Frank Beckmann, longtime voice of Detroit, Michigan sports, dies at age 72

Detroit Free Press
Bill Dow |  Special to Detroit Free Press

Frank Beckmann, the play-by-play voice of Michigan football for 33 years who also had long stints calling games for the Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers, has died at age 72 in hospice care

Beckmann suffered from vascular dementia and had several strokes recently.

“It’s just so sad losing Frank,” longtime Michigan football partner Jim Brandstatter said. “Frank was a vital, energetic, driven, and larger-than-life personality, and having him be struck down like this is very difficult for everybody that knew him.”

Frank Carl Beckmann grew up in Detroit and Warren, graduating from Warren Cousino High School, and began his 52-year broadcasting career in 1969 in Alpena working as a one-man news staff. After stints at WKNR-AM and WDRQ-FM, Beckmann joined the news staff at WJR-AM (760) in 1972 and received commendation for “Best Coverage of a Single News Event” during the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance.

END OF AN ERA: Jim Brandstatter says goodbye to Michigan football

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By 1975, he switched to the WJR sports department and also called Pistons and Red Wings games. He would soon become sports director, and hired George Blaha as Pistons announcer. In 1979, he joined the Lions radio team as Bob Reynolds’ analyst. Beckmann replaced the retiring Reynolds as the Lions play-by-play voice in 1983.

“For me, it’s very, very personal because Frank Beckmann changed my life,” Blaha said, recalling when Beckmann made him the Pistons play-by-play voice in 1976. “My only audition tape was from a high school basketball game between Holt and Muskegon Heights for the Class B state championship. … When I got the job, it was a dream come true to have the joy of being in my home state and broadcasting for the team that I cheered for all my life.”

While at WJR, he pioneered one of the first sports talk radio shows in Detroit when he created “Sportswrap” in 1981, the same year that he replaced the legendary broadcaster Bob Ufer to become the voice of Michigan football.

At a time when sports talk radio was in its infancy across America, Beckmann developed a reputation as a fearless opinionist on the call-in show, as well as a bombastic announcer while calling games.

“When you look at his broadcasting career, he was as versatile as anyone I’ve known in this business. He was able to do news talk, political talk, football and baseball play by play, and knew golf as well anyone,” Brandstatter said. “Everything he did, he did extremely well. There aren’t too many guys who could wear so many hats and have them fit so well.”

He called U-M games with Brandstatter in 1982, 1985-1988 and 1996-2013. The duo also worked together in the 80s with the Lions and the Detroit Drive of the Arena Football League, but were synonymous with the Wolverines for years.

When the Lions switched from WJR to WWJ-AM in 1989, Beckmann stayed with the former.

Beckmann was hired as the Tigers’ radio announcer before the 1995 season, replacing the man (Rick Rizzs) who replaced Ernie Harwell. At that point, he stepped down as WJR’s sports director. In 1999, he switched with Harwell to do Tigers games on WKBD (Channel 50) until that over-the-air option ended in 2003.

When WJR lost Michigan football after the 2005 season, Beckmann’s bosses allowed him to continue calling games.

Beckmann retired from the Michigan broadcast booth in 2013 after 33 years.

He hosted a popular morning talk show on WJR from 2004 until his retirement last March.

Upon his retirement from WJR radio he said, “As a youngster growing up on the east side of Detroit, I always imagined sitting behind a microphone announcing Lions and Tigers games. It was surreal for me to actually have been able to do that.”

He was named Michigan Sportscaster of the Year three times (1992, 1994 and 1995) and was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. He was awarded the Chris Schenkel Award from the National Football Foundation in 2014, which recognizes individuals who “have had long distinguished careers broadcasting college football with direct ties to a specific university.”

Beckmann was known to be a tireless and generous volunteer in supporting local charities, for which he helped raise millions of dollars over the years while often serving as a master of ceremonies and auctioneer. Besides hosting his March of Dimes golf event for years, he also participated in benefits for the Fallen and Wounded Soldiers Fund, the Autism Alliance of Michigan, the Ted Lindsay Foundation, Dutton Farm (which helps those with Down syndrome) and numerous other causes.

“One of his latest causes that he championed was the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, that honors Michigan military service members,” Brandstatter said. “If the cause struck him, it was his cause. He didn’t do it as lip service, he did it because he was involved and engaged. That’s the beauty of Frank Beckmann.”

He is survived by his wife Karen, their children John and Tori Kughn, and three grandchildren.

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