Ty Tyson: Detroit’s Original Voice of Summer

Ty Tyson

For twenty-two years, Ty Cobb roamed the outfield grass for the Detroit Tigers, carving out a Hall of Fame career that produced double-digit batting titles.  The Georgia Peach was synonymous with Tigers baseball in the early 1900’s and he was certainly the city’s most famous “Ty”.

But in the early 20’s, one season after Cobb left the Tigers for the Philadelphia Athletics, a new Ty was on the scene in Detroit.  This one carried a microphone instead of a bat   While Cobb was headed to Pennsylvania, this Tyson traveled in the opposite direction, from his native Tyrone, PA to the Motor City.

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Ty Tyson was born in 1888, in Phillipsburg, PA.  He held several jobs as a young man, including working as a coal miner, mercantile appraiser, and wallpaper salesman.  He also dabbled in acting.   Not your typical path to baseball broadcasting.  Tyson accepted a job offer from WWJ Radio in 1924 to come to Detroit.   At the time, WWJ was widely recognized as the first commercial radio station in the country.  Shortly after arriving, Tyson began his foray into the uncultivated world of sports broadcasting. 

He announced the first University of Michigan football game.  On October 18, 1924, Tyson described the Wolverines 21-0 win over the Wisconsin Badgers in Ann Arbor.  It was a wild success and sales of Michigan football tickets spiked after the broadcast.  His baseball career was still three years away, but the bump in ticket sales following his football broadcast may have helped him convince the Tigers to do the same.

firstgame-Ty Tyson

In April of 1927, Tyson delivered the first radio broadcast of Detroit Tigers baseball. There is a certain freedom that comes with being a pioneer in any industry, but especially in broadcasting.  There were no previous styles to compare Tyson to.  He was the standard.

Today, for instance, young broadcasters may be compared by old-timers to Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, or Jack Buck.  All Hall of Fame announcers who are considered the benchmark by many.  Tyson had no such obstacle and he took advantage of this opportunity, forging a connection with some of the most loyal baseball fans in the game.  To this day, Tigers fans remain some of the most loyal followers in the sport.  That connection certainly helped ease the bumps of creating something new.

So, the Tigers carved out a spot in the press box for Tyson to perform, and WWJ installed several crowd microphones to enhance the broadcast.He featured a straightforward, no-nonsense, descriptive style that Tigers fans soon came to love.  He blended his playing experience as a youth with a keen sense of drama to excel at his craft.  There is no doubt that Tyson’s background at Penn State University came in handy.  Tyson took acting classes in college and he soon learned that baseball broadcasting featured many elements of the acting training he received in school.

Tyson described a 7-0 Tigers win over the St. Louis Browns that day with Ed Whitehill spinning a four-hit shutout for the Bengals.  With that, Tigers baseball broadcasts were born.

Despite their popularity, the broadcasts were unsponsored for the first seven years before Mobile Oil became a sponsor in 1934.  Tyson opened the broadcast that year by announcing, “The White Star Refining Company, the Mobile Gas, and Mobile Oil dealers are bringing you the game and that’s something to remember.  When the gauge on your car says you need gasoline, just stop at the sign of the flying red horse and say thanks to the Mobile gas man for the Tigers broadcast.”

That was it.  One sponsor and two mentions per game.  One at the beginning and one a the end of the game.  In that respect, things have changed considerably from the early days.

For road games, Tyson would often provide recreations, again leaning on his acting background.

Matt Bohn wrote a terrific piece on Tyson that can be found on the Society For American Baseball Research website.

Tyson covered the Tigers until he retired in 1942.  In 1947, when the Tigers televised their first game, Tyson returned to the broadcast booth and continued to work Tigers games until his ultimate retirement in 1952.   On Father’s Day in 1965, Tyson was invited by Ernie Harwell to join the Tigers broadcast booth as a guest announcer.  The booth that day featured the first Tigers announcer and the greatest Tigers announcer. 

Detroit has been graced with some of the best radio announcers the game has produced.  From Tyson to Harwell to Paul Carey to George Kell, each had his own unique style and talent.  Baseball was made for radio.  Every fan in every town in America has a story about listening to their favorite announcer describe their favorite team growing up.  The voice becomes synonymous with the team.

Fans will always disagree as to who was the best of all time.  It’s a fruitless exercise.  The best is simply the voice you grew up listening to.

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