Cawood Ledford

Cawood Ledford
Cawood Ledford

Cawood Ledford (April 24, 1926 – September 5, 2001) was a Hall of Fame and longtime radio play-by-play announcer for the University of  basketball and football teams. Ledford’s style and professionalism endeared himself to many sports  in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and he remains among the most popular sports figures in the state.

A native of Harlan, Kentucky, Ledford was educated at Hall High School and Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He began broadcasting high school basketball and football games for WHLN radio in Harlan in 1951 and began broadcasting  Wildcats games in 1953 after moving to Lexington.  He remained in his position of play-by-play announcer for University of Kentucky basketball for 39 years. His last game as an announcer for a Kentucky basketball game was in 1992, when Kentucky fell to Duke University 104-103 in the NCAA East Regional Final, a game widely considered to be the greatest college basketball game ever played.  In a gesture of appreciation, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski walked to the broadcast area immediately after the game’s conclusion and congratulated Ledford on his career.

He also worked as the play-by-play announcer for national radio broadcasts of the NCAA Men’s Final Four on the CBS Radio Network, and called many runnings of the Kentucky Derby for CBS Radio. Ledford also announced broadcasts of basketball games of the Kentucky Colonels, a successful American Basketball Association franchise. However, perhaps because of the success of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball program, Ledford is generally best remembered as a basketball announcer. In a 2001 dedication, the University of Kentucky named its basketball court at Rupp Arena in Ledford’s honor. The words “Cawood’s Court” and a radio microphone are painted on the floor in commemoration.

Cawood Ledford was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987. He won three Eclipse Awards for outstanding coverage of thoroughbred racing. He was also named Kentucky’s Sportscaster of the Year a record 22 times.

Ledford was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. Ledford is generally considered among the finest play-by-play commentators in the history of American sports broadcasting and is highly esteemed by his peers.  He was and remains a much beloved and respected figure in Kentucky, in college basketball, in college football, and in horse racing.

Commenting on Ledford’s legacy after his death, longtime friend and Lexington-based CEO of Host Communications, Jim Host, said “Cawood was the ultimate in genteel class. He exuded a quiet confidence, but always remembered who he was, where he came from and who he worked for.” In 1992 Host Communications published Cawood Ledford’s autobiography, Hello Everybody, This is Cawood Ledford, as told to sportswriter and author Billy Reed.

Ledford’s play-by-play style was known for its technical prowess, excellent command of the English language and colloquialisms, enunciative quality, gentility, timeliness, humor, and rapid but unhurried delivery. Listeners to his basketball radio broadcasts found that he was able to paint an extremely detailed visual picture of the game and call the action as it happened without sounding rushed. Fans observe that Ledford rarely let a call “lag” behind the action (e.g., when the sound of the crowd cheering is heard before the announcer comments on the game’s action). Ledford’s voice was generally higher pitched and mildly nasal, which allowed for clear enunciation. However, the tonal quality of his voice was smokey and resonant, which balanced a subtle twang and provided his listeners with a smooth and highly articulate delivery.

Among Ledford’s memorable sayings are:

  • “Hello Everybody, this is Cawood Ledford” — His “sign-in” at the beginning of his radio broadcasts is probably his most memorable saying
  • “The Wildcats will be moving from left to right (or right to left) on your radio dial.” — This now commonplace saying is thought to have originated with Ledford and was mentioned at the outset of basketball games
  • “Got it” — In reference to a made basket or free throw
  • “Slam” — Exclaimed in a drawn-out style after a dunk shot
  • “On the dribble” — A very common saying of Ledford’s, used when a player elected to dribble the ball rather than pass or shoot in an offensive attack
  • “Bullseye” — A made basket, especially a long-range shot
  • “He went to war on that one.” — Used to describe a player who demonstrated exceptional or extraordinary effort on a play while encountering significant physical opposition. Said especially of players who drove the lane and shot the ball while drawing a foul, fiercely contested for a rebound, or exerted sustained intense effort over the course of a key play.
  • “Puts it up and in” — Said of a close range shot made in heavy traffic
  • “The Cats are Runnin'” — A beloved saying of Ledford’s believed to have originated in the 1950’s when the Wildcats played in an almost exclusively up-tempo style
  • “Shoot it, Sean” — when Ledford suspected that a player was being too hesitant, he occasionally inserted into his commentary an exhortation to shoot
  • “He shot that one from Paducah” — After an especially long shot, Ledford would insert the name of a town in the state of Kentucky at the end of this saying for effect. Variant: When Kentucky played a road game, this changed to a local landmark. For example, after a long 3-point shot made by Rex Chapman in 1986 at Louisville, he changed it to “the Watterson Expressway.”
  • “It danced around a bit, but it finally fell”/”It had a lot of iron on it, but it finally fell” — Said of a made basket in which the ball bounced around the rim or backboard excessively before passing through the hoop.
  • “Any flags, Ralph?” — During Kentucky football games, if a Wildcat player scored a long touchdown, Ledford would ask long-time broadcast partner and color commentator Ralph Hacker if the referee had thrown a flag. This question was as much about genuine concern that the play would be called back as much as his remembering how many similar plays were negated due to Kentucky penalties in previous games. The humorous question caught on with fans, and is perhaps Ledford’s most memorable football saying.

Great article on ESPN Classic about Cawood.