The Voice of the Classic
While he was not the first announcer for the Classic (That honor belongs to France M. Brinkley) What could've been called the modern era of The Classic was voiced by Radio Hall of Famer John Thomas "Tigertom" Mitchell of WANT Radio.
The voice of Tom Mitchell (1916 to 2017) is recognized by whole generations of black Virginians. During the 1950s and 60s and right up until the 1980s, his announcements sparked the imaginations of Richmonders who listened to WANT at 990 on the AM radio dial. .For decades he was the voice of High School football. Including the annual Armstrong-Walker football games.
A born communicator, Mitchell has been able to capture the spirit of the moment and convey that message in speech. But he has also described the signs of the times as a writer for many local and national publications.
Reporting the news is one way Tom Mitchell has communicated. He launched his career at age 14 working for the St. Luke Press on Baker Street in 1931-32 operating its printing press. He grew up reporting for The Planet, the paper his great uncle John Mitchell Jr. made famous.
Few people had been on the scene in Richmond and the East Coast more than Mitchell. His work as a newspaper reporter, radio personality and events promoter took him everywhere. Mitchell saw a lot of what was going on in town-from sports and entertainment to entrepreneurial businesses, crime, politics and the civil rights movement.
Mitchell worked for the Virginia Teachers Association from 1951 to 1959 before becoming a full-time employee of WANT. This former editor of the Virginia Journal thinks of that era as the true glory days for African-Americans. "Because segregation excluded us from the table, we had more of our own institutions to serve ourselves," he said.
Mitchell recalled that VTA conventions held at Virginia Union University would draw 7,000 school teachers. Representatives of textbook publishers would come to town to set up booths promoting educational materials.
"The Virginia Teachers Association was one of the biggest black organizations of its time," said Mitchell. With integration breaking down barriers, the Virginia Teachers Association was absorbed into the previously all-white institution. Blacks gained some things, Mitchell assesses, but lost independent control of a strong voice.
Mitchell comes from a family directly involved in the most important moments of Richmond's black history. His great uncle, John Mitchell, was the powerhouse of the Richmond Planet Richmond's oldest newspaper started in 1882. As a child, Mitchell could witness close-up charismatic personalities such as Maggie L. Walker. As an adult he was centrally positioned in Richmond's interlocking network of families, friends, club members and business associates.
WANT-990AM History-1951-1985 .
Signed on for the first time on May 4, 1951, under the call letters WANT, 990AM was one of the top Black music stations in the United States through the 1950s and 1960s and was one of the top revenue-producing medium market stations in the country well into the early 1980s. Put on the air by Richard Eaton’s United Broadcasting Company, some say the call letters stood for “With All Negro Talent”. United Broadcasting also owned Black programmed stations in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Cleveland and other markets, all of which broadcast Richard Eaton’s “Unity Viewport” every morning at 8:30 a.m. At the other end of the spectrum, the station also broadcast “Muhammad Speaks” with Elijah Muhammad, with occasional appearances by a young Malcolm X.