Decades before staying at home was a deadly serious precaution, Bob Allison was a broadcast legend in Detroit for people who were doing just that.
For women labeled as housewives because they juggled the heavy demands of managing a household and raising children.
For families gathered around their one and only TV, often a black-and-white set, to watch people bowling for small cash prizes.
Allison, 87, died Wednesday afternoon, according to WWJ-AM (950). A cause of death wasn’t revealed, but his health recently made his move to a nursing home necessary. WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) reported he had recently fallen at his home.
Allison was best-known as host of the radio show “Ask Your Neighbor,” which began on WWJ in 1962. Essentially, it was a mass-market chat across the fence between listeners, mostly women, who shared recipes and queried each other for advice on things like recipes for cottage cheese pie and where to buy hard-to-find items in the era long before Amazon.
He also hosted Detroit’s iconic 1970s TV game show, “Bowling for Dollars,” a program that’s hard to imagine in today’s flashy, high-speed world of reality competitions.
Filmed at the Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, it features local contestants bowling for a modest cash prize in the range of a few hundred dollars. It was the “Survivor” of its day, in terms of local ratings.
In 2013, he did a short-lived revival of the show for WADL-TV in Detroit.
Allison kept doing “Ask Your Neighbor,” which he took to the smaller WNZK-AM (690) in the late 1970s, until just a few weeks ago. His son, Rob,will be hosting a commercial-free edition of the show on Thursday, said WWJ.
“Ask Your Neighbor” stuck to a different set of rules as radio evolved. As the Free Press wrote in 2000, “Callers get as much time they need. They’re not hustled off or chided for their opinions. Everyone is treated with courtesy, from longtime fans to new listeners.”
There were never any shock jock antics, no anger, indignation, or sarcasm. The show may not have been competitive in the ratings market in recent years, but It remained a beacon of gentle radio in a nation that had become difficult and divided.
“You’d be surprised how many people write or say that we’re an island of civility in a sea of rage, a place where you can be at peace,” Allison told the Free Press.
The Indiana native spent a few years in Los Angeles as a piano player before “Ask Your Neighbor” started. He spent more than a decade in radio before landing in Detroit as a hip young disc jockey with a love of jazz.
His real last name was Allesee, which was considered too ethnic by radio executives of the Eisenhower era.
Allison and his wife, Maggie Allesee, became a power couple of philanthropy in metro Detroit, working for numerous charities and civic clubs. Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance, renamed in 2000 in conjunction with her $2-million endowment, stands as one of the family’s best-known gifts.
With corporations ruling radio, TV and print in 2020, Allison remained a gentle maverick until the end. He broadcast his show on his own terms, steering “Ask Your Neighbor” by his own compass that may have seemed outdated, but kept a community of listeners together.
“I do the show the way I want to and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s fine, turn something else on,” Allison told the Free Press all those years ago. “I don’t pander. And I don’t talk down to people.”
He talked with people. That’s how Bob Allison will be remembered.
Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture writer Julie Hinds at email@example.com.
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