By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
On cool fall nights, while many of his classmates were sitting in the student section, cheering on Woodrow Wilson High School, one young man sat a little farther up the bleachers with a radio and headphones, listening to the game’s play-by-play.
After a few quarters, the young man would remove his headphones from his ears and start doing the play-by-play on his own.
Now, many years later, that same young man will be moving from the bleachers to the press box.
And just like Hank Williams Jr., he’s carrying on an old “family tradition.”
Fred Persinger II will take over the controls on 99.5 WJLS this fall as the new Voice of the Flying Eagles, a moniker shared by his legendary father, Fred Persinger, and former Big Dawg broadcaster Bill O’Brien.
“This is a very big deal for me,” Persinger II said. “Ever since I started in radio in 1990, I always had this vision of taking over Beckley (sports). Dad was the voice for so long and it was my plan to take over when he retired. It didn’t quite work out that way.”
Persinger, who served as the play-by-play announcer for Woodrow Wilson athletics for 27 years, left WTNJ in 2001 to work full-time for MetroNews, but returned to Beckley in December as the new general manager of WJLS, which was purchased by West Virginia Radio Corp.
When Persinger returned, Persinger II wasn’t far behind.
But his road to following in his dad’s famous footsteps wasn’t an easy one. Make no mistake about it, Persinger II worked hard for it.
“I started doing play-by-play with Oak Hill in 1991,” he said. “In 2002 I left and went to Bluefield and called their games until 2004. After they won their state championship, I did Shady Spring for three years and then left and went to the Eastern Panhandle and did those teams for four years.”
Now, he is home.
“It’s something I always wanted to do since I was 5 or 6,” he said. “I would go with my dad on holidays and play the commercials while sitting on his lap. As I got older I bugged dad to let me do it.
“I started working for him in 1990. My first day on the job was my senior prom from midnight to six. I got introduced to the world of 24/7 radio.”
It’s a unique situation for Persinger II, who won’t only be following in his father’s footsteps, but in O’Brien’s as well.
O’Brien served as Woodrow’s play-by-play announcer for 43 years.
“Bill has been great,” Persinger II said. “I feel like I’m following in the footsteps of two legends (when) you think of my dad and Bill O’Brien. I’m following my dad by being his son and Bill with the station. It’s an honor for me. It puts a little pressure on me to take it up a step and continue to improve the play-by-play (listeners) expect from the Big Dawg.”
Persinger II has already started preparing himself for his Woodrow football debut, which will be Friday, Aug. 30, when the Flying Eagles travel to Winfield. He’s met with coaches and players, attended practice and even watched film with new Woodrow quarterback Brent Osborne.
“The first game is always tough,” Persinger said. “The kids are just getting back to school. Hopefully this week I can start working on Winfield.”
High preparation is all part of what Persinger hopes will bring a “buzz” back to Woodrow sports.
“I moved back and the buzz had left,” Persinger said passionately. “There weren’t that many students at Beckley basketball games. We’ve got to get that buzz back. Beckley is the ‘City of Champions’ and as an alumnus of the school and calling the games, I’m honored. But I want to see the buzz back with the parents and students. I hope to see a packed house for that first home game against Greenbrier East. Let’s bring the buzz back to Beckley and get people excited about Beckley sports. Hopefully we can do that.”
Persinger II will be joined in the box by longtime O’Brien assistant Maris Lowery.
“Maris has been with Beckley for a long time,” Persinger II said. “He’s going to bring a lot to the table. He knows Beckley.”
The quest to bring the buzz back will begin on Thursday, Aug. 29, when Persinger II will host a kickoff show for Woodrow football, live from Bellacino’s from 6-8 p.m.
Also new this year will be a football roundtable during the Flying Eagle pregame show from 6-6:40 p.m. featuring the elder and younger Persingers, Liberty and Independence broadcaster Keith Thompson and Greg Carter.
From 6:40-7 p.m., Lowery will interview other coaches from Woodrow Wilson, including soccer coaches Rockey Powell and Paulette Umberger and volleyball coach Shirley Brown.
The pregame show will begin at 7 p.m. before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Persinger II and Lowery will also serve as the play-by-play and color commentator for Flying Eagles boys basketball.
He also noted that WJLS will be broadcasting select Lady Flying Eagles basketball games this season as well.
Persinger II can be heard daily on “The Afternoon Drive” on WJLS from 3-7 p.m
— E-mail: jrollins@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.