During the golden age of the 1950’s, it was Ray Charles’ soul music which dominated the radio. But Saturdays were reserved solely for college football.
And somewhere in this golden age, sports broadcasting icon George Blaha found a soulful voice of his own.
For the better part of the last four decades, that voice has come to represent years of Spartan football history — and just as many years of Detroit Pistons history.
But in all the years of uttering “Touchdown, MSU” or “Count that baby and a foul” it never gets old for Blaha, and there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing.
“I always wanted to be a broadcaster in a city that had hardworking, blue collar people and I am very, very fortunate to be a broadcaster in the Detroit area and in the state of Michigan because we have those kinds of people here,” Blaha said.
Love what you do
In 2002, Blaha was named an honorary alumnus of MSU. The honor was Blaha’s third alumnus achievement, as he received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Notre Dame and his MBA from the University of Michigan.
His father, Vernon, was a doctor and stressed the importance of higher education, so Blaha attended prestigious schools. However, his dream of becoming a play-by-play broadcaster was always his number one priority.
“One thing you don’t want is somebody unhappy at their work,” Blaha said. “You can’t very well be successful that way."
“I think it was Vin Scully, in my opinion the greatest play-by-play announcers of my lifetime, who said ‘broadcasting is a great example of the old adage that says, find something that you love to do and if you can do that at your profession then you will never have to work a day in your life.’”
Blaha said his decision to attend U-M came down to a “coin flip” by his family.
“Notre Dame, on the other hand, was a very conscious decision,” he said, adding that it stemmed from his mother being raised Irish Catholic and her father loving the Irish.
But before the Fighting Irish or the Wolverines, Blaha unknowingly started where he would finish. In 1953, Blaha was in attendance when a school by the name of Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science played its first football game as a member of the Big Ten at the University of Iowa.
“Of course, I had no idea what a watershed moment that would be for me career-wise, but I knew that it was a big game and my dad was very kind to take me to the game,” Blaha said.
MSU won the game, 21-7, and would go on to win the Rose Bowl that year.
Since that day, Blaha has watched more than 400 MSU football games and the number of Pistons games he has broadcasted is upward of 3,000.
“And it really doesn’t feel like work to me, although there is a lot of preparation that goes into every broadcast,” Blaha said. “If I didn’t find it interesting and did not truly enjoy it then I might realize how labor intensive it is, but it really has all been a labor of love.”
The Spartan brand has been engraved into Blaha’s legacy, and along the way, the players he has watched have grown to be some of his best friends. Among them is 1979 NCAA National Champion and former MSU basketball star Greg Kelser, who today broadcasts alongside Blaha as the Pistons’ color commentator.
“It’s always exciting to have the opportunity to sit down and call a game, number one, but then to know that I am doing it with a person who has been at this for so long, yet I have not been able to. ... I don’t think anyone could ever say they have seen a diminishing of his passion,” Kelser said.
But of all the games the duo has broadcasted together, Kelser highlighted an off-the-tape night, which takes Blaha’s story full circle — back to the radio.
“George and I both are great, and when I say great, you can capitalize all five letters — we have a great appreciation for the genius that is Ray Charles,” Kelser said.
“And I remember one time George had tickets to a Ray Charles performance and knowing that not only myself was a great Ray Charles fan, but my mother as well, so George called me up and he invited my mother and myself and my brother and his friend. The four of us joined George for a great evening of music from Ray Charles. It was awesome.”
Ray Charles could not see, but the man could hear, and it is telling that Blaha’s career has been much of the same for his radio listeners.
“When you see adults with children come up to you and say they’ve been listening to you since they were a kid, you realize you’ve been doing it a long, long time,” Blaha said. “And that is just a blessing to be able to do something you love as long as I have.”
When Blaha’s career is all said and done, he will be able to look back on a life filled with exhilaration. But when people ask him how much longer he is going to broadcast, he has never been able to cut himself short.
“People ask me that all the time and I think ‘well, as long as you’re not thinking about retiring, I guess it’s not time to retire,’” Blaha said. “I feel the same as I did, you know, 25 years ago and right now I’m going at a breakneck pace because I have Pistons games and Spartan football games and I suppose when this breakneck pace starts to get to me a little bit then those kind of thoughts might get to me, but right now I have no thoughts of retiring.”