can hear it in my nightmares. I've been known to look at the clock at work with an hour and thirty minutes until lunchtime and say "One and a half to go in the half." The five most import things in my life before I had kids were, in order:

1.) The Detroit Red Wings
2.) The Michigan Wolverines
3.) The Detroit Lions
4.) The Detroit Tigers
5.) The Detroit Pistons

(Yeah I read a lot of SF/F and  watched a lot of TV shows and movies. I just didn't do it while a game was on, unless it sucked.)

Yes, I was a Wings fan before it's cool. I'll never forget a column I read by Mitch Albom about a young guy the Wings had just drafted named Steve Yzerman. I'll never forget the look on my dad's face when he realized that I could read well enough to understand a newspaper article given how young I was either. There was always a newspaper in the house and a game on TV. Those poor, abused sports sections had to go through my father and myself before they were done. And contained  in those sports sections was a writer named Terry Foster.

Wikipedia says that Terry's first job locally was as a high school sports writer, starting in 1982. That sounds right, but I don't remember that. For one, I turned six in 1982 and for two, I've never paid much attention to high school sports. As a student at Hazel Park High School in the nineties, I attended precisely one sporting event that I had to pay to get into. I wouldn't have gone to that if there hadn't been a girl in the crowd that I wanted to talk to.  My first memories of the name Terry Foster came later: When he started work as the beat writer for the Detroit Pistons during their championship years. Dude, I noticed, could write. It's odd though. The only newspaper writer I've really felt a relationship with was Bob Talbert. Terry's writing was good and I enjoyed it, but I didn't really connect to him as a person until later. For that, I have to thank my cousin Ron.

Not long after I graduated from high school, Ron told me I should start listening to sports talk radio. At the time in Detroit that meant WDFN. He kept after me but I only listened to two things on the radio: Games and music.  Then one day, I got a job driving a van for a living. I wasn't into oldies at the time and Top 40 radio gets really old really quickly when you're in a vehicle for 8+ hours a day. Ron kept after me to try sports talk as an alternative that wouldn't make me crazy. Eventually, I gave up and started listening to sports talk while I was at work. I loved it. There were a lot of shows that I enjoyed. Jamie and Gregg was the first show I ever listened to. Then came Stoney and Wojo. The ride home, at least for me, came during a show called the Sports Doctors.

The Sports Doctors show was sheer madcap insanity punctuated with occasional bouts of lucid argument. I loved that show. On one side was Dr. Terrance RRRRRRRRRRRRReginald Foster the Third. On the other was Art Regner. Some of their shows were epic. I remember one about low flush toilets that had me laughing for days afterward. They did awesome shows when the local teams won world championships. It was during this show that I really realized that you could care about an on-air personality.

I won't get into the day their "It's Official" bit started because there was some controversy and I don't want to get involved. If I talked about the day they started it, I would talk about how hard I was laughing and how frustrated Terry got with Art. About how I almost died that day because driving on the expressway and laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes was not a good plan for long term survival.

Seriously, I'm not the type to get caught up in the lives of famous people, at least not as far as what most people think of "famous". I have a degree in history but that's different. Those are mostly dead people whose lives have influenced massive amounts of people for generations after they were gone. I don't worry much about the adventures of Brangelina. I have no interest in who Russel Crowe is screwing this week. I don't know how many men Elizabeth Taylor was married to or which celebrity adopted a kid from what country. Don't get me wrong. I don't wish bad things on celebrities but that's just not me. With the WDFN crew, and especially The Sports Doctors, it was different.

These were guys who loved the same things I did. As I got a little more mature and started looking toward a wife and children of my own. I had, after all, just lost my father a few months earlier and didn't have time to talk to. None of the men on the air were mentors, per se. I've only ever met one or two of them in person and never for long enough to do more than exchange pleasantries. Still though, when they weren't talking sports they talked about life.

It seemed like every day Terry had a story to tell about his wife or one of his kids or maybe all of the above. At first when I heard him do it I kind of rolled my eyes. It was a sports talk station right? I wanted to hear someone screaming about the failures of the Tigers (it was the 90s after all) or the Lions and their pathetic excuse for a team. I wanted to hear someone celebrate the National Championship the Wolverines won. Oh, and of course the Wings won two Stanley Cups in the same time period as well. Somewhere along the line though, maybe about the time T started building his man's room, that all changed. I mean, I still wanted to hear about the sports but I started caring about the people too.

Over the years, I got more and more interested in the side conversations. A couple of the guys had kids including Terry.  They talked about the WDFN family, but it felt like it was my family. Seriously. I hung out with these guys ALL DAY LONG when I was driving for a living. I followed everything on that station. Everyone had their favorite shows and hosts and mine was the Sports Doctors show and Terry Foster.

Terry was (and still is ) one of us. I don't know if anyone from outside the Detroit Area would get this or not, but Detroit takes a lot of crap from the rest of the country and in a lot of ways, we've written it off. Oh sure, we cared about 9/11 (which I found out about while listening to WDFN) or national elections or whatever but on a personal level, it's whatever. Terry though, Terry grew up here. He graduated from Cass Tech. He got his degree from Central Michigan University. A lot of people from around here go to CMU. He loves our town and our teams. Foster is the kind of guy that a local can identify with. When someone talked some trash about us, Terry responded. I don't know if I can articulate how much it means when you can listen to one of your own have your back on the radio. I'll miss that.

WDFN was eventually forced to cut its local lineup in favor of national talent, in large part because of the fact that another local station, at the time 1270 AM, went sports talk. Once the 1270 AM lineup moved to FM on 97.1 the feud was effectively over. WDFN is an AM station. It couldn't compete and a lot of on air talent left the station and went to The Ticket. Terry was no exception.

How Mike Valenti and Terry Foster ended up working together is better explained here but for my purposes I'll just say they did. Mike and Terry were awesome together. I just watched a video where Mike talked about how he'd been doing a show with Terry for thirteen years. I had no idea it had been that long. Terry kept being Terry. He brought the fire. When Terry FREAKING Foster said something is right or wrong in Detroit, whether in sports or in the actual city, he was right. Even if he wasn't right he could convince you that he was right. He had the energy and the passion. He could bring it. There were times I thought Terry was going to murder Mike or vice versa. It never got boring.

He kept talking about his family and we kept following him. We watched his marriage develop and his kids grow up, or at least we listened to it. As a divorced man who doesn't get to see his kids anywhere near as much as he wants to (wish me luck in court on Monday as I attempt to change that)  it was awesome to be able to know what was going on in the lives of someone's kids. Listening to him made me miss my kids more but it also helped me cope. I'll never forget that.

So now he's had a couple of strokes and can't do it the way he used to. He's decided that it's time to move on. It takes guts to admit that and I respect him for doing so. Too many people cling on to the past instead of admitting what they're at in life. He did what was right for his family. No one who had listened to him over the years expected anything that would harm them. Actually, let me rephrase something I just said: He did the right thing. Period. Dot. End of sentence.

The only part of this whole thing that bothers me is that he didn't really get a chance to go out on his terms. I'm not talking about the fact that he didn't do a farewell show. All I've heard is that he wasn't able to. No one has hinted that he wasn't allowed to and I've heard it stated that he was offered the chance to do so.  It's that I wish this could be some kind of magnificent thing. The man has earned the right to do this the way he wanted to and now he can't do it. If you read this T (and you probably won't) please understand that I'm not mad at you. I really am pissed at the fact that your body sold you out though. This just doesn't seem right.  We'll miss you Terry. You take care. Detroit sports will not be the same without you. And know this: If I were empowered to give out a Golden Scalpel Award for Best Talk Show Host, I'd give it to you.

Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Awesome Shows

The Great Detroit Sports Debate is a book Terry co-authored with fellow Detroit sports writer Drew Sharp. It is available at the links below:

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