Let’s take a stroll down the corridor of time and hear a familiar friend whose voice echoed across the Kentucky airwaves as a welcomed guest in the homes of all who tuned in. The sign on was always the same… “Hello Everybody, this is Cawood Ledford” and that introduction meant one thing, the University of Kentucky Wildcats were getting ready to play basketball.
From 1953 to 1992, Cawood was the smooth talking, Southern gentleman, who was a family member to all Kentucky basketball fans. Across the bluegrass and throughout the Big Blue Nation, the porchlights on homes didn’t go out until Cawood had finished his broadcast of the latest Wildcat game. His ability to use words to paint vivid and vibrant pictures as the Wildcats played would transport people through their radios to the playing floor anywhere in the SEC when the Cats were playing.
“The Wildcats will be moving from left to right on your radio dial.” That phrase let the fans know the direction everyone was moving on the court. “He went to war on that one.” Described the battle taking place under the bucket or the scamper for a loose ball. “Bullseye,” was the phrase that highlighted a timely jump shot. “He shot that one from Paducah,” was a favorite phrase to describe a shot that was taken a long way from the bucket. And of course there was the classic, “it danced around a little bit, but it finally fell” …describing a ball as it lively bounced around the rim.
The words, the phrases, the gentleness, and the friendly sound of his voice had the ability to connect with fans who would often listen to the game on the radio, turn down the sound on the television if the game was televised, and let Cawood Ledford handle the play by play. Even though he was employed by the university, Ledford tended to call the game as a hometown fan, but always fair enough to describe what was really going on.
Coach Adolph Rupp had told him once, “Cawood, when you see one of our teams dogging it… burn ‘em”
In the rafters of Rupp Arena, there is a blue banner with his name and a microphone that commemorates his special place in the heart of Kentucky fans. Former president Bill Clinton paid tribute to him in 1999. The speech which took place in Hazard, Kentucky included these words, “I was thinking if old Cawood had been a political announcer instead of a basketball announcer, and I could have kept him with me these last twenty five years, I’d never lost an election.”
After numerous awards and accolades, it was Dick Vitale of ESPN who included him on “Dick Vitale’s Mount Rushmore of All Golden Voice” * as the sportscaster honored legends of the game. Cawood Leford is a Kentucky legend, but he is a part of the memories that UK fans hold so dearly and so close to their hearts.
As we move into the off season, all of us once again are watching closely as to who is staying for another year in Lexington, which players are going to the NBA Draft, how many players have entered the transfer portal, who might be coming into the program via transfer, and who is in the next group of high school athletes that will join Coach Calipari for a new chapter in Kentucky basketball. Each of us have memories of the players and seasons past, they excited us and frustrate us at times, but each remind us of the love we have for this great game and the way it is played at the University of Kentucky. There are new memories waiting to be made – let’s get ready for another season.
* (Dick Vitale’s Mount Rushmores of College Basketball. 2018 Nico 11 Publishing)