Bruce Springsteen might have been born to run, but Bill Szumanski? Baby, he was born to fly. Tomorrow morning, my friend and former radio colleague of my bygone career trip will broadcast to the Metro Detroit airwaves for the last time – from 500 feet up. It’s been an interesting 26-year journey and the views have been incredible.
When I first hit the air on WWJ in 1991 I had been in Detroit only a couple of years out of Illinois and barely knew the roadways. Oh, and I was reporting the traffic in both drive times from the studio. The accompanying helicopter would initially house Tracy Gary (WWJ) and Stacey Duford (WNIC) and, very soon, Bill Szumanski who basically reported for everyone else – TV and radio – as Steve Travis (a perfect name for the two radio stations he reported on most – rocker WLLZ and then Country outlet W4. And he knew the roads.
Bill tells me that as a child he actually drew up detailed maps of the Detroit area. He could navigate someone from his childhood home near City Airport to his grandparent’s home, near Lincoln Park, blindfolded, at 4 years of age. As such his roadway acumen was uncanny; not could he recite long-forgotten highway names but also previously unknown (by us) side streets and thoroughfares. Not by map. By memory.
I had the privilege of working with Bill for my four years at Metro and reporting stints with WWJ, WWLZ, Lite FM, WGPR and others before leaving in 1994 for my second career. Bill, like me, worked both drive time shifts from the bird through ’96 before also moving into operations. He would remain in Morning Drive on TV and radio (most notably WWJ and Fox-2) through today – and tomorrow – which will be his final day on-the-air.
26 years. Three pilots. 4 emergency landings. Several bird strikes including a goose through the helicopter bubble. With numerous other business endeavors, anchored by his helping run a major staffing and recruiting company while also being a long-time attorney, might Bill be looking for something less “dangerous” to occupy his time? If you asked him, he’d just shrug and say ‘not at all’ in his unflappable way. It’s just time for him to fly.