“Iiiiiiiiittt’s Charger time!” The familiar voice of WCSR’s long-time broadcast icon Tony Flynn trumpeted over the airwaves.
Before the start of every football game, Flynn was up in the college press box preparing for another fast-paced segment of play-by-play Hillsdale College Charger coverage.
“He would be up in the press box, and he’d stand up before the national anthem, stretch his arms out and say, ‘Look out here at this beautiful day and how lucky we are to watch these student athletes play football,’” former Hillsdale College Athletic Director Mike Kovalchik recalled. “Regardless of whether we won or lost, he always complimented both sides, and at the end of the game he would give an Irish blessing.”
Flynn passed away on Jan. 21 at 92 years old, due to complications following a stroke at the home of his son and daughter-in-law Tony Jr. and Erica Flynn, about 20 miles from the city of Hillsdale.
But Flynn’s legacy of dedicated community service lives on. People in Hillsdale County remember him not only for his many years on WCSR radio but also for his participation in many volunteer service projects with Hillsdale Hospital, United Way, Kiwanis, and the Exchange Club. In 1999, as a tribute to his 38 years of Charger football game broadcasts, Hillsdale College inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame.
Flynn’s broadcast career didn’t start in Hillsdale, however. His first radio job was an announcing position with WDBC, Escanaba, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he remained through high school.
After a brief enrollment at Marquette University, a short stint in the U.S. Air Force, and a return to WDBC, Flynn got his big broadcast break in 1951 at WJPG, Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he spent six years broadcasting Green Bay Packer games on the state network, in addition to news and commercial announcing.
“He was the voice for the Packers in the mid-50s to late 50s before football became popular on television,” Flynn’s son, Tony Jr., said.
In 1957, he began telecasting for the American Broadcasting Networking in Milwaukee, conducting 5-minute news and sportscasts 17 times a week. Afterward he joined WISN Radio and Television in Milwaukee where he served as sports director, conducting daily news and sports broadcasts on radio and television.
Then, in 1961, Tony’s brother, Fahey, bought Hillsdale’s local radio station, WBSE — now WCSR on West Street.
“Fahey wanted buy a radio station, and this one was for sale,” Flynn’s son Mike said. “Fahey said to my dad, ‘The only way I’ll buy the station is if you run it.’” With the past face of his broadcast career in Wisconsin, Flynn and his wife, Marian, felt like Hillsdale would be the perfect place to slow down and for Flynn to be able to spend more time at home. After a few years in Hillsdale, Flynn eventually bought the station from his brother.
When he first got to Hillsdale, the radio station didn’t produce play-by-play broadcasts. Flynn was able to bring his national newscasting prowess to the station and transform the broadcast style of local college and high school athletic events.
“It’s not everyone who has those skills and then brings those skills to a little radio station,” said Rob Nichols, who worked at the station during his enrollment at Hillsdale College before graduating in 1984. “It’s unique for a place like Hillsdale to have someone broadcast like that, and to bring his experience and his style to a town like Hillsdale.”
Flynn and his broadcast partners would also travel with the college football team to all of their away games, just like Flynn did for the Packers.
“They showed a real commitment to the community and to the college, even back at a time when a lot of stations wouldn’t do those things,” he said. “They would go on the road to games in the Upper Peninsula and made sure those games were broadcasted.”
Nichols added that having been a communications major without any outlet for newscasting at the college, he considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Flynn at WCSR.
“He took a chance on me when I was 18 years old,” Nichols said. “I left Hillsdale being able take a job at a radio station in Indiana doing mornings, then I moved to Fort Wayne and worked in Indianapolis. None of that would have been possible if not for him.”
Flynn’s oldest son Mike also got involved in the family radio business from an early age, listening to his father’s game coverage in Milwaukee.
“I was able to go with him when I was just a youngster, and it peaked my interest,” he said. “When I got to high school, he put me to work.”
Mike worked with his father for 50 years until Tony retired from WCSR in 1999, and Mike has run the station ever since. He gained a lot from observing his father in the sportscasting trade.
“He always told me, ‘You have to give the score a lot. People tune in and out a lot, and sometimes when they tune in, they don’t hear the score. So give them the score a lot.’”
Mike also said Tony’s play-by-play sportscasting made him adept at creating word-pictures.
“You don’t get instant replay on radio. You’ve got to do it in real time,” Mike said. “On TV you can see what’s happening, but in radio you’ve got to paint the picture and tell people what happens as it happens so they can tell what’s going on.”
Flynn broadcasted more than sports; he also kept members of Hillsdale County updated on all the latest news and events. Many in Hillsdale recalled tuning into the station every morning and hearing Flynn’s voice on the radio.
“My mother owned a beauty salon on West Street, and she had the radio station running in the business there all day,” Chi Omega House Director Jodi Martin said. “It was a way to keep up on local news and local events.”
Flynn took seriously not only the games but also his pre-game breakfasts, which he shared with his broadcast color commentator Jim Eckhardt and former Hillsdale College Athletic Director Jack McAvoy.
“We had a Charger breakfast every saturday,” Eckhardt said. “It consisted of a waffle, two eggs over easy, American fries, a double order of sausage patties, and whole wheat toast. Jack always had a glass of milk, Tony and I did coffee. Then we had to have a piece of pumpkin pie to wash it all down.”
Eckhardt said he also appreciated Flynn’s sense of humor. On one occasion when Eckhardt was driving with McAvoy and Flynn back from a game at Michigan Tech, McAvoy, who was driving, got the three of them pulled over for speeding.
“Tony Flynn said, ‘I’ll take care of this. I’m a Yooper; I can handle this.’” But when the state trooper approached the car, telling them they knew why they were stopped, Flynn threw McAvoy under the bus. “Hell, yes, he knows why!” Flynn exclaimed. “He’s been speeding for 50 miles! I told him and told him to slow down.”
Eckhardt laughed. “The trooper didn’t think that was quite so funny, but we certainly did.”
Flynn was known not only for his sense of humor, but also for several community service projects. He co-chaired the “Yes We Can” Campaign, a $1 million fundraising project for the Hillsdale Hospital that led to the creation of a new critical care unit. The hospital’s prior critical care unit was very outdated, according to Judy Gabriele, director of community outreach at Hillsdale Hospital.
“He was a real go-getter,” she said. “He was out in the community all the time. Everyone knew who he was. He was just an amazing man.”
When asked why he gave up his national broadcasting gig to come to Hillsdale, Mike Flynn said it was because of his genuine care for the community.
“He loved this area,” Mike said. “I think he liked the fact that it was a small, close-knit community. It was about more than just business here; it was about making it a better place.”
Beyond his community service, Mike emphasized that Flynn regularly attended church and was an excellent father.
“Ninety-two years is a pretty long life,” he said. “I don’t think he wanted to do it over again; I think he liked the way he did it the first time.”
A visitation will be held at Van Horn-Eagle Funeral Home from 4 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 6, followed by a funeral mass at St. Anthony’s at 11 a.m. the following day.