Obituary of William Werts
William “Bill” Werts, former disc jockey, radio executive and Tampa Bay Rays booster, dies at 78.
William “Bill” Werts discovered his lifelong passions growing up in upstate New York. With dreams of being a radio disc jockey, he would use a broomstick for a microphone, his mother once recalled. And as a bat boy for the minor-league Binghamton Triplets, he kick-started his connection with Major League Baseball, a relationship that has left an enduring mark on the press box at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
Bill died Dec. 7 at 78. He lived nearly half of his life with multiple sclerosis, an ailment of the central nervous system. Despite the disease’s progressive and debilitating effects, Bill had a ready answer whenever asked how he was doing. “I’m great!”
“I remember my parents asking, ‘Have you talked to Bill? How are things?’ his brother Bob Werts recalls with a smile. “I’d say he’s great! We would laugh about it.”
Bill was a disc jockey and radio sales executive over the course of his career. He got his start spinning records at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School sock hops in Johnson City, N.Y.
“My dad would take us over to the record shop every week and we could buy a 45,” Bob recalls. “Bill had a little red case that would carry about 50 records. He would take that to the school to set up.”
The U.S. Army drafted Bill at the height of the Vietnam War and sent him to Germany to work on military court martials. There were few cases, though, so Bill also was assigned to drive trucks around Germany, a job he enjoyed.
Bill attended broadcasting college, thanks to the G.I. Bill. He got his first gig at a radio station in Anniston, Alabama, working under the name Todd Michaels.
“He was the number-one rated DJ in Anniston, doing mornings,” recalls Mark Stang, a former radio sales executive. “He was wildly popular as Todd Michaels. The night that Martin Luther King got shot, the mayor called him and told him, “You have to talk to people. We’re worried. And you have a bigger megaphone than anybody.” Bill went on the radio and had a calming influence.
Bill could also poke the establishment in the eye, though. When the president of the Anniston Chamber of Commerce once criticized his long hair, Bill went back to the radio station and played the 1960s anthem, “Hair,” three times over.
Bill moved on to do overnights in Atlanta, then the morning show in Binghamton, then Syracuse, where he greeted listeners with his signature “Goooooood morning, Syracuse!” There, he made the leap into radio sales before following a friend to Tampa Bay, where he joined Y95, and later, MIX96-FM, the region’s top-rated, Top 40 station. As national sales manager, he was surrounded by music and DJs, including Mason Dixon; and attended concerts, including several by his favorite, Bob Dylan.
In 1989, Bill fell head over heels for the beautiful Beverly Goudreau of Tampa. For their first date, he picked her up in a Maserati. At evening’s end, he took her for a walk on the beach. As he leaned in to kiss her, a wave shifted the sand beneath their feet. “You’ve made the earth move,” he told her. They became inseparable and married within the year.
Two years later, Bill was diagnosed with MS. He took the diagnosis in stride. “He was proud of his first cane,” Bev recalls. “He looked like a cool gent with it. He handled his MS with such grace and dignity.”
But as his strength ebbed and his walker gave way to a wheelchair, Bill was forced to retire. He then focused on his love of baseball, pouring his energies into helping Tampa Bay land a major league team. He attended lunches to support getting a team here. “When they brought the team in, it was so exciting for him and me. We went and picked out our seats before they were even open for business.”
At Fan Fest one year, Rick Vaughn, then the Rays’ vice president of communications, saw Bill in his wheelchair and brought him a ball signed by Jose Conseco. Bill mentioned that he’d like to volunteer for anything. A radio host later vouched for Bill’s passion and knowledge of the game. Rick soon called and asked Bill if he’d like to manage the media dining room at Tropicana Field.
Bill poured over media guide books, newspapers and magazines to joyfully greet out-of-town broadcasters, reporters and columnists by name. Rick wanted to foster a family attitude and Bill — so outgoing, knowledgeable and in love with the game — made that happen.
“Bill was an important member of our game-day PR team who inspired us all,” recalls Rick, who recently authored the book, 100 Years of Baseball on St. Petersburg's Waterfront. “He loved every minute he was at Tropicana Field and it showed in the enthusiastic way he greeted all of our media when they entered our press dining room. He made them all feel welcomed and I will always be grateful to him for that.”
In 2005, when advancing MS threatened Bill’s ability to get to the ballpark, Gerry Ramsberger, the late Press Box Manager, led an effort to buy him a power wheelchair and a van customized for disabled people. Friends and family chipped in. So did Vince Naimoli and the rest of the Devil Rays ownership group. So did entry-level Rays employees and media members covering the team. The van debuted in centerfield one day. The news made the Tampa Bay Times and WTSP-TV.
“They all loved him because he greeted them with a smile,” recalls Bev, his wife. “He made them feel at home. When he got sick from MS and was hospitalized, he would get calls from Rick Vaughn saying, ‘You don’t know how many people are asking about you.’ It made him feel good.’”
Bill survived MS longer than most. To the end, he was a devoted husband and diehard Rays fan, always with a radio by his ear.
“I’ll always remember his positive soul. Because whatever was going on, it was going to be alright,” says Bob, his brother. “That’s the way it was.”
Bill was preceded in death by his father, Charlie, who worked for a data processing company, and his mother, Louise, who worked for a fabric shop and knitted socks and sweaters for World War II soldiers. He is survived by his wife, Beverly Werts of Largo, who retired from the healthcare industry; his brother, Bob Werts, the Waxman candlemaker in Lawrence, KS., and his wife, Deb; and their children, all of Lawrence, KS: Ryder, Mitch (and wife Kelcy) Werts, and Melanie Calhoun (and husband CJ and daughter Mira.) Also, in-laws Jerry and Pam Goudreau of Boca Raton, and their children Christopher and Ryan (and wife Jen and son Anthony,) also of Boca Raton. And in-laws Tom and Rosemary O’Hara of Dunedin.
Family and friends are invited to a celebration of life at noon on Monday, Jan. 8 at the Elks Lodge, 14111 E Parsley Dr, Madeira Beach.