WLDS-WEAI lost one of its very best this morning. Jerry Symons passed away at the age of 70. He was diagnosed with cancer in his liver and spleen last month.
Jerry joined the staff at WLDS and WLDS-FM in the 1960s, first as an announcer, and later as a reporter, and finally as the news director.
Symons took over as general manager of WLDS when it was owned by Saga Communications in 1986. Jerry and Don Hamilton formed Jerdon Broadcasting in 1989, purchasing WLDS in August of that year, and added WEAI at 107.1-FM in October.
Hamilton says this is one of the saddest days for him. He started at the radio station in 1971, when Jerry had been there for almost eight years.
“I lost a guy that I love like a brother,’ he says.
Although many will remember Symons for his sports broadcasting, Hamilton says when he started, Jerry was a newscaster first and a sportscaster second and was an important part of Jacksonville.
“He covered a story like nobody could, and I think he was well-respected in the community as a news person and likewise as a sports broadcaster,” says Hamilton. “After we bought the place, he became really, I think, a community leader. He was the guy, if you had something going on and you wanted to get it done, chances are his phone was going to be one of the first ones to ring.”
Jerdon would remain as owner of WLDS-WEAI for 19 years, with Jerry serving as general manager before the station was sold to Jacksonville Area Radio Broadcasters Incorporated in July of 2008.
Jerry became the voice of the Crimsons in both football and basketball, and in a greater sense, the voice of sports for the area from the 60s through the basketball season that ended just this past weekend.
Buford Green was Symons’ partner on WLDS’ popular Sports Line program for 45 years. He first knew him while serving as sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal-Courier.
“He truly did love the Crimsons as well as the other schools around this area,” says Green. “I just look upon it as the end of an era, [the] passing of a true voice of Jacksonville for half a century, and a great loss.”
Jerry Symons broadcast over 4,700 football, basketball, baseball and volleyball matches. He has been a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame since 1987.
Former Jacksonville mayor and WLDS news reporter Ron Tendick says Jerry’s passing occurred very suddenly.
“Just left six weeks from the time that Jerry found something wrong until his passing. It’s really difficult to think of Jerry in the past tense,” says Tendick. “He’s been not only a local icon in sports broadcasting and radio for 50 years, but he’s been a tremendous family man and a wonderful friend.”
Symons leaves behind his wife, daughter, son and five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held this Friday morning at 10:30 at Central Christian Church in Jacksonville. Friends may call after 1 p.m. Thursday at Buchanan and Cody Funeral Home where the family will meet friends from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Tune in to WLDS 1180 AM Tuesday morning from 10:30 to 11:00 and share your memories of Jerry with current station owners Gary Scott and Mark Whalen. Use phone number 243-4351.
Jim McCabe and Nick Kovatch contributed to this story.