Colorful ‘Jon and Cal’ radio duo humbled by Muskegon sports hall of fame honor
MUSKEGON – Jon Russell and Cal VanSingel have been fixtures on the Muskegon-area airwaves for nearly two-dozen years, calling more than 1,100 high school football and basketball games in total.
The WLCS-FM 98.3 radio tandem has been working together so long, that they finish each other’s sentences, kind of like an old, married couple.
Often, that leads to some entertaining, self-deprecating types of exchanges.
“It’s kind of like a dancing partner, even though I don’t think either one of us can dance,” Russell quipped.
“We try to keep it light, joke around. There’s nobody I’d rather do it with than this stooge over here,” Russell gestured to VanSingel, before VanSingel shot back, “Thank you, Mo.”
On a serious note, Russell and Van Singel are very well-respected for their contributions to the local sports scene over the years. Consequently, they together have been selected as the Gene Young Distinguished Service Award winners by the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame for 2019.
They will be part of the induction class to be honored during the annual MASHF banquet Saturday, June 1, at Muskegon Country Club.
Russell, 58, the play-by-play man and a 1979 Muskegon High School alumnus, said that the Hall of Fame recognition is a “very humbling experience.”
It brought tears to the eyes of VanSingel, 60, the color commentator, who grew up speech-impaired. He gets emotional just thinking about the phone call he received from MASHF vice-president Dan Beckeman, with whom he has a long-standing relationship from their days in Grant together.
“He said, ‘Keep the first Saturday in June open.’ And that’s when I kind of knew, ‘What are you telling me?’ Of course, he’s all excited. He says, ‘You and Jon are going in together,’” said VanSingel, a 1977 Grant High School graduate, who is co-owner of VanSingel Farms, a large-scale vegetable operation in Grant.
“Fortunately, I was by one of my fields. I just pulled in and cried. I couldn’t believe it. How does a kid who can’t talk get into that Hall of Fame? It floored me.”
Russell and VanSingel became a radio team in the 1990s at WSHN in Fremont, a radio station that is now defunct. In the early-2000s, they moved their act to WLCS, where Russell is employed and does a morning show with Rick Hickman called “The Morning Fix.”
Russell and VanSingel both expressed appreciation for Hickman’s role in making their broadcasts a success. Hickman is the in-studio game host for the football and basketball broadcasts.
“We’ve really been blessed to not try to walk over one another (on the air),” Russell said about his chemistry with VanSingel. “We both have kind of a warped sense of humor. And it’s always that balance. The mantra is, you take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously, and laugh at yourself.”
Oh, there are plenty of laughs.
In response to Russell’s earlier comment on dancing abilities, VanSingel retorted: “First of all, my wife and I did win a dance contest, but it was years ago. So let’s clear the air there – I can dance,” he chuckled.
During football season, Russell and VanSingel do a game every week, from the opener through the state finals at Ford Field, provided the Muskegon area has a team or teams still playing, which is usually the case.
In basketball, they tend to do at least one game a week during the regular season before the load really picks up for the state tournament. During a recent basketball postseason, they covered 20 games in 27 days. They’ve also done radio work for the Michigan High School Athletic Association at the basketball state finals.
“I’ll tell you what (the best part) is: Having a parent come up to you, and I’ve had this happen on numerous occasions, and say, ‘You know, I work second shift and I don’t get a chance to get to my kids’ games, but because of you guys and what you do, I feel like I haven’t missed very many games,’” Russell said. “Boy, you don’t take that for granted. It’s a huge compliment, and I don’t say that to pat ourselves on the back or anything.
“Or the grandparent that can’t get out – especially (during) basketball, the weather gets bad. So that’s what it is, just to be that service, to be able to kind of share an athletic event with people that normally couldn’t get here.”
VanSingel said that the play-by-play man is most important to a broadcast, and that his role as color commentator is to fill in the gaps.
“So, to sum it up, more of me and less of Cal,” Russell joked.
VanSingel said that the radio gig involves a lot of travel, but when the kickoff or tip-off comes, it’s exciting and he forgets about how tired he is.
“It’s a little different for me, being self-employed. … I drive and carry the (radio) equipment, we always joke about it,” VanSingel said. “Being a farmer, we’re slow (in the winter), so if I want to sleep in until 7, 8 o’clock, no big deal. This clown (gesturing to Russell), he’s at work every day at 3:30 a.m., so we’re not getting home until 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock at night, he’s back up by 3, grabbing a shower, getting to the station at 3:30, so it’s a lot harder on him than it is on me.
“And, I’m just younger, better looking. No, wait, you’re younger – he’s younger. I’m just better looking.”