This is Bill Beckwith, signing off.

OFF AIR: After more than 41 years in radio, Bill Beckwith will sign off on Wednesday, Nov. 25. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

OFF AIR: After more than 41 years in radio, Bill Beckwith will sign off on Wednesday, Nov. 25. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

After 41 years in radio, ‘The Voice of Big Rapids’ will say goodbye Wednesday

BIG RAPIDS — It’s perhaps very fitting that Bill Beckwith will be retiring and ending a 41-plus year career on local radio next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

It’s likely to be perfect timing for Beckwith to give thanks to his listeners for more than four decades of being his audience.

It’s also perhaps perfect timing for area residents to give thanks for Beckwith.

Beckwith, who recently turned 64, said he’ll be moving to Grand Haven for personal reasons as he begins his retirement. But he’s leaving behind a ton of memories.

“Bill Beckwith is the voice of Big Rapids and his presence will be missed by generations who have grown up with him and made him part of their daily lives for more than 40 years,” said Jason DaDay, former WBRN broadcaster and now assistant director of admissions-communications at Ferris State University.

Beckwith was hired in 1974 by WBRN Radio, now a part of the Big Rapids Radio Network. He also has been a sportscaster since he joined the station.

Brian Goodenow, operations manager of Big Rapids Radio Network, said that the network includes Big Country 100.9 (WWBR-FM), Y102 (WYBR-FM) and News Radio, WBRN (AM 1460, 107.7 and 95.1 FM).

“Bill is employed by the Big Rapids Radio Network as the host of the Big Country 100.9 Morning Show,” Goodenow said.

He added the new host of the show will be announced on Nov. 27, and the replacement for Beckwith’s sportscasting duties has yet to be determined. Big Rapids football and basketball have been two of Beckwith’s most frequent sports beats.

BORN INTO RADIO

Beckwith was born 12 miles east of Traverse City on a dairy farm. He graduated from Elk Rapids High School in 1969 and then went to Central Michigan University. He originally did not go into broadcasting.

“That was about the fourth curriculum I had chosen,” Beckwith said. “I should have gone right into it. Once I decided to go into broadcasting, I got involved in the student radio station. Everybody there had already done radio in high school. I was just starting out. They knew I had potential with my voice. They got me involved in the music business right away.”

Beckwith recalled he always had thoughts of being involved in radio.

“As a kid, I used to sit at the table, read the newspaper and pretend I was a radio announcer,” he said. “I guess I was a little fearful of actually going into it. But the day came.”

Beckwith started working with WBRN during his last year of college while still living in Mount Pleasant. He was hired at the station in June 1974, while the building was still located south of Big Rapids and U.S. 131 was still a two-lane highway.

He started as the midday announcer and recorded commercials. But in the fall of 1974, Beckwith said he started to “tag along” with Norm Turner and Frank Vining to broadcast Big Rapids High School games.

Beckwith eventually took over broadcasting games.

By that time, Beckwith brought on others who would themselves become well known local radio broadcasters.

Monte (Dean) Johnson, a former roommate of Beckwith, came within two years.

Beckwith and Johnson would remain friends along with DaDay and Jim Nostrant, another former WBRN employee and sportscaster.

“I had a chance a few times to move,” Beckwith said. “You become so fixed in this community. It was my decision to stay here and not go.”

Beckwith, unlike many broadcasters, kept his real name.

“My first night on college radio, I called myself ‘Willie Beck,’” he said. “They said ‘nice job, but just call yourself by your name.’”

Beckwith hired Bob Hampson, who would later own the station. Hampson became news director when he arrived.

“I was the temporary newsman for three months,” Beckwith said.

MORE THAN JUST
A VOICE

 Beckwith, in 41-plus years, has had various duties in Big Rapids radio.

“The great thing about this is I had eventual experience in just about every aspect,” he said. “I started on the air and in production, but got involved in sports right away. After a few years, I was encouraged to go into sales. There was about six years I was off the air entirely. I was strictly a salesman.”

He still broadcasted sports at that time while being a full-time radio salesman.

“The neat part about that is I finally learned what really makes this community run and who and where the power is and who has the power that affects the economics of our community,” he said. “I learned how communities actually work.”

But Beckwith missed being on the air and returned to the studio.

“I eventually got into programming,” he said, “and building the hourly logs and the music mixtures, putting it all together technically. But now, the whole industry, like any other industry, is really tied to computers. I really don’t have a lot of great computer knowledge. These last few years, it’s a little bit of a struggle. That’s also a part of the reason why I think that now’s the time to walk away.”

MORNING SHOW HOST

Beckwith currently is morning show host on 100.9 FM from 6 to 10 a.m. during the week. He’s still heavily involved with production work in doing commercials. He also does interviews, public-service announcements and sports plus many public appearances. Goodenow is the morning announcer on Y102.

“He and I are the only ones who do our shows live,” Beckwith said.

He recalls when the radio was not on for 24 hours and he would turn it back on, so to speak, when he came in during the morning.

“I did my own news, weather, sports and I did it while playing records that were three minutes long or less,” he said. “You were flying for four hours. Now, it’s watching the computers and jumping in and saying something when you feel like it. It’s totally different.”

Beckwith has worked under three owners, starting with Jack White.

“At that time, we tried to be all things to all people,” he said. “We were middle of the road during the day and played rock at night.”

MEMORABLE
MOMENTS

A radio broadcaster doesn’t go more than 41 years without running into many unforgettable moments.

In sports, Beckwith has called state championship games, most recently Morley Stanwood girls basketball in 2012. The number of successful high school and Ferris teams have been countless, and Beckwith has frequently been the guy calling the action.

“Over the years, I got to meet so many really wonderful people … newsmakers. It’s not because I went to some major market radio station in some big city. All of these people came to Big Rapids, came to Ferris State, like (Red Wings hockey legend) Gordie Howe. All of these people came here because of Ferris State. How neat it has been that some of the most famous people in the whole world have come here. I didn’t have to go very far.”

Outside of radio, Beckwith, an avid golfer, also eventually became an umpire and a football, volleyball and basketball official. He was inducted several years ago into the Mecosta County Sports Hall of Fame.

“I never expected to become a high school sports official,” he said. “But this is my 18th year.”

He expects to continue as an official.

“I’m not going to do anything this winter,” he smiled. “I could back into radio. I could do music for wedding receptions. I could continue to officiate sports.”

Beckwith is saying goodbye to the radio station, but not to Big Rapids.

“I’ll come up every now and then,” he said. “The last few years, I started playing the harmonica. I get to play my harmonica on open-mic nights. I’ll be up visiting with people.”

There’s the music aspect, too, that Beckwith has enjoyed so much.

“Music is the No. 1 love of my life,” he said. “I’m into music that was recorded even before I was born.”

But as he prepares for his final show after more than 41 years in Big Rapids, Beckwith admits he’ll be missing a lot of people.

And a lot of people will be missing Bill Beckwith.

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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