For generations of kids who grew up rooting for their parents’ alma maters, the dulcet tones of the school’s radio man piped into the living room or the car and became synonymous with college game day. The old school guys who survived the decline of radio made it because of their trademark catchphrases, their knowledge of sports, and the simple fact that people loved listening to them call games. These seven immortals of radio broadcasting are our picks for the most legendary college sports announcers of all time.
The Lou Gehrig of announcing, Max Falkenstein covered more than 1,750 men’s basketball games for the University of Kansas, including every home game from 1955 to 2006. He also covered 650 football games in his staggering 60-year career as “the Voice of the Jayhawks.” He was there for the team’s 55-homegame win streak from ’84 to ’88, and still there in ’94 when they went on a four-year, 62-game streak. Upon his retirement in 2006, the school retired his “jersey” with the number 60 and hung it in the Allen Fieldhouse, the school’s basketball arena, making him the first non-athlete from the school to be so honored.
One man has called 63% of every Mississippi State football game ever played. That man is Jack Cristil. More than 636 football games, 1,538 basketball games, and 58 years, the voice that Ole Miss alum Archie Manning said “is college football” brought Bulldog games to life for college sports fans in a state where there are no pro teams. Cristil was named Mississippi’s Broadcaster of the Year 21 times and is in the state’s sports hall of fame. One of his trademark phrases was “Wrap this one in maroon and white,” a rejoinder to the ubiquitousness of the “Big Orange” of rival Tennessee. Health concerns forced Cristil to retire in 2011, saying, “All good things, as they say in the trade, have to come to an end.”
On Nov. 20, 2011, the University of Georgia and sports fans everywhere lost one of the most legendary voices of college athletics. By the time he was brought in as UGA’s football announcer in 1966, Larry Munson had already made a name for himself as a broadcaster with 20 years’ experience, including stints at Wyoming and Vanderbilt. But as few Georgia games were televised in those days, Munson found his way into Bulldog homes and hearts with his gravelly voice and unabashed rooting for the home team with a distinctly pessimistic spin. He’s in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and was honored as Sportscaster of the Year nine times. In one of his landmark calls during a victory over Florida in 1980, Munson proclaimed, “Man, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight! 26 to 21, Dawgs on top! We were gone. I gave up, you did too. We were out of it and gone. Miracle!”
4. John Ward:
For 31 years, Tennessee sports fans tuned into WNOX in Knoxville to hear “the Voice of the Vols” giving them the play-by-play during football and basketball games. John Ward began his announcing career covering college hoops in 1958 before joining the army. Seven years later he worked his way up from being a stadium announcer and coach’s show host to the team’s regular play-by-play man for basketball, and later football. UT faithful hung on his every word, waiting to hear that magic phrase, “Give … him … six!” Ward and co-announcer Bill Anderson comprised the longest-running team of announcers in college sports history. Today the fourth level of the press box at Neyland Stadium is named The John Ward Broadcast Center in honor of the iconic announcer with the blue towel around his neck.
By the time he retired in 2011, Woody Durham was synonymous with UNC basketball. In his 40-year tenure Durham saw Michael Jordan come and go, watched the Tar Heels play their way to four national championships, and called 1,800 games of football and basketball. North Carolina fans were well-accustomed to Durham telling them to “go where you go and do what you do” during critical moments of a game to ensure no one put a hex on the team. A truly old-school game caller, Durham was beloved for his “Woody-isms” like “britches” and “Go to war, Miss Agnes!” He was named North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year 12 times. Students at football games were known to yell “Woody” until the legendary broadcaster waved to them from the press box.
“Hello everybody, this is Cawood Ledford.” For 39 years the play-by-play man at the University of Kentucky led off his broadcasts the same way, reintroducing himself to Wildcat fans who needed no introduction. The man was a staple of UK sports from 1953 to 1992. Coach Tubby Smith has said of him, “Cawood meant as much to fans of Kentucky football and basketball as anyone ever has.” Each fan seems to have their own favorite quote of Ledford’s. “The Cats are runnin’” he’d say in his distinctive, articulate style, meaning the Wildcats were pushing the offense. Stories of fans trying to pick up the broadcast signal far from Lexington are common. As a tribute to their beloved announcer, the school renamed the basketball court “Cawood’s Court” and painted a microphone on the floor. His final call was a loss to Duke considered by some the greatest college basketball game of all time.
The man who called the “Immaculate Reception” on the radio also had a historic 42-year career as the play-by-play announcer for West Virginia football and basketball. Jack Fleming, “the Voice of the Mountaineers,” first took to the booth in 1947. Although he left the job at WVU twice, in 1974 he returned and stayed for 22 years. Seven times he was named the Sportscaster of the Year for his state, and in 2001 he was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. Like Larry Munson, Fleming declined to hide his love for the gold and blue. One of his most well-known traits was a penchant for criticizing referee calls, especially ones that went against the Mountaineers. Fleming passed away in 2001, but fans will never forget his trademark phrase: “The hills of West Virginia resound with the sounds of Mountaineer football.”
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