Fred Gage

Fred Gage in 1985

The Capital Times

Frederick H. Gage, who for 35 years was the radio voice for the Wisconsin football Badgers and was long one of Madison's most prominent amateur golfers, died Monday at the age of 84.

He had been suffering the past two years from Alzheimer's disease and passed away at the Alterra Claire Bridge residence on Stonefield Avenue.

Mr. Gage was a pioneer in Madison sports broadcasting. He joined radio station WIBA, then owned by The Capital Times Co., in 1950 and soon became the station's general manager. Under his direction, the station added regular sports broadcasting to its staple of news and music, including live broadcasts of Madison high school football and basketball games and Wisconsin Badger football, basketball and, later, hockey as well.

He handled most of the high school games himself and assumed the play-by-play announcing of the Wisconsin football games. His often excited baritone bark sounded from radios throughout southern Wisconsin every fall Saturday afternoon until the mid-1980s, when he and his last "color man," the late John Jardine, who had been a Badger head coach, retired.

Pat Richter, the UW's athletic director, knew Mr. Gage dating back 40 years when Richter was a star athlete with the Badgers.

"There are certain people who are characters in every lovable sense of the word and Fred was one of them," Richter said today.

Richter recalled that back when the Badgers were in Pasadena for the 1962 Rose Bowl, Fred was called on by the coaching staff to act as Santa Claus.

"He was terrific," he remembered today. "And through the years I gained an appreciation for the lovable person he always was - one incredible golfer and a man who had a passion for the Badgers."

Mr. Gage was an athlete and football star himself. He graduated from Green Bay East High School, where he lettered in football, basketball and golf. He went on to play football as a quarterback and guard for the University of Wisconsin, lettering three years -- 1938 through 1940.

Shortly after graduation, he joined the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. Following the war, he returned to Madison, worked briefly for the Rayovac Corp. here and then was hired by William T. Evjue, the editor and publisher of The Capital Times, to work first at the newspaper and then at WIBA.

He often told the story of how he wound up in sports broadcasting: "One day, I was listening to football with Mr. Evjue and making comments about the announcer and then he turned to me and said, `Well, if you think you can do better, why don't you go out and do an audition?' The rest is history."

Throughout his life, he was a staunch supporter of UW sports and active in the football program's Mendota Club.

Another of Mr. Gage's passions was golf, at which he excelled. He consistently finished among the leaders of the state amateur tournament, often winning the crown. He annually organized and ran a statewide Capital Times Golf Tournament and would report on top scores from the area on WIBA sports broadcasts.

For several years he also ran a local golf tournament in Madison in honor of his son, Frederick K. Gage, who was slain in a terrorist attack at the Rome International Airport in 1985.

Sports was just one part of Mr. Gage's life. He was also considered an innovator in the FM radio market. WIBA-AM had long been the leading station in town, but as younger listeners acquired new tastes, he began experimenting with the station's FM band.

In the summer of 1969, he took some of his younger employees aside and said, "Why don't you kids do something with the FM station?" A concept he called "Radio Free Madison" emerged. It was an instant hit, at first from 7 p.m. until midnight and later from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Mr. Gage retired from the leadership of WIBA after The Capital Times sold the station to the Des Moines Register in 1977. He continued, however, to do the Saturday Badger football games for seven more years.

He was also a member of the board of directors of The Capital Times Co., a board member of The Evjue Foundation Inc., and one of the original five trustees of the Evjue Charitable Trust whom Mr. Evjue named in his will when the newspaper's founder died in 1970.

Mr. Gage married Madisonian Elinor Bagley, a niece of Mr. Evjue's, after graduating from the UW. She died in 1969.

He later married Mary Leren, who survives him, along with a daughter, Nancy B. Gage, a member of The Capital Times and The Evjue Foundation boards; a stepdaughter, Martha Leren of Dripping Springs, Texas; a stepson, Martin Leren and his wife, Nancy, of Troy, N.Y.; and a stepgrandaughter, Nell Leren.

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