DETROIT — During the very early years of television — still in grainy black and white, and long before digital technology, the Web and smartphones — many families followed the nightly ritual of watching TV together.
For numerous Detroiters, the centerpiece of entertainment was a local weatherman who offered a fast-paced, funny, but still informative look at the weather.
Sonny Eliot, who more or less invented the ‘wacky weatherman’ persona and brought it into Detroit homes and businesses for more than 60 years, died Nov. 16 at age 91.
Eliot, born Marvin Schlossberg on Dec. 5, 1920, in Detroit, remembered the tough times of living through the Great Depression, then entering the military during World War II.
While serving as a B-24 pilot, a plane he was flying was shot down during a bombing mission over Germany. He was captured and endured 15 months in the Stalag Luft I prison camp before being freed by the Russians when the war ended.
Returning home after the war, Eliot pursued both his broadcasting career in radio and television and his studies at Wayne State. He appeared on “The Lone Ranger” and “The Green Hornet” radio programs, children’s programs, quiz shows and commercials.
He was one of the few broadcasters in the country who was on the air nonstop for more than 60 years.
In 1959, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State with a major in speech communication.
“Sonny Eliot was an example of the quintessential Wayne State University student of the 1950s,” said Matthew Seeger, professor and dean, College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts. “He was one of the thousands of veterans who returned from service in World War II and found that Wayne State was there to help them build their careers. Sonny was a member of the Greatest Generation, and he and other returning veterans helped to make Wayne State University great.”
Jack Lessenberry, veteran journalist and Wayne State University interim director of journalism, described his close friend: “Sonny Eliot wasn’t only Detroit’s best-known broadcast weatherman. He invented the idea of weather forecasting as entertainment, lasted longer and dominated this major market as no one has, before or since. Yet he never forgot for a moment that he was a native Detroiter — or an alum of Wayne State University.”
Sonny, and his wife Annette, a retired public school teacher, were married 50 years.
In honor of Sonny Eliot’s remarkable life, Wayne State University is hosting “Always Sonny!” from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, in WSU’s Community Arts Auditorium, 450 Reuther Mall, Detroit.
RSVPs may be submitted online at http://specialevents.wayne.edu/sonnyeliot.
During the celebration, friends and colleagues of Sonny Eliot will share their memories. Scheduled participants include:
* Jayne Bower: WWJ Newsradio 950 afternoon anchor
* Jim Brandstatter (emcee): Radio broadcast voice of the Detroit Lions and the University of Michigan Wolverines
* Rob Davidek: WWJ Newsradio 950 news and program director
* Joe Donovan: WWJ Newsradio 950 morning anchor
* John Finley: Sonny Eliot’s close friend and former doctor for the Detroit Red Wings
* Chuck Gaidica: WDIV-TV weathercaster
* Jerry Hodak: Former weathercaster, health and science reporter, anchor, WJBK-TV, WXYZ-TV (1965-2010)
* Rich Homberg: President and general manager of Detroit Public Television
* Ron Kagan: Detroit Zoo executive director and CEO
* Tim Kiska: Longtime Detroit journalist and University of Michigan professor
* Ray Lane: Former WJBK-TV sports director; broadcaster for the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Lions and Pistons
* Jack Lessenberry: Veteran journalist and Wayne State University interim director of journalism.
In addition, a video retrospective of Sonny’s career produced by CBS Radio Detroit will be featured.