Former Tigers radio voice Paul Carey dies

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

His voice was God-granted and God-graced. His broadcast skill, and certainly his personal decency, were gifts also, perhaps as self-enhanced as qualities can be.

They came to be known to a vast audience as purely Paul Carey.

Carey died Tuesday a month after turning 88 and after a duel with cancer had placed him in hospice care, the Tigers confirmed Tuesday night.

His nearly 50-year career in broadcasting was a rich mix of multi-sport expertise and status a no-frills Mount Pleasant native never quite saw in himself.

Most noteworthy were his nearly four decades at WJR when he was, at different interludes, assistant sports director, Pistons play-by-play announcer, and on late Friday nights the pre-eminent source for statewide high school football and basketball scores.

But his name and his legacy were almost certainly best-defined by his work for 19 seasons as Ernie Harwell’s partner on Tigers radio broadcasts.

Carey’s shift spanned the middle three innings, with Harwell book-ending the other six. It was a format that became a fixture for Tigers followers and allowed two men with distinctive styles and differences to wed themselves to listeners who appreciated, if not adored, each man’s unique ways.

Carey's golden voice remains a treasure of Tigers past

Harwell, the melodic Georgia play-by-play captain, was the main act that benefited from a solid co-pilot, Carey, whose stentorian tone, while warm, stuck to a straight-line script. Carey blended his play-by-play turn with pregame duties and a steadfast commitment to “The Paul Carey Scoreboard Show” when he would dutifully offer reports and updates on all other big-league games.

A natural radio man, with know-how in every facet of operations, functioned during 16 of his 19 seasons as the Tigers broadcasts’ engineer, a job both physical and technical as he lugged equipment and arranged communications with the WJR station base in Detroit.

It was one more dimension to a man whose diction and vocal force had crafted an exceptional broadcaster.

Mike Downey, the former Free Press columnist, once wrote that “if God had a voice it would sound like Paul Carey.” Carey, though, was not a showman. He was fundamentally a reporter, as he had been when he began his radio career during his early college days at Central Michigan, ahead of his transfer to Michigan State, from which he graduated in 1950 after majoring in speech, radio, and dramatics.

He was part of the original announcing staff at WCEN in Mount Pleasant, in 1949, and that autumn was part of the first broadcast of a Central Michigan football game.

A career, however, was about to be interrupted by world events: The Korean War. Carey was drafted in 1950 and spent two years in the Army, being promoted to squad leader staff sergeant in a weapons platoon, part of the Fourth Infantry Division and first NATO division.

In the autumn of 1952 he rejoined WCEN but soon was headed for WKNX in Saginaw, where he was an afternoon disc jockey, program director, and where he appeared on WKNX-TV’s first on-air commercial.

In 1956, having just turned 28, he was off to Detroit and to WJR. He was an assistant to then-sports director Bob Reynolds, and, not many years later, handling Pistons games ahead of his ultimate appointment in 1973 as Harwell’s sidekick, succeeding Ray Lane who had left the booth only because of a sponsorship conflict.

The new arrangement was to work well, for all parties. Harwell and Carey paired well, on and off the field. An audience was hooked.

“Maybe one of the reasons we got along so well is that there was quite a difference in our personalities and approaches,” Carey told The News in an interview after Harwell died in May 2010. “Ernie got up early and exercised early. I got up late as I could and exercised as little as I could.

“I’m a worrier. Ernie was not. He didn’t fret. Again, maybe that’s why we got along so well. We weren’t finishing each other’s sentences.”

The two remained a team until the Tigers decided, to their later regret, that 1991 would Harwell’s final season as Tigers announcer. Carey had determined that when Harwell left, he would, as well.

Although the Tigers later acknowledged a hideous error and brought back Harwell, Carey had decided retirement was attractive, especially when he and his wife, Nancy, were now free to travel anywhere in the world.

The two had married some years after Carey’s first wife, Patti, died following an extended fight with brain cancer. Patti’s tumor had been diagnosed in 1984, a year that ironically had brought glee and glory to Detroit because of a stunning Tigers world championship team.

Carey pressed on, never allowing in his delivery or in his public persona that he was dealing with personal desolation.

His latter years, spent mostly at home with Nancy in Rochester or abroad on one of their frequent overseas trips, was marked by a steady series of banquets and award conferrals.

He was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (1992), was a six-time Michigan sportscaster of the year, and won the Dick Schaap Memorial Award (outstanding national journalism), as well as the Lowell Thomas Ward. He received a Distinguished Service Award (Michigan High School Coaches Association), and the Centennial Award (Central Michigan University), among numerous other honors.

Funeral services for Carey have not yet been announced. Lynn_Henning