The Voice of the Illinois Valley is signing off

Lanny Slevin grew up in the late ‘40s and ‘50s in Peoria listening to Harry Caray’s broadcasts of St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and to Chick Hearn calling Bradley University basketball team with a Motorola radio at his bed as he fell asleep. Those broadcasts produced a seed planted that grew inside him and one that those in the Illinois Valley have nurtured for the past 41 years.

At 10 a.m. Friday, Slevin will sign off for the final the as the Sports Voice of the Illinois Valley from the WLPO/WJAK studios in Oglesby. His voice has been one that has greeted us with his early sports reports in the morning and put us to bed late at night for Friday night football and other area events.

“It’s kind of hard to grasp, because I’ve never done it before. I’ve never been not working,” said Slevin, who will turn 71 in August. “It was a childhood dream and miraculously sent me around to a job that I’ve had for 42 years, And it’s hard to say goodbye, but I know that there are beginnings and ends to everything and this is the end.”

Slevin didn’t just broadcast games. He made you a part of the broadcast whether you were at home listening in Spring Valley or sitting there in the stands. He always brought a personal touch to his broadcast, commenting that “Mike from Mendota is here. How are you doing Mike?” Or, “I see Kevin Hieronymus is here covering the game for the Bureau County Republican. I bet he’s going to listen to tonight’s Cardinals game.” Always appreciated those cheap plugs.

His first radio job came in sales with WRPC in Lincoln. The station was granted its first license to broadcast at night and decided they’d do the highly popular Lincoln Railer basketball games on the air. Before, they’d tape some games and play them the next day.

“They asked me if I wanted to do them. We can’t pay you anything, but you’re in sales and you can sell them,” he said. “I’d never been on the radio before. It was brand new, it was nerve wrecking and terribly exciting. Since they weren’t paying me anything that’s what they got out of if. If they were paying me, they’d probably fire me because I was so terrible.”

Well, they didn’t and that opportunity spurred his next venture to the Illinois Valley, going on air in October of 1972. At WLPO, he faced the challenge of taking over for Art Kimball, a talented sports broadcaster with a legendary baritone voice.

“I came in to replace Art Kimball. My voice was never as good and my voice was never as crisp. I told Joanne, ‘I don’t know if I can do this job. I’d come home and tell Joanne. Everybody’s comparing me to Art and I can’t be Art. I’ve only been in this business for a year and a half.’

“So it was really tough. She said, ‘Why don’t you just be yourself.’ I said that makes it a lot easier. I did and kind of grew into the job.”

He really never planned to stay in the Illinois Valley, a typical young broadcaster with an eye toward the bigger jobs in bigger cities. Then something strange happened, he fell in love with the Illinois Valley.

“That dream of being somewhere else got put on hold. It was not that I was in a comfort zone, but that I enjoyed what I was doing so much,” he said. “And nobody asked me about trying to replace Art Kimball. Funny how 40 years takes care of that.”

He’s enjoyed covering high school sports because of the purity that comes with it, unlike what you find sometimes in the pro and collegiate ranks.

Slevin started to wean toward retirement the past three years by taking the summers off and working throughout the school year. He is grateful the Miller Media Group allowed him to continue to work until his youngest child, Joshua, graduate from college this spring.

Seven of the Slevin’s nine children were born here, all educated at St. Bede Academy. The family’s time has not come without sadness, losing son Patrick at age 3 1/2 in 1979 to leukemia. The Slevins soon outgrew their little house they were renting in Oglesby and bought the Victorian house they live in now in Peru.

Slevin has far too many memorable moments, too many games to list, like St. Bede’s 1988 state baseball championship, L-P’s football state title games in the ‘70s and all the Colmone Classic basketball games at Hall.

There is one day, however, that stands out in the ‘70s when he covered an L-P state semifinal football game in southern Illinois and IVCC football team in the Midwest Bowl at home all in the same day.

“The station flew me down in a little plane, a four-seater,” Slevin said. “We left from the Spring Valley in a landing strip, the ‘Spring Valley airport’ not to be confused with O’Hare and flew down to Belleville and did a game down there. We turned around and flew me back here and they had a car waiting for me and drove me to Fellows Stadium. The people were already filing in there and I went up and did the IVCC game in the Midwest Bowl all in one day, many miles away. It was the only time anything like that ever happened.”

A man deep in his faith, Slevin would like to get involved in Christian radio and teach classes at his church. Part of the retirement plan includes spending time with his bride of 43 years and visiting with his eight grandchildren, six of which live out of state.

“Joanne and I have never really been anywhere together. I was kidding her and saying, ‘you and I should take a second honeymoon because we haven’t had time to take one.’ After 43 years of marriage, it’s time that we did some things before the Lord calls us home.”

I made sure I tuned into Slevin’s broadcasts whenever I include this past school year. I knew the voice would become silent soon. How neat that his last broadcast came at the state level with the St. Bede Lady Bruins softball team

Slevin would like to sign off quietly. WLPO won’t allow him.

Friday morning will be officially be “Lanny Slevin Day at WLPO with listeners able to call in to share their favorite Lanny memories. If you have enjoyed him as much as I have be sure to tune in and call in to the station to tell him thanks. Feel free to toast him also. He’d like that.

Lanny Slevin is a true professional, a Christian man and a good friend. I’m really going to miss seeing him around ball games and hearing his voice on the radio. God bless you my friend.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com

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