By Paul Rozycki

After a decade and a half of giving Flint space listeners hours of civil and wide-ranging conversations in politics, music, science, writing, and the humanities,  Tom Sumner has determined to finish his radio program.  It has run on WFOV 92.1 FM in Flint. 

In his latest submit, Sumner stated “I’m suspending manufacturing of The Tom Sumner Program indefinitely efficient Friday September 2, 2022. There are a number of causes, but when I had been to select three, they might be dwindling viewers, rising issue elevating cash,  and for 15 years I’ve been attempting to set an instance of how info ought to be explored, revered and shared in a civilized method – and but – public dialog all through the nation is changing into meaner and fewer knowledgeable.”

Native radio persona Tom Sumner on the microphone. (Picture by Paul Rozycki)

Democrats, Republicans, and “off the crushed path”

Over the past 15 years, Sumner has interviewed a rating of presidential candidates, most Michigan candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Home, many native candidates for the state Senate and Home, and nearly each Flint mayoral candidate.  He has additionally interviewed practically each candidate for the Flint Metropolis Council or County Fee. He has held boards for a lot of candidates, together with one “off the crushed path to the White Home,” the place minor events, who hardly ever have a discussion board, had the possibility to air their views. 

Tom Sumner interviewing former Flint Mayor and native and state politician, the late Woodrow Stanley. (Picture by Paul Rozycki)

Professional insights

This system has launched listeners to a wide range of specialists in lots of areas. Richard Walker, previously of the Longway Planetarium, provided his insights on astronomy and geology, UM-Flint economist Chris Douglas gave common updates on the standing of the economic system, and authorized professional Brendan Beery defined the most recent Supreme Court docket selections and their implications for the typical citizen.

Musical artists

Sumner  has hosted musical artists who performed every part from Bach to Grand Funk. Sumner fondly recollects the conversations he’s had with Flint Symphony Orchestra Conductor Enrique Diemecke on the nice factors of Mahler or Bach. However he additionally recounts  the occasions he’s hosted Flint’s Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad and Eddie Cash on the present.  Even after recalling the well-known names in music that he interviewed, he takes biggest satisfaction within the “native musical expertise within the Flint space” who typically carried out on the present. 

Sumner with Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner (Picture by Paul Rozycki)

Writers and authors

He has hosted interviews with authors of thriller novels, cookbooks, journey guides, historical past books, political books, images books, and artwork books.  Finest-selling authors David Baldacci, Mary Higgins Clark, and Debbie Macomber, have all been common visitors on the present. He recollects one story when President Obama met Baldacci at a ebook signing, when Obama smiled and stated “You’re a star,” to the author. One in all his interviews concerned writers who got the possibility to finish the writing of the Mark Twain youngsters’s ebook. 

Sumner with long-time co-host and assistant Andrea Sutton (Picture by Paul Rozycki)

Entertainers, actors, and witches

He stated one in all his most memorable interviews was with Carl Reiner who spoke of his days working with Sid Caesar and the way his curiosity in appearing was sparked by the WPA arts packages developed by FDR within the Thirties.  A final-minute connection gave him an opportunity to interview actor Tony Shalhoub, of Monk fame, when he was within the space. 

He has additionally interviewed the sons or daughters of quite a few celebrities together with Vincent Worth, Rod Sterling, and Charles Schultz.

On Friday the thirteenth or Halloween he would typically have a Wiccan priestess take calls and do Tarot card readings on the air. 

“He’s been in every single place, man!”

He has even taken the present to Hell, (MI) each Halloween, and has executed the present on a prepare to Lansing. He’s executed the present on the street from St. Ignace, Cadillac, Mt. Nice, and the Birch Run Speedway as a part of the Again to the Bricks Promo Tour. 

The Tom Sumner present broadcast from Hell Saloon in Hell, Michigan. Seated with Sumner are Jan Price-Nelson (left) and Henry Hatter (proper). (Picture by Paul Rozycki)

He has executed reveals from the White Horse Tavern, Kettering College, Baker Faculty, Mott Neighborhood Faculty, Good Beans Café, WFNT 1470, a studio within the Flint Faculty Bus depot, the Burton Metropolis Corridor, a basement on Flint’s east aspect, the Lansing Lugnuts ballpark, a brand new grocery store on the north finish of Flint, The Bavarian Inn, and Slo’ Bones Bar, in Frankenmuth, Calvelli’s in Lapeer, Bluebell Seashore, the Flint Flat Lot throughout Again to the Bricks, Flint’s New McCree Theater, and within the final two years his house studio within the Davison space. 

Armchair Politics panel at Hell Saloon in Hell, Michigan. From left to proper: Paul Rozycki, Tom Sumner, Jan Price-Nelson and Henry Hatter. (Picture submitted by Paul Rozycki)

And whereas Sumner offers nice credit score the crucial position performed by those that helped as co-hosts and know-how specialists through the years, he did an excellent deal on his personal, broadcasting 5 reveals per week, for 3 hours a day, 52 weeks a 12 months, with a lot preparation for every present, delivering the standard one would anticipate from a significant broadcast outlet. 

Civil discourse and an knowledgeable democracy

However the significance of the Tom Sumner Program isn’t the variety of locations he’s been, or the variety of individuals he’s interviewed through the years, as giant as these numbers could be. It’s the nature of these interviews that issues. In his political interviews he has had Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Libertarians, and Inexperienced Occasion candidates on this system and has handled all of them with respect and dignity.

Not like many interviews the place candidates are allotted two minutes to current their concepts, the Sumner Program sometimes gave candidates 45 minutes to an hour to talk to the voters and reply to Tom’s questions. The questions he requested had been a critical try to be taught extra concerning the candidates and their views. He didn’t fall again on “softball” questions, or attempt to embarrass a candidate with “gotcha” questions.

In a time when a lot political discourse is a 30 second business, a tweet, or a snarky one-line Fb submit, Sumner’s interviews had been an instance of what knowledgeable democracy is all about. He stated his objective was to “get to know the individuals behind the information, and get individuals to hear extra.” Almost each interview ended with info on find out how to be taught extra concerning the candidate on their web site or different supply. 

Extra importantly, his interviews and discussions had been an instance of what a civil dialogue is all about. He typically contrasted his program to what he referred to as “rant radio” the place the loudest and noisiest voices obtained essentially the most consideration.

Sadly in the previous few many years it has been the “rant radio” of Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, and their imitators who’ve outlined a lot of our politics. There are various causes for the divisions we see in our politics at the moment, however a lot of the tone has been set by these type of packages. Social media made it even simpler for anybody to affix the rant.

With Sumner’s civil dialogue, even amongst those that come from totally different events and maintain opposing opinions, one might discover frequent floor. His program was a pointy distinction to a lot of the divisive rhetoric that we see in a lot of the media at the moment. 

Armchair Politics

My very own involvement with the Sumner Program came to visit a decade in the past together with his weekly “Armchair Politics” phase, the place each Wednesday morning, Henry Hatter and I, together with a rotating third chair, would talk about the politics of the week. Although Henry and I got here from differing viewpoints and celebration loyalties, the dialogue was all the time informative and civil. One of many biggest rewards I’ve from the Sumner Program is the friendship with Henry and the possibility to satisfy the various visitor chairs who’ve been a part of Armchair Politics.  

One of many common third chairs on Armchair Politics is East Village Journal Consulting Editor Jan Price-Nelson. Her views on the Sumner Program and Armchair Politics communicate for all who’ve been a part of this system for the final decade or extra. 

Tom Sumner with Jan Price-Nelson at a fundraiser at White Horse Tavern in Flint. (Picture by Paul Rozycki)

She stated “He was among the finest propagators of fine citizenship I do know. On this time of fakery, mediocre pondering and big bullshit, Sumner all the time maintained his grace, immense curiosity, and humor. He tolerated emotional outbursts however all the time introduced issues again to respectful consideration. He’s world-weary however nonetheless loves the outdated values of honest play and — sure, democracy.  I realized a lot from him and his visitors. It was a lot enjoyable — and an honor — to be on the present with him, Paul Rozycki and Henry Hatter. I like his voice, actually and figuratively, and I can’t deliver myself to seek advice from this up to now tense: I’m unhappy it’s ending.”

A part of Flint’s historical past

Not solely has the present been a discussion board for civil dialogue in these divisive occasions, nevertheless it’s additionally been a worthwhile historic document of a lot of the politics of Flint and the encircling space. With the altering nature of the native print media a lot of that historical past could possibly be misplaced. Fortunately, Tom has recorded his program and it has been out there at www.tomsumnerprogram.com and as a part of that historical past he’s making preparations to donate the recordings of this system to the College of Michigan-Flint Genesee County Historical past Archives within the close to future.

A thanks to all

In the long run Sumner provided a gracious thanks  to all who’ve been a part of this system. 

Tom Sumner, signing off…(Picture by Paul Rozycki)

He stated, “Any disappointment and/or burn-out I could be feeling can’t diminish the satisfaction I’ve within the caliber of visitors the present has attracted. Political candidates, best-selling authors, dwell music and a wide range of studios and places have earned the present a fame I by no means might have imagined after I started 15 years in the past. The record of individuals for whom I’m extremely grateful contains visitors, listeners, and contributors of cash and different sources. To all of YOU, I say THANK YOU!”

EVM political columnist Paul Rozycki may be reached at paul.rozycki@mcc.edu.





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