Tuesday, December 9, 2014

12.9.14 Hero of the Day: Merlin Dumbrille

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on Chuck69.com.



Name: Merlin Dumbrille
Age: was 81
Occupation: former radio and TV personality
Last Seen: in the great beyond
Awarded For: being a true broadcast legend
When people think of the name "Merlin", they might think of a magician.

Merlin Dumbrille was just that in northern Michigan. He might have never pulled a rabbit out of a hat or made himself disappear, but he had the power to make the airwaves come to life up in my homeland of Traverse City, MI. He was just eight years old when he was excited to see a tower being built in Traverse City and told himself that someday, he wanted to play a part in that.

And he did, for 58 years.

The son of a piano tuner and movie theatre projectionist, "Zeke" as he was nicknamed had the pleasure of growing up with that little 250-watt radio station, WTCM. Since two of the pianos his father tuned were in the Anderson Building downtown (i.e. The Camera Shop next to the Opera House), it was mere fate that the building also was the original home of WTCM. Zeke was enthralled watching the station's DJs spin giant 78 RPM platters and interacting with the audience. Les Biederman, WTCM's young, 30-year-old founder saw little Zeke's nose pressed on the window to the studio, and asked if he had liked what he saw. Zeke said yes, and Les then told Zeke to come back to him when he was a little older. Almost a decade later, he stood by his promise.

In 1951, Merlin officially started at WTCM, although he left briefly to fight in the Korean War. He came back, and handled the night shift on WTCM. In 1954, Les signed on TV station WPBN channel 7 and five years later, WTOM-TV 4. Until 1963, Les refused to allow TV 7&4 to sign on until 12 noon, thinking that his own station would diminish the audience for his radio stations. But with Today being a top show, he finally caved in, and assigned Merlin to handle the 7:25 and 8:25 news inserts, which he did until 1974. At 7&4, Merlin also handled weather and even worked in the control room.

But it was WTCM's long-running Farm and Orchard Time that became Merlin's signature. He was assigned the station's Farm Director in 1964 and hosted the program for 45 years. Les Biederman began the show when WTCM signed on in 1941 knowing how important the agricultural industry of northern Michigan was and would continue to do so well into the future.

Over the years, WTCM grew. In the 1960's, the station boosted to 1,000 watts and in 1982, it moved from 1400 AM (now WLJN) to 580 and boosted to 2,500 watts. Now, WTCM broadcasts with 50,000 watts daytime. WTCM was an NBC affiliate for decades (albeit a brief stint with Mutual in the 1940's), then it flipped to ABC in the 1980's and recently, it flipped again to Fox News. WTCM also has seen its fair share of formats: MOR, CHR, AC, country and for the past 23 years, news-talk. While WTCM - like most AM stations - aim themselves towards angry old white dudes who hate Obama, Merlin was there for the ride for 79% of the station's history.

He officially retired from WTCM Radio in 2009. In an interview, he claimed that it was time to smell the roses and enjoy life like he should. He and his wife packed up their RV and toured the country, but would come back to WTCM to help co-host Ron Jolly's morning show on Fridays. However, when Merlin retired, WTCM decided to eliminate Farm and Orchard Time from the schedule.

But now, Merlin's calm, soothing voice has been silenced forever.

Last Friday, WTCM announced at 9 a.m. that Merlin Dumbrille had passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer at the age of 81. The station took calls for several hours and even bumped the first hour of Rush Limbaugh to play a tribute to Merlin. It was a nice gesture for a station that Merlin called home for nearly six decades.

In a radio market where personalities come and go, there's people like Jack O'Malley, Terri Ray and others who love the area too much to even think about leaving. Yes, They could move elsewhere and make more money, but they realize that there's more to life than money, and that's Merlin Dumbrille. Merlin was born in Traverse City and died in Traverse City. That's what he wanted, and I think his fans all agreed. He was polite and gentle, unlike most of the angry old white men that WTCM airs all day. Some who knew Merlin claimed that he never judged people, which made him one of a kind. Now that he's gone, radio will never be quite the same.

Thanks, Zeke, if I had land, I'd plant a tree in your memory.


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