A fond farewell to ‘Broadcast Buddy’ and legend Wayne Fuller

By FRANK WILLIAMS
SPECIAL TO THE LCN

PUBLISHED: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2018

 

I was deeply saddened over the weekend to receive an e-mail with regards to the passing of a broadcast buddy of mine. Wayne Fuller from WBTA in Batavia transitioned to God’s broadcast booth at the youthful age of 70. The Bible (John 1:27) makes reference to John the Baptist not “being worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.”

 

From a broadcast perspective I felt the same way about “being worthy to speak into Wayne Fuller’s microphone, or carry his equipment.” I have tears in my eyes as I reflect back on the earthly life of a man who was one of the kindest, scholarly, personable and professional broadcasters (and people) that I’ve ever known. Wayne always left you with a warm feeling ... you could simply sense his kindness and his love of humanity, let alone animals. He was not only a good friend to me, but a true “broadcast legend.” In my eyes he was the “Vin Scully of the East.” I’m sure many who knew him would certainly agree, although he would have quickly skirt a compliment of that nature.

 

Interestingly enough, when Wayne was the voice of the Rochester Lancers, Dave Mance (station manager of WDNY in Dansville) asked me what I knew about soccer. I told him, “The amount I know you can fit on the head of a pin and still have room to sit on it.” Mance chuckled and realized that I wasn’t the guy to do the station’s first ever soccer broadcast back in the late 1970’s. With his Rochester connections, he hunted around to find someone who would bring some credibility to the station, let alone do a good job with the play-by-play broadcast. Now tell me, what “professional” (I mean true professional announcer for the Lancers) would agree to come down and do a high school game out in the elements in Dansville ? You guessed it — Wayne Fuller, who was more than happy to do it. Matter of fact he did it a few times for us. I thought we were listening to the Lancers (for obvious reasons).

 

Shortly after I arrived in Dansville in October of 1978, the New School of Contemporary Radio (and now television, too) asked me to do a job fair at a local high school for them. I agreed. Tom Brownlie was the director of the school and a guy who didn’t mess around in his day with small market stations, as he was on CKLW, Detroit, 99-X New York and many others. Tom said, “I’ll leave the information and equipment with Wayne Fuller in Batavia.” I remember first meeting Wayne that morning on the front doorsteps of his Batavia home. About 6:30 a.m. in the morning he came to the door in bare feet, a bath robe, holding his cat in one arm and had the equipment and information I needed in the other. He had a very warm greeting and a big smile on his face ... I never forgot the man.

 

I was fortunate enough down through the years to broadcast a number of baseball games from Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium a place where Wayne’s dulcet tones will echo forever! Matter of fact, he’s been such a fixture there the sign over the doorway to the press box still reads “Welcome to Wayne’s World.” He was always so cheerful, personable and very professional. We’d chat, laugh, relive a few old memories and you would always feel warmly welcomed. When you talked to Wayne, you’d think he had known you for years. If not, he would certainly remember you as well. There were a number of times I’d be out at a game somewhere, or at the War Memorial during sectional time and hear someone say, “Frank Williams!” and it would be Wayne, with a warm smile and a chuckle. There were a number of times I entered that venue and heard “this voice” and thought “hey, that’s Wayne Fuller” (who was the “voice of section V” for many years). We (WDNY, Dansville) would be broadcasting a District 3 Little League All Star Game at Ernie Park Stadium (Batavia’s Little League) which is situated over the left center field wall of Dwyer Stadium and I’d hear his voice echo on the public address system over in the Little League press box. I’d simply get a big smile on my face knowing it was Wayne.

 

Wayne also worked for Trailways for a number of years and also had a great wit as well. Back in 1995, the NCAA Division III World Series was played at Dwyer Stadium. A radio station in Jefferson County, Colorado called Wayne and asked him if he would broadcast one of the games for them. Wayne had the job of being the pubic address announcer during the World Series games (for obvious reasons, who could do it like Wayne?) and so he declined and told them to call this guy “Frank Williams” in Dansville who would probably do it. What a high compliment, to have been referred by such a professional broadcaster as Wayne Fuller! He actually called me and gave me a “heads up” that this station might be trying to contact me. They did and I went and did my only NCAA College Baseball World Series game I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. It made it more of a pleasure knowing I was sitting next to one of the guys who was not only a “buddy” of mine, but “a broadcast father” to me.

 

Wayne liked to have a laugh as well and he had all kinds of contraptions set up in that press box to add to the “professional feel.” I entered the box that day, he greeted me and I thanked him for the opportunity. The game started at 2 p.m. our time, 11 a.m. in Colorado. Wayne’s mind was always working and he said, “Frank, here ... open with this”. He had conjured up the Trailways Bus schedule for Colorado and wrote down something like “good morning and as the 11:15 comes down route 79 (or whatever street it was) we welcome you to Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium for today’s World Series action.” Wayne said, “those people out there will be amazed how some guy in Western New York state would know something about their hometown bus schedule.” With that, I opened the broadcast with those words, looked over at Wayne who was sitting there with that sheepish grin on his reddened face after knowing he had done something both humorous and clever. You couldn’t help but love the man. He was one of the most down-to-earth and genuine people I have ever known and it was indeed a sheer pleasure to know such a wonderful human being!

 

I could never “step into his shoes,” but at one period of time when the late Kevin Doran (from WLEA and WCKR in Hornell) had ownership of WBTA, Wayne was working at Trailways, or was out of town and I was asked to broadcast their annual “Rotary Baseball Tournament” on the first weekend in May for a few years. It was fun to be there for those games and ultimately before the night was out, Wayne would come bopping into the press box which had been “his home away from home” for so long. During a commercial break he’d come over and say hi, have a laugh or two and off he would go. Those memories are so vivid to me even to this day. Wayne made an real impact upon you as a person, because he “really cared!” He was a wonderfully compassionate man,too.

 

There were so many times I came into the Muckdogs (the Batavia Clippers when I had first arrived in the late 1970’s) press box and saw Wayne there with many folks who used to hang out with him there, as they discussed different games and players down through the years. Wayne always seemed to know “what they were doing now,” or “who they got traded for and where they went next.” I have no clue how he kept all that stuff straight. He was truly amazing in every way!

 

I know that some medical issues had taken a toll on his body in the past few years as he had lost a lot of weight and getting around was more of a chore for him. That never detracted from his smile, his wit, his warm and his ever-present professionalism (and I mean the professionalism “without” the “chip on the shoulder” that many people have when success comes their way.) Wayne was always, well, ”Wayne!” In recent weeks we’ve lost great broadcast names like Keith Jackson, Dick Endberg and believe me, Wayne Fuller ranks right up there with those guys in my book for sure! Whenever someone says “Batavia” or “Muckdogs” or “Lancers” or many others, I’ll immediately think of this man who literally brought life to whatever organization or franchise he was affiliated with. What a sheer joy Wayne Fuller was, always will be, his legendary memory will

live on forever !

They say “flattery is the greatest form of compliment” so with that I “flatter” one of the best there ever was in the business. As we all pray for spring and the start of baseball season again to come, I hear Wayne’s legendary introductions echoing down Bank and State Streets in Batavia at the beginning of every game (and always will, for that matter). And batting 9th, playing right field, number one, Wayne Fuller ... Fuller in right field.” I’d like to make one slight revision to that, Wayne will always bat “clean up” in my batting order! I end by saying that anyone who knew, or heard Wayne Fuller was truly blessed by him in a number of ways. Now I believe God, Himself is very blessed to have him back! Amen.

 

Frank Williams is the sports director of WDNY in Dansville