Last September, Winchester Sun sports editor Keith Taylor invited me to speak to the Winchester Kiwanis Club.
During the speech to club members, I touched on how I got started broadcasting George Rogers Clark High School football and basketball games on the radio in 1987.
From 1960-67, my mother, step-father and I lived on a farm near Mays Lick in southern Mason County.
As an only child, I had few friends to play with after school. I spent hours shooting hoops at the goal on one of our barns. Tired of playing H-O-R-S-E against an imaginary opponent, I started to make up five-on-five games and pretended that I was broadcasting them on radio. As a player of limited ability, I realized early on that if I wanted to continue to be active in sports, it would probably have to be as a coach or broadcaster.
My inspiration in those days was the late Claude H. Sullivan. Long before the University of Kentucky had exclusive broadcast rights, there were as many as five different broadcasts of UK football and basketball games. While Cawood Ledford called games for WHAS in Louisville, Sullivan was the play-by-play announcer for WVLK in Lexington.
Sullivan was born in Winchester on Dec. 29, 1924. He grew up at 17 Belmont Avenue and played basketball for Winchester High School from 1940-42. However, an injury and bone infection forced him to miss his senior year.
Sullivan began his sportscasting career as the public address announcer for Winchester High basketball games. After high school, he took a job with WMCI in Ashland, followed by a three-year stint with WAVE in Louisville.
Sullivan broadcast his first Kentucky basketball game on New Year’s Day in 1945 in Madison Square Garden by tele-tape from a station in Kentucky. He began his association with WKLX in Lexington in 1946, calling both Kentucky football and basketball games.
In 1951, he organized the Standard Oil Sports Network, which included 17 stations, with WVLK as the flagship station. He continued to broadcast UK football and basketball games until 1967.
Sullivan also called the Kentucky high school Sweet Sixteen state tournament from 1947-1966. He did miss Clark County’s victory over Cuba in the championship game of the 1951 state tournament, because he was announcing a UK game at the time, but he received a telegram notifying him of the win.
In 1963, Sullivan joined the Cincinnati Reds radio network working with Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt. When Hoyt retired in 1965, Sullivan became the play-by-play announcer.
During his career, Sullivan received numerous awards and was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame, and the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. Some of this greatest games included UK’s 1958 NCAA tournament championship and the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome. Perhaps my favorite broadcast was Kentucky’s 27-21 upset of top-ranked Ole Miss in 1964 at Oxford.
One of Sullivan’s trademark lines late in close basketball games was, “This could be the most thrilling play of the season, you know.” That was how he prefaced UK’s Vernon Hatton’s 35-foot set shot with one second left in overtime that tied Temple and forced a second OT in the 1957-58 season, which may still be the most famous shot in UK basketball history. You can hear his call on a YouTube video, entitled, “The Best Seat in the House.”
In 1967, Sullivan was diagnosed with throat cancer. I remember listening to some of his post-game interviews with the Cincinnati Reds and recalled him barely being able to speak. He passed away on Dec. 6, 1967.
Sullivan’s death left a big void for me. He was the consummate professional and a voice that resonates even today with my own broadcasting career.