Career of Budd Lynch spanned decades of Red Wings history

Budd Lynch shares a laugh with Nicklas Lidstrom on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.

They say a good man is hard to find, but over the last 60 or so years it was never too difficult locating Budd Lynch. All one had to do was follow The Voice – a fixture of Red Wings broadcasts from 1949 through 1975 and then, for many years after, of the public address system at Joe Louis Arena. Along the way, Budd lent his good cheer to countless banquets and charity events, including an annual golf outing bearing his name.

More than The Voice, what I remember best was The Arm – or, more precisely, the lack of one. The missing right arm made for some awkward fumbling the first time I stuck out my hand to say howdy, but after that it was a procession of one-armed jokes, most of which could not be repeated around the dinner table.

Budd Lynch died recently at age 95, and the services were held at St. Joseph’s in Wyandotte, the same church my mother attends. His passing caused me to start rummaging through my mind – and files – for memories of the Wings’ longtime goodwill ambassador.

I was lucky enough to have once spent a day with Budd for a magazine piece, and his earthy sense of humor made for a fun encounter. His empty right sleeve was offset by an extra appendage: a lit cigar that, to judge by its unfailing appearance in countless photographs over the years, had at some point in time been surgically attached between the middle and index fingers of his left hand.

“How many of those you smoke a day?” I asked.

Lynch, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and winner of the Foster Hewitt Award for excellence in hockey broadcasting, looked tenderly at the business end of an El Producto.

“As many as my friends will give me,” he answered.

Judging by the number of people who called Budd Lynch friend, that was an awful lot of cigars. And, as Budd puffed away, a whole lot of memories. Here, in Budd’s own words, is the story of a life well-lived, inside and outside of the broadcast booth….

“In high school,” Budd began, “I was the quarterback for a Protestant school that was playing a Catholic school for the championship. I went up to Hamilton to be interviewed for part-time summer help at a small radio station, CHML. So, as a lark, this other kid and I went in for an audition.

“Now, my real name is Frank – Frank Joseph James Lynch. But the station already had a Frank. They wanted me to change it to Aloysius, and then Lynn. They finally said, ‘Well, think about it and give us a call tomorrow.’ So on the way home, I passed a store. I’d always bring my mother Canadian maple buds home. So I said to myself, ‘I’ll change my name to Bud and put two d’s on it.’

“That’s how it started. That was in 1936.

“I was born in 1917. My dad worked for a steamship line in Windsor, but he died in the great flu epidemic after the First World War. I was two and a half at the time. My mother raised two sisters and myself, and as I got older I was the breadwinner. In the summer I worked on the boats, as a deckhand and as a bellhop. The steamship company I worked for wanted me to make a career with them. But I wanted to go out in the world.

“Then I took that crazy audition. Would you believe I made $5.50 a week the first year? And that was Canadian money. We used to say the call letters, CHML, stood for ‘Canada’s Heaviest Money Loser.’

“That was working part-time. I’d open up the station, clean out the control room, set up the records for the next two hours. At night I would do a remote broadcast. I’d take the battery-operated equipment and a microphone and go out to a dance hall, introduce the orchestra, and then the singer and the band would go on for an hour. Then I’d tear it down, take it back to the studio, and do it all again the next day.

“And then I moved to the other station in town and made $12.50 a week. Then I made the big move. In 1939, I came down to Windsor, CKLW, with an engineer and two other broadcasters. The station wanted some experienced people, so the station manager from Hamilton recommended the four of us. We took the test and a week later we were called. I was on cloud nine – $22.50 a week. Oh boy, that was big money.

“I was so proud, I went out and bought my first car – a 1927 Durant. There was a guy down the street who had it, so we talked him into selling it. I think I paid something like 125 bucks over three months. We had 16 blocks to go to work and if it made the trip both ways, we were lucky. I remember years later, after I’d gotten married, I’d occasionally drive my kids past the house I used to live in. I’d tell them about that old Durant and they’d say, ‘Where’s the garage?’

“Well, there were no garages then. That old neighborhood, the houses were so close together all you had was a little side drive separating them. Wasn’t any room for a garage. Of course, lots of people didn’t have cars then. You’d take a trolley or you’d walk. We’d think nothing of walking 5, 10, 15 miles every Saturday night. The modern athlete forgets that he should walk. When kids go to junior hockey camps today, they drive up – in Mercedes, sometimes.

“During the Second World War, I joined the Essex-Scottish Regiment. We went active in 1940 because Canada, being part of the British Empire, was already at war. Our unit was a top-notch unit, and here I am, an Irishman wearing a kilt. After officer’s school I went over to England as a weapons training officer.

“We were commando-trained and everything else. At midnight on June 5, 1944, they moved us to a Liberty ship. From there we loaded onto barges and we landed on the beach on D-Day. We got through all right the first few weeks. I did get some shrapnel through my right wrist, but as it turned out, I didn’t have to worry about that for long.

“Later we got into a real fight near the French village of Caen. A brigadier general and myself were snooping down a hedgerow, trying to find where the enemy observation posts were, when a lot of German .88-millimeter shells came over. Eighty-eight millimeters are about 3 inches in diameter. An .88 solid-shot went through my right shoulder. That was lucky because if it had ben an explosive, they would have buried me in a shoebox.

“We struggled back a quarter of a mile to a forward aid post, and the first-aid guys stretched me out on a stretcher. It’s good I passed out. The surgeons did a fantastic job. They amputated right in field surgery, evacuated me to an American base hospital and flew me back to England.

“I was all taped up like a mummy. I was there from October of 1944 to February of 1945. I shared the same room and the same secretary with Glenn Miller, the great band leader, for two months until he disappeared one day. He was lost in a flight to Paris. They never did find his body.

“I was talking to two colonels one day at the officers mess and they helped me get a job with BBC. I did a radio show called Combat Diary, which was a round-up of the day’s war news. Losing my arm – well, I couldn’t dwell on that. I remember coming home on the Queen Mary. I taught these guys how to play cards. You put some slits in a tissue box to hold your cards. Thirteen slits and you can play bridge. Or play poker if you want. These fellas thought that was the greatest thing in the world. You invent things to get around.

“My job was still there with CKLW, so I decided in the fall of ’45 to go back to Windsor. I was the voice of the Windsor Spitfires, the Wings’ top farm club. I also did some play-by-play for Michigan football and the Gold Cup races. At the same time, Ty Tyson, who was the station manager at WWJ and a living legend in this town, kept bugging me to cross the river. ‘Come on over,’ he’d say. ‘We’re going to be starting television and we’re gonna need someone to produce sports shows.’

“That year Paul Williams had done three hockey games and Al Nagler was doing the radio. WWJ was experimenting with television, which was still very primitive. There was an opening after Paul left to do Tigers baseball. Jack Adams, then the Wings’ GM, went to Stroh’s, who sponsored the hockey broadcasts, and said, ‘This young kid from Windsor with one wing did the Spitfires. Why don’t you give him a chance?’ So they gave me a tryout in 1949-50. Between then and the next five years I did four Stanley Cups – the thrill of any broadcaster’s career.

“As I said, TV was in its infancy. The first game I did at Olympia, I looked at my two engineers. These were guys who had never done a hockey game before. But they had seniority to go on remote to make extra money. We only had two cameras—one in the press box and one in the front row of the balcony. One camera was to our left and the other was to our right. The director would be yelling, ‘Number-one camera, stay on the goalie. Number-two camera, follow the puck.’ Well, you can’t follow the puck. We didn’t even have a wide-angle lens on the cameras then.

“After a couple of games it became teamwork. We had dry runs on Monday nights, amateur hockey, so we could get the technicians used to following the sport. Could we see the puck in those days? Well, you could and you couldn’t. But at least you knew where there was a gathering of players, the puck was somewhere in there. That was a good tip-off.

“Fred Huber did the color. Fred was the public relations director for the Wings, a super statistician, a baseball umpire . . . a glib individual. Anyway, between periods Fred and I would swing around and the camera would cover us. The intermission in those days was 18 minutes. One night, I’m holding the only mike. For 18 minutes, I never said a word. I just held the mike while Fred went on and on . . . . So some friends of mine sent a wire to Jack Adams. Jack held it for several days and then one day on the train he opened it and showed it to Fred Huber. All it said was: “Jack Adams – Budd Lynch has a very good knowledge of the sport. That fellow with diarrhea of the mouth, would you please have him pass the mike over to Budd next time?’ Oh, Fred wouldn’t talk to me for two days after that.

“Broadcasters traveled by bus and train. So we were part of the team, part of the family. It was a thrill to associate with and to watch stars like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Terry Sawchuk. Oh, Gordie in his day . . . we used to play bridge – Gordie, Marcel Pronovost, and Norm Ullman. After the brass was asleep on the train, we’d have a couple of beers we’d stashed away. Once I went back to my bunk to get another bottle and when I came back, I saw my tissue box was on fire. My cards were on fire. I asked Gordie, ‘What happened?’ Gordie said, ‘Your hand was horseshit.’

“Jack Adams loved TV because he wanted to reach fans outstate. Outstate in the 1950s meant Lansing, because that’s far as the signal went. The signal was snowy at times, but eventually the signal got to Clare, and then farther north. Jack said, ‘Soon you’re going to see these small towns with ice rinks.’ He was right. Television was responsible for the growth of ice rinks all over the state of Michigan. You got little hockey leagues all over, sponsored by communities and service clubs. Not the great system they’ve always had in Canada, of course, but growing.

“Then Stroh’s started sending us out on the banquet circuit in the summer. Fred Huber, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Marty Pavelich, Lefty Wilson, myself. Two of us at a time. We’d take a Stanley Cup highlight film with us, show it at an American Legion luncheon, play golf in the afternoon, go to a VFW at night, move on to the next place, maybe go fishing in the morning. It was a great promotion.

“Athletes today are stronger, bigger, faster. And back then there were only six teams and 120 players. With no helmets or face protection, you could recognize and identify most every player. Olympia was the smallest rink in the league with only 13,000 seats. The balcony actually hung over the ice. There was no plexiglass, just chicken wire, so you could actually see the players, hear conversations. And since the players had to walk through the hallway to get from the locker room to the ice, the fans could see them close up.

“When I used to do games, the pace was a little slower. I could look down and I could tell at a glance who was who. Some were bowlegged, some stuck their fannies out when they skated, others had a bald spot on top. You knew who was lefthanded and who was righthanded. Now, these kids are ambidextrous. The pace of the game means the broadcaster has a tremendous challenge.I can see how much extra time you have to devote to identifying players. They have helmets on, they’ve got masks on, some of the uniforms are so blurry you can’t tell an 11 from a 14.

“I’m going to put in a plug here for Bruce Martyn, who I worked with for a dozen years and who has been a close buddy since training camp days up in the Soo in the ‘50s. Bruce was the most perfect play-by-play man in television. I’d put Bruce up against anyone else. And I always liked it when his voice went up high when someone scored a goal.

“My arm? I have fun with it. I get teased. I’d be walking through the airport with all my gear and some player would say, ‘Hey, Budd, can I give you a hand?’ Smarty. In the early days on the train I was ‘Wingy.’ Lefty Wilson was the trainer, so they said, ‘We can’t call you Lefty. That’s already taken.’ After a while it became the ‘One-Armed Bandit.’ That’s what I’m known as probably more than anything.

“My official title today? ‘Available.’ I retired the first time in 1975 after doing 26 seasons on radio and TV. Alex Delvecchio was the GM then, and he made me publicity director. I retired again in 1982. Mike and Marian Ilitch threw a party for me and the wife. Then they flew us to Hawaii.

“When we got back, Marian gave me a call and said, ‘You’ve been around so long, Budd. Why don’t you do the P.A.?’ So I said I was flattered. She said, ‘Keep on doing it until you get it right.’

“I’m still trying.”

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About Richard Bak

Richard Bak grew up on Detroit's west side doing poor imitations of Dick McAuliffe's batting stance and Denny McLain's leg kick. He is a contributing writer to Hour Detroit magazine and the author of nearly 30 books, including biographies of Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. Bak's most recent books are The Big Jump, the story of Charles Lindbergh and the great New York-to-Paris air race of the 1920s, and Detroitland, a collection of his history pieces. He currently is finishing two more books of history: Soldier of Misfortune: The Execution of Private Eddie Slovik and Its Aftermath (DaCapo) and When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties (Wayne State University Press), both of which will be published in 2015.