UK’s early radio days different

| January 13, 2011

College basketball fans are so spoiled that we complain even when ESPN and ESPN2 have games and we have to look for OUR game on ESPNU or FOX north or south or on ever-growing channels.

Back in the olden days (boys and girls, that means before television) there was radio. When Kentucky’s Wildcats had a game scheduled in old Alumni Gym in the 1930s, Lexington radio station WLAP would send Ed Ashford of The Lexington Herald and Ted Grizzard to the UK gym.

“We never knew whether we would get to do the game or not,” Ashford told me many years ago. “The UK director of athletics, Daddy Boles, would wait until all the tickets were sold before he would let us go on the air. We would set up our equipment and wait.”

When Louisville got the first TV station in Kentucky in the late 1940s, the most popular radio broadcast was done by Claude Sullivan and Grizzard on WVLK, a new Lexington station owned by former (and future) Gov. A. B. “Happy” Chandler, who also was what he called “the high commissioner of baseball.” He also was a U.S. senator and was the commissioner who approved,  Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers signing Jackie Robinson, the first African-American allowed to play in the Major Leagues.

Sullivan and Grizzard broadcast only the top games in Central Kentucky. They were sponsored by Honey Krust Bread and had a huge following. Mainly, they did Clark County games because Letcher Norton’s Cardinals were extremely popular because they won and had a race-horse offense.

Grizzard was an extremely funny man. He told about a Transylvania football game when it was extremely cold and snowing hard. He and Ashford were doing the game.

I’ll let Grizzard tell the story: “Transy had a back named Smith, but Ed would call him Jones. This was before there was even a pressbox and we had to sit in the stands. A drunk was sitting close enough that he could hear Ed. When Ed would call the wrong ballcarrier, the drunk would loudly correct him. Finally Ed would put the microphone inside his top coat, hoping that the drunk couldn’t hear him. That only made it worse because the drunk kept getting closer and closer!”

Bear and the Bowls

During Paul “Bear” Bryant’s early reign as head football coach, director of athletics and the nearest thing Alabama will ever see to a god, he decided which bowl he wanted his Crimson Tide to honor with their presence.

Bryant would call one of his coaching buddies, Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson, Georgia’s Wally Butts (a former Male High coach) or another top coach and they would decide where they wanted to play.

At that time there were only four major bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton) plus a few other minor ones. Now there are so many that all it takes is six wins to qualify and three or four of them are against rinky-dink opponents, so it isn’t all that much of an honor to qualify.

UK vs. class

Bryant had a great public-relations man in Charlie Thornton. He could get the Bear on any TV show he wanted the great coach on. I saw a Dick Cavett show on which Bryant turned on the charm and captivated,  Cavett.

Tennessee had a lot of first-class sports information directors and UT valued them and kept them on the payroll until they died.

And then there’s the University of Kentucky. UK has had some good sports information directors, but they weren’t making much money and they knew they weren’t,  valued or even respected.

One long-time SID was the lowest-paid man in the Southeastern Conference when he was hired and the lowest-paid when he retired. Had he been kept on the payroll, he would have been invaluable. Instead the state’s,  so-called premier university turns off former athletes or their survivors when they call to let them know a great Wildcat has died or asks for information about a former player.

A former UK vice president was proud that he hired an SID for $8,500 “when we were prepared to go to $12,000.”

I told the veep in his home that the man should have told him to take his job and show where to stick it.

To show you how much class UT representatives have, two of the old-timers showed up in Harlan for Cawood Ledford’s funeral.

Never surprised

I should have never been surprised at UK’s lack of public relations class. At Ermal Allen’s funeral, I sat between,  Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and a longtime football team physician.

There wasn’t a single person from UK in the crowd!

Who was Ermal Allen?

He was one of UK’s greatest all-around athletes. All-SEC in basketball. A top quarterback. A great coach at UK and Tom Landry’s top aide at the zenith of the Dallas Cowboys’ success.

Although he didn’t have much time to play, he was the top amateur golfer in Kentucky.

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Category: Sports

About the Author (Author Profile)

Earl Cox, Sports Columnist
502.897.8910

Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.

Comments (1)

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  1. Ermal Allen says:

    I was named for the UK and Dallas coach. When he died, one of my friends commented on seeing the Lexington headline, “Ermal Allen dies.” Wasn’t me!