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07/25/2007

After 41 years, St. Francis football makes a move to WLJN radio

Announcers to remain the same

jpeek@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — The call letters and location on the radio dial have changed.

Everything else will remain the same for Traverse City St. Francis football broadcasts this fall.

Weeks after rumors began circulating on the Internet, an official on-air announcement will be made Thursday at 7 a.m. that St. Francis football has been picked up by WLJN, a Christian network. Games will be broadcast on FM-89.9.

For the previous 41 years, Gladiators games had been broadcast on WLDR. When the station dropped St. Francis sports, TCSF athletic director Tom Hardy moved quickly to secure a new radio home for the Glads.

"We made a lot of phone calls and talked to a lot of people, and WLJN stepped in,” Hardy said Tuesday night. "We're really excited about this partnership. WLJN has the same mission as our school, to share the Gospel. It's a good fit for us.”

Hardy said WLJN has not yet agreed to broadcast basketball, but the station has made a commitment to carrying football — including keeping announcers Don Wiitala and Larry Sellers together on the air.

"After 41 years (at WLDR), I thought maybe my broadcasting career was over,” Wiitala joked. "Seriously, I knew I'd be part of it, so I'm very happy.

"No. 1, I'm excited about keeping St. Francis sports on the air. In this day and age, very few stations broadcast high school sports, so I think it's a coup to have your school on the air.

"We carry nine (regular season) games a year, and we used to see two radio stations at every game,” said Wiitala, 71. "Now we might see that only once or twice. I think it's too bad that more schools don't make that a priority. I think it's great for the kids.”

WLJN general manager Brian Harcey agreed. He said the partnership will help both sides.

"Part of a radio station's responsibility is to serve the community, and this allows us to weave ourselves into the community in a new way,” Harcey said. "We're excited about it. It gives us a great platform to build our listenership and spread our message.”

Wiitala said the football broadcasts will include everything that St. Francis fans have grown accustomed to: pregame discussions with each team's head coach and postgame interviews with Gladiators head coach Josh Sellers and the players of the game.

The first broadcast will be Thursday, Aug. 23, when St. Francis hosts Suttons Bay at Thirlby Field. WLJN will help sponsor a cookout prior to the game.

The Gladiators' second game of the season will also be played on a Thursday night — Aug. 30 at Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central.

St. Francis' first two games will be doubleheaders, with the junior varsity playing prior to the varsity contest.

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