The big, booming radio news, editorial, and Thiel-era sports voice of Galesburg has died. Long Galesburg’s well-respected friend and broadcast voice, Roger Coleman has died at age 89. From the mid-1950’s well into the 1970’s, Coleman was renowned for his piercing editorials, lively sports play-by-play, and provocative interviews. His broadcast and civic strengths helped shape Galesburg during its post-war economic and sports boom years.
A Galesburg native whose adolescence began on Florence Avenue; Roger Coleman knew at an early age he wanted to be in broadcast radio. He would recall attending WGIL’s first live audience radio broadcast on June 12, 1938 at the Galesburg Armory on Broad Street. Accompanied by his mother, the broadcast captivated seven-year-old Roger’s ambitions; launching a celebrated radio career that spanned five decades.
Graduating from GHS in 1948, Coleman completed two years at Knox College before transferring to the University of Iowa’s new radio & TV degree program. Two years later, 1952, Coleman was the first class to graduate in Radio & TV from the University of Iowa. A loyal Iowa alumnus and Hawkeye sports enthusiast ever since, an ongoing Roger and Marilyn Coleman endowment provides a small academic scholarship annually to a University of Iowa student studying Radio & TV.
Completing Army ROTC at Iowa, Roger Coleman received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in 1952. He was stationed as Public Information Officer at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. The Army soon recognized Coleman’s broadcast talents, deploying him to Nevada’s Testing Grounds. Five miles from ground zero, in a shallow hip-trench, protected by helmet, dark glasses, and microphone, Coleman’s Armed Forced Radio broadcast gave live play-by-play to an atomic blast. Roger recalled the detonation time as 1300 Nevada time. Upon the bomb exploding, he was to count to ten, stand from trench and start his broadcast. The atomic bomb exploded, Roger stood and began detailing a gigantic white-hot flame rising to the heavens, extinguishing the daylight, and temporarily changing what had been a cloudless bright blue sky to midnight black.
On July 11, 1953, active duty 1st Lieutenant Roger Haven Coleman married his GHS sweetheart of seven years, Marilyn Jean Nelson. A year later, 1954, Coleman was honorably discharged. He remained in the Army Reserve until 1962, earning the rank of Captain.
Roger and Marilyn, along with their newborn son, Jeffrey Haven, plotted their career path back to Galesburg. An announcer opening at WTVH-AM-TV in Peoria gave Roger radio work close to Galesburg. A year later, they returned to Galesburg as Roger was hired as an announcer for WGIL. From 1955 to 1976, Roger Coleman advanced from WGIL announcer, to sales manager, then general manager, and finally WGIL Company President. Under Coleman’s leadership, WGIL increased its signal strength, added the WAAG FM sister station, and emerged as radio’s dominant voice for west-central Illinois. These times were also Galesburg’s “Thiel Era.” From this era, Roger fondly recalled Galesburg’s great economic growth, colorful, winning sports, and a progressive community with endless spirit, in all, “an exciting time to be in Galesburg.”
In purchasing WRAM in Monmouth in 1976, Roger created Coleman Broadcasting Company. WRAM’s success was followed by his acquisition of WRMJ in Aledo in 1979. Then in 1986, as a partner in Midwest Broadcasting, Coleman purchased WCSJ and WCFL in Morris, IL. After boosting the signal and changing formats, WCSJ and WCFL were profitably sold in 1990. Coleman then acquired WGEN in Geneseo, again employing his successes with format and power upgrades. Roger put WHHK, in the Galva-Kewanee market, on the air in 1995. However, quickly changing FCC regulations were making the radio business increasingly challenging. Coleman’s last purchases were WCRA, WCRC, and WCBH in Effingham and Casey, IL in 1998. Four years later, 2002, upon his 72nd birthday, Coleman sold the stations and retired his microphone. During his half century of radio management, Coleman enjoyed elected industry positions within various broadcast associations. The most prominent included VP of Illinois Broadcasters Association, Board Member to the National Association of Broadcasters and serving four years as a Board Member to the Mutual Broadcasting System.
With Marilyn, Roger was a lifelong member of Galesburg’s First United Methodist Church. He served regularly as an usher, Sunday school teacher, and later, as the Church’s Lay Leader and Finance Chairman. Other civic activities included being Trustee for Galesburg Sanitary District from 1960—1978; President of Soangetaha Country Club 1988-1990; and a member of St. Mary Medical Center Foundation Council for many years. As a Rotarian for forty years, Roger was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow, participating in Galesburg, Morris, and Geneseo Rotary Clubs. In 2014, Roger was inducted into Galesburg High’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He credited this last honor to his involvement in programming and showcasing his friend, John Thiel’s skill in athletics, music, and the arts.
Coleman was a member of the Knox College 50 Year Club, George Washington Gale Society, and the University of Iowa’s President’s Club. An avid golfer, Roger enjoyed attending pro golf tournaments, as well as MLB, NFL, and NBA seats. In their 70’s, Roger and Marilyn joined the Chicago Cub Boosters of Central Illinois, attending Spring Training in Arizona for several years. With Marilyn at his side, they traveled Grand Cayman, Boca Grande, and wintered in Fort Myers during his final decade. His sport loves were many, yet Roger’s stalwart teams were the Cubs, Bulls, Bears, and Hawkeyes.
Born on November 27, 1930, Roger Haven Coleman was son to Charles Haven and Ida (McKinley Keedle) Coleman. When Roger was eight years of age, his father, Charles Haven Coleman, a noted athlete, and collegiate sports coach died after a lengthy ailment. Several years later Roger’s mother, Ida, married John L. Peterson.
Roger is survived by his wife of 67 years, Marilyn, and their two children and grandchildren. Roger was loving father to Jeffrey (Cynthia) Coleman of Littleton, Colorado; and Julie (Dennis) Matthews of Lake Barrington, Illinois. Roger and Marilyn’s grandchildren include: Katherine (Stan) Coleman-Lazaridis of Perth, Australia; John (Missy) Coleman of Denver, Colorado; Charles Haven Coleman II of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Christopher Matthews of Boston, Massachusetts; and Lauren (Michael) Miller of Chicago, Illinois.
Roger will eternally be remembered for his thoughtful generosity, humor, love of sport, and as Galesburg’s champion of radio. Roger Coleman excelled at his life ambitions of church, civic-service, military, radio career, loving family, and boundless good friends. Let it be his legacy, Roger never met a stranger.
Roger’s wishes were to be cremated. A private family memorial service will be 10 a.m. Friday, August 14, 2020, at the First United Methodist Church. There will be no visitation. Those wishing to attend the service “virtually” may access the live broadcast on Hinchliff-Pearson-West Funeral Directors and Cremation Services Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Hinchliff-Pearson-West-Funeral-Directors-and-Cremation-Services-160333664037824. Burial with military honors will be in Linwood Cemetery. Online condolences may be made at www.h-p-w.com.