For 36 years, Metro Detroiters woke up to Joe Donovan’s voice giving them the news headlines, traffic, weather and some clever and often hysterical ad-libs. First with Don Patrick and for the past 20+ years with co-anchor Roberta Jasina, Joe combined his distinct baritone, uncanny way with words, newsman’s curiosity and unwavering professionalism to cement WWJ’s place in the morning ratings and the go-to place on the dial when the snow falls or the big story breaks.
On Friday, at the end of “morning drive time,” Joe very quickly said goodbye to the audience and apparently headed into retirement. On the air in Detroit since 1970 (radio fans will love seeing Joe in this portion of a documentary on CKLW, where he was part of “20/20 News”), he deserved attention on TV for leaving the air. I had the privilege of talking about him in this WDIV-TV story, as I worked at WWJ with Joe.
As a professional, I’ll always appreciate the confidence Joe showed in me early in my career. Personally, I’ll miss bumping into him when visiting the newsroom and talking college football (his knowledge of the sport runs deep, as much of the audience remembers from his pre-Internet days. Fall Saturdays on WWJ became “The Joe Show” with his scoreboard updates). But most of all, I’ll miss hearing him when my clock radio alarm goes off and throughout my drive to wherever I’m starting my day.
As listeners, we’re selfish. We want the professionals who wake up at 2am for decades to serve us and work forever. But the radio industry, like most corporate entities, doesn’t often think long-term. Now we’re faced with a retiring generation and so few prepared to step forward. For more than 20 years, radio news has not developed a “farm system.” Very few commercial stations around the country have been committed to news. The only all-news stations are in the largest markets. Because of budget constraints, those stations haven’t been able to develop “benches” like they used to.
WWJ enjoys a terrific brand and often leads the market in ad revenue. The format is the star, so that is likely to continue, even without Joe Donovan. But with that generation of broadcasters headed into retirement, the valuable medium of radio news faces a challenge – who will anchor the news when they’re gone?