“People talk about the good old days of radio, but actually, these are also good days for radio and for our city,” insists Dean Erskine. He should know: he has covered the area’s news, sports, and entertainment events on radio throughout the last half-century.

Erskine, a behind-the-scenes presence on Lucy Ann Lance’s shows for decades, says his son Kyle was “pretty much raised in the radio station.”

Raised on Waters Rd. in Scio Township, Erskine was the third of five children. He got his start in radio as a Pioneer High School senior interning for WPAG AM 1050, located “two floors above Hutzel’s Dress Shop” at Main and Liberty.

Radio station employees trudged up three flights of stairs to reach the cluttered, dusty office. The constant click-clack of Associated Press teletype machines provided background noise as the staff pulled the latest news off the teletype, added stories clipped from stacks of national newspapers, then stuck them on nails to be retrieved for the day’s newscasts.

Even as an intern, Erskine wrote stories, did production work, and voiced clips. But “it wasn’t an intense news environment by any means,” he says. “It was a fun place to work and learn a trade.”

Ted Heusel, “a longtime fixture in the local news world,” was Erskine’s mentor. He taught the teenager how to gather news, conduct interviews, and write and deliver stories. Promptly at nine o’clock each weekday morning, Heusel would announce, “Let’s go,” and Erskine would shadow him on his rounds to the police station, courthouse, local businesses, and the nearby coffee shop. Howard Heath, who had been the farm director since the 1940s, would report into the office, along with Lucy Dobson, whose fifteen-minute “Spotlight with Lucy” covered society events, women’s clubs, and cooking.

Before he even graduated from Pioneer in 1972, Erksine accepted a job at the station. “My shift was six to midnight on Saturday nights. While my friends were listening to rock, I spent the evenings listening to Percy Faith, Henry Mancini, and Perry Como, among others,” he says, laughing. “I was told just to play the music and commercials—‘and don’t turn the microphone on!’”

By the late 1970s, Erskine was producing the programs that aired before and after Bob Ufer’s U-M football broadcasts. A day or two before the game, Ufer would interview then–head coach Bo Schembechler, using a portable reel-to-reel recorder. Occasionally, Ufer would call on Erskine for help editing the tape.

“Bob was always in a hurry,” Erskine says. “When I heard his car horn, which played “Hail to the Victors” all the way down my street, I’d rush out and we’d drive to the station, where we edited the reel-to-reel with a razor blade, cutting the tape and splicing the ends together.”

In 1987, Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan purchased the station, changed the call letters to WPZA, and moved it to Domino’s Farms. “We aired our last show in downtown Ann Arbor at six o’clock one night, packed up, and went on the air from Domino’s Farms at six o’clock the next morning,” Erskine recalls.

The radio business was consolidating, and ownership changed fairly frequently after that. When Midwest Family Broadcasting purchased the station from Domino’s, Erskine “jumped on the opportunity to change the call letters to WTKA, ‘The Talk of Ann Arbor.’” After it was sold again in the 1990s, the format changed to all sports and its mnemonic became “The Ticket.”

Erskine met Lucy Ann Lance in 1993, when they were paired on the morning show. As program director, he told her she would be “the personality and the face of the show.” He’s chosen to stay in the background ever since.

“Lucy Ann is very outgoing, very committed to our community,” he says. “She was the star then, and she continues to be the star to this day.”

Erskine and Lance were laid off during the 2008 recession. They formed their own company, Lance and Erskine Productions, to provide audio services and programs promoting local business. Shortly afterwards, Ann Arbor Radio and its parent company, Cumulus Media, switched what by then was WLBY 1290 to a business talk format and asked the new partners to provide a daily show.

“That arrangement has worked out really well,” Erskine says. “Both of us had been in radio so long it was easy to operate our own company, from the bookkeeping to the broadcasting.” Matt Derrenberger of Ann Arbor Insurance Associates was their first client, and other businesses, large and small, local and regional, have been loyal advertisers.

A fan of old-time radio shows, Erskine launched “The Lucy Ann Lance Hometown Christmas Show” at Briarwood mall in 2009. The program was expected to run for three hours, but it was so successful that it ran overtime and quickly became a tradition. After a pandemic shutdown, it was revived last Christmas.

Also in 2009, the radio network with broadcasting rights to U-M football games approached Lance and Erskine about airing a live pregame “Tailgate Party” outside the stadium. They’ve since interviewed countless alums and former players, among them All-American quarterback Bob Timberlake, who played from 1962 to 1964, and led the team to a Rose Bowl victory. “I remembered him from when I was a kid paying a buck to go into the stadium,” Erskine says.

On another occasion, he and Lance climbed into the Goodyear Blimp to broadcast their show while cruising over the city. “We talked between records while we flew the blimp ourselves—with the pilot sitting next to us!”

The partners’ strong ties to the business community sustained the show during the pandemic. “Unlike other media, we didn’t lose a lot of business in those years—mostly just the event advertising,” Erskine says. “We took a bit of a hit, but not like other businesses.”

But Covid’s cruelties found them just the same. In April 2020, both Lance and her fiancé, Doyle Barnes, were hospitalized. Barnes died (see Observer June 2020). Lance qualified for a clinical trial, was treated with an antiviral drug, and survived.

Erskine’s family life has often overlapped with his work. “I was first married at twenty-two, a dad at twenty-five, and a single dad with custody at thirty,” he says. “My son Kyle was pretty much raised around the radio station.”

In 1994, his sister and mother conspired to introduce him to his second wife, Aunita.“That story has become a family legend,” she admits, laughing. “My future mother-in-law asked me, ‘You wouldn’t want to go out with my son, would you? He isn’t very flashy.’ I never did figure out what she meant, but we had already gotten together by that time.”

Erskine proposed at the crest of Cedar Point’s Magnum roller coaster. “When we stumbled off the ride, I said ‘Yes,’ and we were laughing and crying and hugging,” Aunita recalls. “People standing in line looked at us and at each other, and said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t go on this ride.’”

The Erskines were married in 1995. “I lucked out,” Aunita says. Twenty years later, they bought fifteen acres of land in Scio and built a home. She reports that her husband happily spends long hours there tending gardens and mowing lawns. “He also fosters kittens for the Humane Society,” she adds. “It’s quite a sight to see this man cradling a tiny kitten in his big hands, feeding it from a tiny bottle.”

His “newest blessing” is grandson Logan.

As he enters his fifty-second year in radio, Erskine has no plans to retire. Aunita works from home for the Mott Hospital business office, and Dean’s son Kyle is a detective for Pittsfield Township, so everyone remains busy. Kyle and his wife Sarah have a year-old son, Logan Dean Erskine. His grandfather proudly and regularly babysits “the newest blessing in my life.

“I’ve also been blessed with my career choice,” he adds. “I never had any interest in leaving the Ann Arbor area. Some look back at the old days of radio sentimentally, but I like what consolidation has done for radio: group ownership still maintains the local identity.

“I’m turning seventy next year, and I’m proud of the fact that Lucy Ann and I are a part of the history of radio’s evolution. I remember the old technology and the old ways, but I appreciate the changes …

“Radio was fun back then. And it remains fun.”