Longtime Detroit Lions radio analyst Jim Brandstatter said he wasn’t the only person blindsided by WJR-AM’s decision to terminate his contract on Tuesday.
“I called the people over at the Lions and they didn’t know,” Brandstatter told the Free Press. “They were not aware. We all got blindsided today.”
That included radio play-by-play announcer and Fox 2 sport director Dan Miller, who was traveling by air and has been Brandstatter’s booth partner since 2005. After Brandstatter spoke with WJR, he called his wife, Robbie, then Miller.
“Dan Miller wasn’t aware, either,” Brandstatter said. “I caught him just briefly. He was traveling, he was on a flight. So, I wanted to call him first because he’s a good friend and a dear man and an outstanding play-by-play guy, and he and I have had just a great time doing the games. And I wanted to call him and let him know first thing because I did not know whether he knew.
“And apparently I got off the phone quickly when I got done with the WJR first call. … I got to his voicemail and he called me right back and apparently (WJR program director Mike Wheeler) had called him immediately when he got out of the meeting with (WJR general manager Tom O’Brien). So, he had just found out really no more than a minute or two after I found out.”
A message left for Miller was not immediately returned, but he posted on Twitter: “Today is a very tough day. I love (Brandstatter) like a brother and most importantly, he is fantastic at his job. One of the best in the NFL. I’m so lucky to have spent 13 years worth of Sunday’s with him.”
It all began Tuesday morning when Brandstatter thought he was calling Wheeler to discuss a pro forma contract renewal. He had signed a five-year deal that included an option to renew after the first two years.
“So I called them up and I was ready to say, ‘We’ll do the same deal for the next three years,’ because it runs concurrent with their contract with the Lions,” Brandstatter said. “So, to stay concurrent with that, I said, ‘Just send me the new copy, no changes, we’re good.’
“And they said, ‘Well, Jim, we’ve decided to go in a different direction.’ And immediately my antennae went up. And they said, ‘So, we’re not going to renew.’ And I said, ‘That was a little shocking to me.’ So, then I said, because I kind of had it figured out in my own feeble mind, so I said, ‘Wait a minute. Does that mean like you’re firing me? Like you’re terminating my contract? Like I’m not going to do Lions games anymore?’
“And they said, ‘Yep.’
“And I said, ‘Wow. Thanks, bye.’ ”
Just like that, Brandstatter’s 31-year career broadcasting Lions games came to a crashing halt.
O’Brien told the Free Press that Brandstatter, 68, will be replaced as the color commentator by former Lions Pro-Bowl offensive lineman Lomas Brown. O’Brien said that while “Jim was excellent,” the station wanted to go in a different direction in its third year as the team’s flagship.
Brandstatter eventually called Wheeler back. But he was never given any explanation for why WJR was terminating his contract.
“Never anything from anyone, anybody about my job performance,” he said. “That’s the first thing you worry about. Was I slipping? Was I not doing the job? And I talked to a couple of people that I respect that listen to radio, that listen to broadcasts, and they said, ‘No, you were on top of it. You were as good as you’ve been. … You weren’t misidentifying people, you weren’t making mistakes.’ So that kind of buoyed my spirits a little bit.
“And I realized JR might have a different agenda of what they want, what their process is. I can’t speak for them.”
Brandstatter, a former Michigan offensive lineman, will continue as a radio announcer for the Wolverines. He has been on-air for U-M games since 1979.
As for Lions games, Brandstatter isn’t sure how he will feel about watching the team he was watched in booth on Sundays since 1987.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about that. I guess until it happens, I won’t know. Because my whole adult life, I can’t remember not doing this. So now it’s going to be my first time not doing this, and my Sundays are off. … So, I’ll find out that first regular-season game.
“The only regret I’ll ever have, and I’ll say this to my dying day, about doing Lions football is I never got a chance to do them in a Super Bowl. And believe me, when they get there and when they win one, and hopefully it’s in my lifetime, I’ll be the first one to cheer and be on their side.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!