Voices of the Field

By Katie Faulkner | Photography by Lanewood Studio

Featuring big personalities, past and present, of long-time press box announcers and radio play-by-play (pbp) broadcasters, these voices have defined high school football stadiums across the Chattanooga area for decades. From catchphrases to the most memorable plays to the excitement of Friday night lights – these vocal personalities lend a voice to the game that binds us.

George “Little Man” Ricks

The Howard School | Voice of the Howard Hustlin’ Tigers | 1983 – Present

George has always had a penchant for school spirit – he was a cheerleader at Riverside High School as a teenager and was always responsible for pumping up his classmates. Once his son and nephew began attending The Howard School, George and his wife became involved – in everything from ACT prep classes to George’s 35-year run in the press box. With a love of all sports and a special place in his heart for the students, George has certainly made his mark on the Howard community.

How did you start announcing for Howard?

When our son, George, began high school, we just volunteered our time at Howard wherever they needed us. For 12 years, my wife and I stood at the front doors of the school every morning to greet students on their way in, just telling them to have a good day. So when the team needed an announcer, I volunteered.

How did you develop your style as an announcer?

In the beginning I know I made a lot of mistakes, but after you do it every week, you start to get better. I just got into it and tried to create my own little style. I would stretch out a kid’s name and use nicknames. I try to include as many names as I can throughout the game, even if they aren’t directly involved in plays. So sometimes you’ve got to get creative. I’ll call out the offensive line during a break or things like that. Because it means so much to the kids. You can shout out to the cheerleaders and the band – just to recognize the children and their efforts.

How do you demonstrate sportsmanship?

I don’t lower my voice if they’re beating us. If a kid makes a touchdown, he makes a touchdown, and I call it. We try to set an example of good sportsmanship and respect. I do get excited for Howard, but I’ll always be respectful of the other team too, because we’re being watched by children. They might be at war on the field, but they’ll shake hands afterward and hug and pray together. And that’s the bottom line. The children show better sportsmanship than the adults sometimes.

How do you prepare for a game?

I get the rosters and try to stay relaxed. My wife helps more than most people realize. If I didn’t see who all was in on a play, she’ll tell me. We like to go to a lot of away games too. It’s a good way to stay informed and see what other teams are doing. We just really like to get to know the community through sports.

How do you hope visitors perceive your stadium based on you?

I would hope that people feel welcome. I’ve had people thank me afterward for being fair and trying to recognize all the players. But mostly, I want them to have a good experience and show them that Howard is the place to be!

(above) Left: Corky Whitlock circa 2000. Right: Corky (right) with Bob Henshaw, 1980, covering Lee College basketball.

Corky Whitlock

Bradley Central | Voice of Bradley Central | 1961 – 2014

Legendary, award-winning, iconic, class act. These are just a few adjectives that scores of fans would use to describe Corky. His illustrious career as a play-by-play radio announcer for Bradley Central football was built on the foundation of a humble upbringing by a circuit preacher from DeKalb County and a passion for all things sports. With an unforgettable baritone voice, Corky was the longest tenured radio sports announcer in TSSAA history when he retired in 2014 after 53 years.

What drew you to broadcasting?

In high school I was in several plays with speaking parts and also emceed a beauty pageant, and I guess that’s when I got the radio bug. I enrolled in broadcasting school in Nashville and graduated early, in about eight months. The class was asked if anyone would be interested in a radio job in Florida, and I raised my hand. So I moved to Crestview, FL, and met my wife, Annette, there. There came a job opening for an AM radio station in Cleveland that needed a sports announcer, so we moved to Cleveland so I could begin at WBAC in 1961.

Did you have an announcer role model?

Yes, one of my teachers in broadcast school was Larry Munson who was working in Nashville at the time and later became the legendary football announcer for the Georgia Bulldogs.

 What was your favorite part of calling games?

I’m a people person and really enjoyed getting to know the kids and doing post-game interviews with them and the coaches. I just really loved sports and took every opportunity to be around them. Later on I coached Dixie Youth baseball and stayed with that for over 35 years.

What do you think is the most important aspect of announcing? Being fair to both teams and painting a verbal picture for the listeners who depended on me to be their eyes.

The following questions were answered by longtime friend and co-worker, Gary Ownby

What did his voice add to the identity of Bradley County football?

Oh he had this golden voice, like dripping honey, I guess a baritone, with the range of Elvis’ speaking voice. His delivery was amazing. I’ve heard people say over and over, ‘Corky we were winning by 30 points but you had us on the edge of our seats!’ and it was because of his delivery.

Did he have any catch phrases or sounds?

Well if there’s a football in the play, like when a running back was carrying the ball, he’d say ‘Well he’s carrying the ole’ apple up the middle.’ For basketball, if a player hit a long range shot he’d holler ‘Bingo!’

Special thanks to Gary Ownby and Annette Whitlock

Dr. Dan Kennedy

Baylor School | Voice of the Red Raiders | 1982 – Present

Now 36 years into announcing Baylor football games from the press box, Dan actually began announcing with the school’s basketball program in 1974. With a background in college radio, this long-time math teacher has polished his ability to keep fans informed and equally entertained with quirky phrasing, professionalism, and a big personality.

How did you get into announcing?

I was an undergrad from 1964 to 1968 at Holy Cross, and I was always interested in radio – at that time, it was different from what it is now, being a DJ was a big deal in every town. There was a college station at Holy Cross, and I started as an announcer, then ended up as a station manager before I graduated.

Can you give me an example of your support for Baylor?

I’m essentially an officer of the court, and the TSSAA doesn’t like too much partisanship – I think it’s rather un-sportsman-like. However, completely separate from my announcing, I was involved with the Baylor spirit club for years. And we worked to fire people up prior to the McCallie game. Many years ago, my brother and I did radio commercials before the game, mostly spoofs of current ads. Back when McDonald’s had the ‘Nobody can do it like McDonald’s can’ jingle, we did a ‘Nobody can lose it like McCallie can’ commercial. 

What is your favorite part of the games?

If it rains, I have a good seat. [laughs] In all seriousness, I enjoy being close to the program because my skills as a coach would be zero, so this is my way to stay close to the sports. Announcing draws you in closer, because you have a more intimate knowledge of the team, which takes you to the next level as a fan.

Do you have any catch phrases or a signature style?

I enjoy throwing weird tidbits in when I can. It keeps it interesting to sometimes slip in a more obscure phrase and catch the crowd off-guard. For instance, we were playing Ooltewah and there was a gang tackle, so I said our player was tackled by a ‘parliament of owls’ – it’s the collective noun for owls, but you never really hear it. Or once, we got a 15-yard penalty and no one knew why. The refs hadn’t really made it clear. So I said the team was penalized for ‘doing something bad.’

In your opinion, what is the most important part of announcing?

I guess just keeping people informed. I know there are a lot of people who understand when the touchdown is being scored or a tackle is being made. But there are a lot of other parts of the game that they might not understand, and I feel like that is an important part of my role.

Chris Goforth

Boyd Buchanan School | Voice of the Buccaneers | 2005 – 2015

Chris began play-by-play announcing his senior year of high school and hasn’t stopped since. He has called high school football games for 23 years and also does UTC’s football, men’s and women’s basketball, and softball games on ESPN3 and the SoCon Digital Network. He also teaches a broadcasting class at Chattanooga State. As the voice of the Buccaneers on Friday night radio for more than a decade, Chris was instrumental in the development of Boyd Buchanan’s broadcast program.

What made you want to call games?

I figured it out when I was 11. I was never going to hit a curveball, never going to be 6’9” and play basketball, never going to be fast enough to play receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, so announcing was how I could stay close to the games. There’s an intimacy with radio that you just don’t get on television, especially when it’s high school football. Radio is so unique in a lot of ways. Being able to be a storyteller and paint a picture with your words – it’s becoming a lost art.

What are some of the major milestones of your announcing career?

Getting a chance to call South Pittsburg games in 1999, when they were the #1 scoring offense in the nation – you get really good at perfecting your touchdown calls when the team is that good. The 2009 state championship game at Boyd Buchanan was special. What a great group of kids. And then the playoff game against Friendship Christian, where Jim Cardwell played the second half of the game on a broken ankle – man he left it all on the field! For the last three years, I’ve been lucky enough to announce at the Corky Kell Classic. It’s a kickoff to the high school season for teams in the metro Atlanta area. Those games are always fun to do because the kids that you see play, two years later, you see them starting in the SEC. Those kids are unbelievably talented.

How do you prepare for a game?

Preparation is key, and I probably spend five to 10 hours a week in the evenings getting ready for a broadcast. I’ve developed a system over the years that works for me –
I’ll spend Thursday nights preparing my spotting boards with the lineups and a lot of important information I’ve collected from the internet and newspapers. It’s all colored coded, and my kids used to tell people, ‘Daddy’s job is watching football and playing with markers.’ 

What is your favorite part of the games?

When that ball gets kicked off to start the game. There is just nothing like that anywhere. That’s the “pinch me!” moment. I also love playoff games. I love football in November – that’s when we’re first getting cool down here in the South. That means you’ve made it to the playoffs.

Dave Weikel

Notre Dame | Voice of the Irish | 2004 – Present

After practicing law for 15 years, Dave decided to try something new. His daughter attended Notre Dame, so Dave asked to be put on their sub list to give academia a try. After being asked on full-time, he fell into a well-loved pasttime of announcing sporting events. Now he’s been announcing Notre Dame sports for 15 years and considers it not only an exciting program to be a part of, but also a great responsibility to the fans and players.

What made you want to call games?

When I was a freshman in college, as soon as I stepped on the campus I found out they had a radio station. It intrigued me, so I talked to some people and was asked how I felt about doing play by play for the radio station. So I began announcing football and basketball for Grove City College.

Did you have any announcers that you admired?

There were a couple of guys that I admired and I tried to style myself after them a bit. No one as flamboyant as Harry Caray or anything like that. I enjoyed the Yankees’ announcer and Pat Summerall. There were more guys that I didn’t like than I did like, and I learned just as much from them.

Any major milestones in your career announcing for Notre Dame?

Last year was the very first time that our football team played for the state championship, which was a high watermark for the program. It was an exciting season!

Can you give me some examples of your fandom?

As the PA announcer, I believe I’m not to show any kind of bias between the teams. I’m trying to inform the fans of what happens and who was involved. Now, during Friday night football, when it’s a big third down experience, I do try to get the crowd involved, making some noise.

How do you engage the crowd?

I like to play classic rock as the players are getting warmed up and at halftime. I do it for the fans, and they really enjoy it. I’ll get requests sometimes and always try to work them in.

In your opinion, what is the most important part of announcing?

I would say giving the fans a better experience – if there was no announcer, the fans would be on their own trying to determine what happens during each play. So I think I lend my voice to them so that they aren’t left trying to figure out what’s going on.

What’s your favorite part of announcing for Notre Dame?

I really enjoy what I do. It’s a lot of work, but if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t continue to do it every year. I’m a sports nut, and there’s nothing quite like being at a live sporting event, of any level. There’s an energy that exists there, and that’s what I take away from it the most.

Dave Weikel

Notre Dame | Voice of the Irish | 2004 – Present

Johnny is a play-by-play announcer for McMinn Co. High School on WJSQ FM – a job he’s held for 46 years. He graduated from McMinn Co. in 1969, then went on to attend Cleveland State and the University of Tennessee. He was baptized by fire in the early 70s when he was called to the front lines as a morning disk jockey, and he has stuck with it ever since. He knows that his most avid listeners are grandmas, grandpas, and other relatives,  so he makes a special effort to mention every player involved.

How did you get into radio announcing?

In 1970, a classmate was working at a local station and told me they had a part-time opening. After I started, I found out that the station might add a new jock, and I wanted to give it a shot. But next thing I knew, they had cleaned house – fired everyone! The following January a new station manager called me and said, “You’re the new morning jock!” So that put me right in the middle of basketball season calling games, and I just got hooked.

What changes or advancements have you seen in broadcasting?

Back in the day, we had to call the phone company and order a ‘dedicated loop’ to be installed in the press box to transmit our broadcast. There was no two-way communication between you and the station, so you had no idea if you were on the air or not. You’d have to find a phone and call the station to make sure the line was hot. And sometimes, you might drop off the air for a few minutes and you’d never know.

What is a standout memory from when you began broadcasting?

One of the first games I called was a playoff game for Meigs Co. at Powell Valley, so I called and asked if they had a press box. They said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a press box!’ But they didn’t tell me it was only big enough for two people, and their coaches were going to be in it. So it was raining and about 35 degrees and there we sat in the stands, holding our broadcast equipment, trying to keep the rain off of it and not freeze to death!

What is the hardest type of play to narrate?

Back in the 70s, we went to Loudon County to play, and Bert “Chig” Ratledge was their coach. He ran the wing T, and McMinn was running the sprint back veer – I had never seen the wing T at that point, and it’s kind of based on deception and pulling guards, so I couldn’t find the ball to save my life! That was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had calling.

Tom Lord

Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School | Voice of the Warriors | 2003 – 2017

Tom played trombone in his high school and college marching bands, so he’s always been around football. Growing up in Hixson, attending UTC, then landing a job teaching math at LFO High School, he translated his passion for sporting events into a role spotting for the football team’s public address system announcer. After spotting for several years, Tom finally had his chance to step up to the mic – and has stayed there for the past 14 years!

Did you have announcer role models?

Actually yes, Bobby Denton (the former voice of Neyland Stadium) – I liked him because I knew that he timed what he was saying to cue the crowd when to cheer. The announcer can’t be a cheerleader, but with smart timing and inflection he can cue the crowd to cheer. The way he did that always impressed me.

What is your favorite part of announcing?

I work at the school, and I love LFO, so this is my way of helping out and staying involved. A high school is a big machine, and it takes a lot of people to make it go. I also love the stories of each individual player and getting to know the kids better. It’s all about the students and making sure they stay excited about what they’re doing. Just being a part of the enthusiasm is so much fun.

What’s the best feedback you’ve ever gotten?

I know that I get pretty loud, and some of the students who live near the stadium will tell me, ‘Mr. Lord, we could hear you at our house!’ which I love to hear. [Laughing] I’ve also been told that, ‘Angus Young is calling LFO football games’ – he’s the guitar player for ACDC, not the singer, but I got the gist!

How do you engage the crowd?

Well, if the other team has the ball and it’s third and three, I’ll intentionally wait until they break the huddle to go back to the line of scrimmage, then I’ll announce, ‘It’s third and three!’ – it draws the crowd back in and puts the pressure on.

In your opinion, what is the most important part of announcing?

When you’re announcing, you should not be the focus. No one came to hear you talk; they came to watch the game. It’s about the players, coaches, cheerleaders, band, and the school. It’s about the students. I try to give the band and cheerleaders a shout out whenever I can and to announce things about the school and the community.

Sonny Hicks

Cleveland High School | Voice of the Blue Raiders | 1974-2005

In three decades of calling games from the press box, Sonny’s enthusiastic approach created a vibrant personality for Cleveland High School’s football stadium. He called games throughout all of coach Benny Monroe’s tenure and saw Cleveland’s state championship streak in the early 90s. Even with such prolific success in the football program during his announcing career, Sonny’s sincere excitement and involvement was always about the kids.

What made you want to call games for Cleveland?

I was born and raised in Cleveland, graduated from Bradley Central in 1953, and all of my children went to Cleveland High. My wife was a majorette for Mr. Higgins at Bradley, and then our daughter was in the band for Mr. Higgins at Cleveland. Our son played basketball. Our kids’ involvement really led our interest in supporting the school. I just sort of naturally fell into it.

Any memorable milestones in your career?

I guess I would have to say calling state playoff games. They won a few during my time there: ’93, ’94, and ’95. That was a big winning streak with 54 wins in a row. It was the same group of guys, and they just had a lot of energy and chemistry. Not many people know this, but I saved the rosters from all 52 wins.

Do you have any signature sayings?

I always liked to announce the name of someone who made a touchdown in a really strong voice and announce how many yards he ran. They liked to hear their names called, and that’s one thing that I always tried to do – if a guy made a good run or got a great tackle or made a big play, I always tried to say their name really loudly and make a big deal out of it.

How do you engage the crowd?

I think anytime that you can express something with enthusiasm, you can get a crowd involved. I tried to be in the moment at all times so that I was always sincerely excited. In my experience, if you showed excitement, they tended to be excited.

In your opinion, what is the most important part of announcing?

Well, I think number one is being enthusiastic, but then I think you also really need to know the players. I didn’t go into the locker room every week, but I did go in often and visit. I watched their practices from the stands and looked over at the practice field. It’s about giving the team credit for what they’re doing.

Rick Zeisig

Dalton High School | Voice of the Catamounts | 1992 – Present

As an award-winning radio personality, Rick has called games for the Catamounts for decades. A graduate of the Dalton High School class of 1980, he will begin his 27th season doing play-by-play announcing this fall. Rick has overcome extreme challenges to remain steadfast as the influential Voice of Harmon Field.

How did you begin calling games at Dalton High?

I had been involved with radio since I was 16 years old, plus I was always a huge fan of high school sports. In ’92 I was working for the local TV station taping the games, so I was already in the press box every Friday night. My eighth grade football coach and science teacher, Ray Broderick, had been announcing, and when he retired, he sort of showed me the ropes. It just happened naturally.

Did you have any announcers that you admired?

I was always impressed by John “Records” Landecker – he’s the reason I got on the radio in the first place! And one thing Ray taught me that stayed with me was, when you announce a kid’s name, they have a mama in the stands, so say their first and last name. And always be respectful of the visiting team and do the same for them.

What are the major milestones of your announcing career?

Back in the 2005 season, we discovered a lump on my neck that turned out to be stage four throat cancer. We were able to schedule surgery for an away game and an off week, so it was a week and a day and then I came back and did the next game. After I came back, prior to kick off one game, they had me come down to the field. The assistant principal made an announcement about how I haven’t missed a game, and the coach gave me an autographed game ball. That was really touching.

Do you have any catch phrases?

It’s funny, it really happened by accident, but I called a first down one time, and the timing was just perfect. So I kept it up. I’ll say, ‘And the man in the white hat says, Catamount first down!’ – and I try to time it right as he moves his arm to indicate first down.

How do you prepare for a game?

I get there at least an hour and a half before kickoff to get all the info I need. I try to talk with a lot of the fans. In fact, I have a tradition of shaking hands with the first person I see coming up the steps. I try to stop and talk to them for a minute, find out who they’re there for and things like that.

What do you feel is the most important part of game calling?

To be fair and honest. If I feel a ref has made a terrible call, to not over emphasize that, and just make it an enjoyable experience.

Bob Sherrill

South Pittsburg | Voice of the Pirates | 1958 – Present

Bob will kick off his 60th year announcing for the South Pittsburg Pirates this fall. Born and raised in South Pittsburg and associated with the football team through four head coaches’ tenures, he is privy to one of the oldest and most intense high school football rivalries in Tennessee – South Pittsburg vs. Marion County. But as the voice of the Pirates, he makes it his goal to sound impartial and show visiting fans one of the classiest receptions they will receive anywhere.

In your opinion, what is the most important part of announcing?

Probably setting the tone for good sportsmanship and fair play. [chuckles] Whether it works all the time or not is a different story. Some of the fans are more passionate about the game than the players are.

How do you prepare for a game?

First, I get the starting lineups and names of officials from the coach. I read TSSAA’s statement about fair play. I’ll read over our sponsors’ commercials – I’m required to do about four commercials during each quarter. And then I announce the starting lineups for both teams. I always try to give the visiting team a special welcome. For big rivalry games, I make sure the crowd knows how old the rivalry is (for example between Marion Co. and South Pittsburg).

What is your favorite part of the games?

The best part is always winning – as it is for everybody, I’m sure. I guess I really enjoy announcing the starting lineup and coaches for both teams. There is always excitement in those first few moments of a game.

What is the hardest type of play to narrate?

Anytime there is a questionable call. The officials are good and professional, but occasionally if you get a bad call, you have to work to keep your cool and not second guess them over the microphone. I’ve got the best seat in the house, you know.

Any standout moments from your career?

One of the things that I have enjoyed most about being involved with the football program is that our little 1A school is rich in history and tradition – they’ve won several state championships.

How do you hope visitors perceive Beene Stadium based on your voice and personality?

Some announcers are biased, and I’ve always tried not to be that. I’m sure I put more emphasis on touchdowns we make than touchdowns they make, but I’ve had compliments from big schools in the area for being fair and giving credit where credit is due. Mainly I hope they experience the thrill of a good game.