By Nate Thompson
Taylor has a self-professed sense of humor that he calls “crazy and wild,” while Tjapkes is a little more straight and narrow on their Friday night football broadcasts for WLCS 98.3-FM in Muskegon.
“I know some people probably can’t work with me, just because my sense of humor can be kind of out there,” Taylor said with a laugh, a few days before the pair were scheduled to call the Division 4 playoff game between Whitehall and Big Rapids from Holton High School. “But sitting next to Matt, it’s been great. We get along so well. Just from working with him these past few years, you can tell he has a passion for it and enjoys the game of football just like I do.”
Tjapkes, a Western Michigan Christian High School graduate, shares the sentiment, calling it a blessing having a guy like Taylor doing color commentary.
“Mike has over 30 years of coaching experience, so he’s probably forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know,” Tjapkes said. “He just has such a unique voice in that in 1 second he’ll be cracking a joke and then the next second he’ll be breaking down why the defense collapsed and the ball carrier is now breaking free for a 50-yard touchdown. He just has an amazing grasp of the game and it’s exciting to work side by side with him.”
Taylor, a Kalamazoo native who graduated from Western Michigan University, said he started coaching with the Broncos even before he graduated, learning under head coach Elliott Uzelac and later, Jack Harbaugh. But the coach who had the largest impact on his career was Billy Harris, a University of Michigan wide receiver who started his career in Ann Arbor in 1966, and eventually was coached by Michigan legend, Bo Schembechler.
Taylor left Western Michigan for a coaching opportunity at Kalamazoo College, but Harris, who was now on Schembechler’s coaching staff himself, eventually informed him of an opening in Ann Arbor, coaching the Wolverines’ defensive backs.
“It was great,” Harris said. “Getting the chance to work under Bo, and then we had guys on staff like Gary Moeller, Les Miles and Lloyd Carr. We had some great teams, and Bo, what can I say? He’s just an incredible human being.”
Taylor also has extensive experience as an assistant at the high school level at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, Shelby, Fremont and Hart high schools, as well as coaching semi-pro football. He began his broadcasting career in his early 50s, he said, and continues to love the gig today at the age of 67.
“I tell you, if I’m not enjoying it even for a second, I’m not going to be here,” he said. “But I just love what I got going.
“For my first 8-10 years, (WLCS) asked me to co-host the Power Hour show on Wednesday nights,” Taylor added. “Jon Russell and I did it. It was a great show, very popular throughout the area. I also did some football work with Jon.”
Russell departed for CatchMark Sports a few years ago, leaving Taylor without a broadcast partner. But he connected with Tjapkes in 2019, as the duo began calling Muskegon Big Reds football games on Muskegon Public TV Channel 96, which eventually led to doing the Game of the Week with WLCS a year later.
Their opportunity to call games under the Friday Night Lights nearly came to an end this summer, however.
“I got a call in June, July this year, and the station told me they were moving away from doing sports on WLCS,” Taylor recalled. “They didn’t have the sales people to do it in the area. So I asked them, ‘Why don’t you let me buy it?’
“So I came back with a proposal and we went from there.”
Taylor and Tjapkes essentially created their own broadcast company, which they called TNT Gridiron Productions.
“Mike handled all of the sales work and I was responsible for the production work,” Tjapkes explained. “We have a great group of sponsors and it has allowed us to have a great season and continue to work.”
Taylor explained that ad revenue from local sponsors allowed them to pay WLCS for coverage of 11 local high school games, with the option to continue to go further if a local team advanced deep in the state playoffs.
Getting an opportunity to cover the best football talent in the Muskegon area week after week has been a thrill for Tjapkes, who has held various roles in media – both print and broadcast since 2002. He started as a sportswriter with the Grand Haven Tribune, and has since held roles as a play-by-play broadcaster with the Muskegon Fury hockey team, and 4 years with Country 93.1 WMPA’s coverage of Muskegon Catholic Central football and basketball, and 8 years with WGHN.
In 2014, Tjapkes earned a unique role at the college level, calling Michigan State softball games for the Spartan Sports Network, along with some work with the Spartans’ football pre-game show and women’s basketball broadcasts.
And later this November, Tjapkes will add to his resume with some work with the Michigan High School Athletic Association Network, as he’ll call the 8-Man State Football Finals in Marquette.
“I’m honored they asked me,” Tjapkes said. “I look at it as a chance to give people or family connections an opportunity to tune in and listen, because they may not be able to travel all the way up to Marquette in the middle of November.”