John Rooke appeared at the Barnes & Noble on Bald Hill Road in Warwick, Rhode Island on Saturday, March 2. The veteran radio personality was there to sign copies of his book, "Rhode Island Radio." He also spoke to fans about the past, present, and future of local radio.
Rooke's book is a collection of pictures and captions chronicling ninety years of radio in Rhode Island. The story begins with the formation of WEAN in Providence in 1922. The highlights of the book for me are the photos and stories from the 1980's to the present day. It chronicles the the heyday of Rhode Island radio with such radio personalities as WPRO-FM's Jimmy Gray, Tony Bristol, "Big John" Bina, and Giovanni, WHJY's Paul & Al, Carolyn Fox, and Geoff Charles, and AM icons Sherm Strickhouser (who Rooke laments it's almost impossible to find any pictures of), Arlene Violet, Ron St. Pierre, and Larry Kruger. And, of course, there is Salty Brine.
Rooke includes only one picture of himself in his book. He is being modest. In 2011, I wrote about his induction, along with fellow sports talk show host, Chuck Wilson, into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. Rooke has become as much a fixture, particularly for sports fans, in Rhode Island radio history as anyone. Since 1989, sitting alongside Joe Hassett, Rooke has been the voice of the Providence College Friars' men's basketball team. He has been heard on ESPN radio as well as Boston sports talk radio station WEEI.
Rooke has bigger aspirations, however. Longtime Patriots radio play-by-play man Gil Santos stepped down following the Patriots' playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Rooke, coyly, responded, "No comment," to a question of whether or not he thought of himself as a frontrunner to be Santos' replacement. He didn't hide the fact that he would love the opportunity. Don't fret, Friars' fans-- Rooke believes if he became the Patriots next radio play-by-play announcer, he could still manage to do Providence College games, as well.
When asked who Rooke believed to be his competition for the job, he noted that WEEI's Dale Arnold had previously done Patriots games prior to Santos. Rooke also mentioned the possibility the job could go to someone no one in this area has even heard of. He pointed out that former Pawtucket Red Sox radio play-by-play guy Dan Hoard now does the same job for the NFL Cincinnati Bengals. Rooke is quick to point out that Hoard also manages to do the University of Cincinnati basketball games.
Anyone who has listened to radio broadcasts of Friars' games knows that Rooke would be the perfect person to replace Santos. He would be my choice. Few possess his voice, his passion, and his innate ability to paint a picture with words. He also has been long established in the New England area. The Patriots are also familiar with him which, hopefully, would count for something. He has served as the public address announcer for the Patriots' home games. He is the voice you hear when the Patriots get a "first dowwwwwwwn." According to an article by the Boston Globe's Chad Finn in April of 2012, Rooke has been believed to be Santos' preference as his eventual successor.
During Rooke's book signing, I was struck by his passion for what he does. It was a seed that was planted when he was a little kid listening to Jack Buck calling St. Louis Cardinals' baseball games. In a day where almost every journalist aspires to be on television, Rooke loves radio. He loves the nostalgia of it.
He is, painfully, aware of how the business is changing. Small radio stations are getting swallowed up by bigger conglomerations like Clear Channel, Cumulus, and Entercom. Radio stations are being run by companies whose headquarters are located far away from their constituents. All the bigwigs see is ratings on a piece of paper. Rook points out Rhode Island Radio Hall of Famers Ron St. Pierre and Tony Bristol as examples of longtime local icons who have lost their jobs recently. WEEI's Dale Arnold and Glenn Ordway serve as other examples in the Boston area. Loyalty means nothing. Local ties means nothing. Get ratings, create revenue, or you're out.
Rooke worries that local radio could be dead in ten years. Rooke hopes he is wrong. To this end, Rooke says that a portion of the sales of "Rhode Island Radio" will go towards the formation of a fund to try to get local youth involved in radio.
"Rhode Island Radio" can be purchased at your local bookstore or go to ArcadiaPublishing.com.