SEC’s golden generation of radio featured in “More than a voice”

The first time I heard Tennessee football announcer John Ward exult, as only he could, “Give him six!” To describe a touch of the volunteers, I looked at my father questioningly. He just smiled.

I was probably 11, maybe 12, and listening on a transistor radio, which is more of a relic now than even a rotary telephone.

As a young child growing up in the Carolinas, I experienced those fall Saturdays in the late 1970s and early 1980s when men like Larry Munson, Jim Fyffe, Cawood Ledford, John Ferguson, John Forney , Jack Cristil and Ward were as much a part of SEC football for me as Herschel Walker, Willie Gault, Major Ogilvie and Bo Jackson.

Damn, even Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley and John Majors.

Also hard to believe for the younger generation, especially when virtually all college football games are now televised, very few college football games were on TV for those of us approaching our 60s who grew up with a only TV at home (three network channels and no cable), no internet and – gasp – No mobile phones.

Radio was our channel to college football and all its pageantry, and the unmistakable voices that brought these players, games and moments to life have remained in our hearts forever.

As I step back in time, I remember that I hadn’t seen the Southland’s Tennessee Pride Marching Band open into the giant “T” and the players rushed to the field at Neyland Stadium, but I felt like I did it because of Ward. I didn’t see Herschel crush Bill Bates on the goal line, but I felt like I did because of Munson. I didn’t see Bo go past the top in Bryant’s last Iron Bowl, but I felt like I did because of Fyffe. Sure, I saw some highlights and clips, but there was nothing quite like listening to and imagining those magical moments live and feeling like you were there.

Sadly, just about all of the golden-throated giants of that glorious radio era are now gone, but we’re taking a wonderful stroll back in time thanks to the SEC Storied documentary “More Than A Voice,” which debuts on Sunday in 7 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

My eyes have moistened more than once looking at a forward projection of the room. In our job, we are taught to be neutral, not to be part of history and never to applaud in the press gallery.

But what made Ward and Munson so great was that fans in Tennessee and Georgia knew they were one of them. With Ward, it was the characteristic inflection of his voice, his wit, and his impeccable sense of timing about what to say and when to say it that got him so drawn to Tennessee fans. With Munson, it was his raw emotion, his unbridled passion, and the way he made every room feel like it was life or death for the Dawgs.

These men were part of an era when radio broadcasters were deeply embedded in the culture of the entire college community and captivated generations of fans in their own way.

Example: I never saw Walker play in a live televised game in his 1980 freshman season until Game 8 against South Carolina in an ABC national television contest. But I was certainly listening on the night of September 6 that year when Walker welcomed into the college football world in a 16-15 victory over Tennessee when Munson, in his gritty voice, said the words. now famous: “Oh, you, Herschel Walker. … My God, a freshman!”

It was a treat for me when Georgia was playing at night around this time and the same for Tennessee. You see at night I could get WSB 750-AM in Atlanta and listen to the Dawgs and WNOX 990-AM in Knoxville and listen to the Vols, albeit with crackling signals that faded as I passed. from radio to radio at my home in Rock Hill, SC. Daytime games were disappointing because those out-of-town radio signals just didn’t carry far enough during the day. That is, unless the “Pick a Dixie” show on one of the local radio stations is showing a game that Saturday.

As night fell each fall Saturday, I started with the transistor, then went to my parents’ wooden stereo in the living room (usually only used for Sunday dinners) and then to the my father’s car radio, scrolling the dial back and forth. , as long as I promised not to drain the battery.

And the truth is, I didn’t listen to Vols and the Dawgs as much as I did to Ward and Munson. I remember their famous calls as well as the birthdays of my wife and children.

  • “Watch the sugar fall from the sky.”

  • “I broke my chair. I walked through a chair, a metal steel chair with a cushion about 5 inches.”

  • “Willie Gault, ladies and gentlemen, run to the State Capitol.”

  • “Mike Terry intercepts the pass in the end zone on a deflection, and the crowd is going… be-zerk.”

I could go on and on with the legendary calls of all the radio broadcasters of that era, because they all inspired me, and yes, entertained me too.

My favorite memory of Munson came shortly before his retirement in 2008. I was covering a Tennessee-Georgia game at Sanford Stadium, and Munson – wearing one of his usual warm-up costumes at the time – got into heavily. a crowded men’s room at half-time.

Looking down the long line to the only booth in the place, Munson huffed a few times, then walked to the front of the line and knocked on the door.

“Are you getting close in there?” Munson repeated several times.

He might as well have called a fourth down on the goal line for the Dawgs. I have often wondered what the guy in that stall was thinking when he heard that voice – of all voices – knocking on his door.

I never had the chance to tell Munson what he meant to me before he died in 2011 at the age of 89. I was lucky with Ward, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 88.

Early one morning, I visited Ward at the senior center where he was living with an illness that was to take his life. I have been fortunate to know Ward personally over the years. But this time my chin was shaking as I did my best to make him understand how many lives he had touched so deeply – including mine.

He smiled warmly, slowly nodded and said in vintage Ward style, “That’s very sweet.”

I like to think that it was his people, the iconic radio hosts from my childhood, who guided me and so many others throughout our career path.

They inspired us to dream and to pursue those dreams.

Thank you.

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