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Remembering Cawood


Twelve years ago, the Big Blue Nation lost its voice. Cawood Ledford passed away on this day back in 2001 after a year-long battle with cancer.

Cawood was the “Voice of the Wildcats” for nearly four decades, retiring after the 1991-1992 season, with his last UK broadcast being the classic (and tragic) Duke/UK game in the NCAA Tournament. The son of a coal miner, Ledford was born in Harlan, Kentucky on April 24, 1926 and served in the Marines during World War II. A true Kentucky boy, he went to Centre College and taught high school English before beginning his career calling UK basketball and football games in 1953. He worked 17 Final Fours, including UK’s 1958 and 1978 National Championships.

For those of us lucky to hear him call a game, Cawood was a member of the family. It was common practice in our house to turn down the TV and turn up the radio to hear his play-by-play, and to this day, my parents still say “Hey Cawood, are the Cats gonna win tonight?” when they call to talk about UK. Even though I was still very young when he retired, I remember laying on the floor and listening to him call games, and so many of his lines are still part of our Big Blue lexicon. For example:

“Hello Everybody, this is Cawood Ledford” — His signature sign-in

“The Wildcats will be moving from left to right (or right to left) on your radio dial.” — Many believe this saying originated with Ledford

“He went to war on that one.”

“The Cats are Runnin'”

“Got it”

For as much as Cawood was loved by UK fans, he was equally respected by his peers. His style and professionalism were unparalleled, but it was his passion for the game and his team that set him apart from the rest. As Oscar Combs said, Cawood was “your eyes, your ears, your judge, and your jury for everything that happened on the court.” Oscar’s right; at times, you could tell if the Cats were winning or losing just by the tone of Cawood’s voice. For a fanbase that is so intrinsically attached to its basketball team, he was the perfect storyteller.

Enjoy some clips of Cawood below, and please share your favorite memories below:

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

50 Comments for Remembering Cawood

  1. wildcat whisperer
    11:04 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Cawood was the very definition of “class act”, and an absolute treasure.

    Miss him dearly.

  2. Michael F. Jox
    11:08 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    “He went to war on that one” – That’s not what Cawood said, that’s what she said.

  3. Skeptic
    11:12 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    How old are you? His last game was called in 1992. If you are 28 or under I can’t imagine you remembering listening to Cawood call games.

  4. Jake from State Farm
    11:13 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Almost cried again watching the end of that game.

  5. Al/in/Indy
    11:15 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    While stationed in McConnel AFB just outside Wichita Ks. I would drive 30 miles to El Dorado to listen to the games during the early 70s to listen Cawood…….No one has ever did it better!

  6. kadizkat
    11:16 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    He truly was the best. TT, nice job.

  7. UKfan
    11:17 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Really enjoyed listening to Cawood call games.

  8. Radio Stuff
    11:25 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    My Dad and I (well Dad did, I listened) rigged up a radio antenna in Wheaton IL (near Chicago) perfectly cut & sized for WHAS to hear Cawood and the Cats. I’ll always remember Dad and I pulling our hair out after Joe B. would say to Cawood after the Cats (loaded w/talent) would loose a tight one to “middle nobody state”; “well Cawood, the boy’s just didn’t seem like they wanted to play tonight”…… UK Basketball Gold…

  9. DerbyDemon
    11:29 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    No one comes close to Uncle Cawood. There will NEVER be another one like him.

  10. jeff
    11:31 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    you should mention ralph hacker in this article he was a big part of what made Cawood great. They made a good team. And as much as i loved listening to Cawood Tom Leach is just as good although as you mentioned Cawood was almost part of the family

  11. bung
    11:32 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Great look back…thanks…could u fix me just a small sammich while we wait for the Cats to run again?

  12. Scavengers Bar
    11:38 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Thanks for posting those clips, Tyler……

    Makes me think of all those times I hid a transistor radio under my pillow as a child for those late games. I know now that my parents knew what I was doing, but it seemed like only Cawood and me.

  13. JS
    11:40 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Sorry Jeff, I have to strongly disagree with you, Tom is good;but know one was as good as Cawood. He definitely was one of a kind. I loved listening to him, I would turn the TV sound down and listen to him all the time, it was great. He is truly missed.

  14. The Blue Goose
    11:45 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I agree Tom Leach is at the top of the basketball-on-the-radio profession, but one of the things that made Cawood different was that for most games, he was the only option for most fans and he was awesome at what he did. On top of that, it seemed totally natural and effortless. As a kid in Missouri, I used to chose between the clock radio in my parents’ bedroom or the radio in the car. When I turned 16, I’d sometimes have to drive around to find the best signal, then park and listen.

    Nowdays, I still live in Missouri but have the ability to watch 90% of the games one way or another. If I can’t watch it, I can tune in static-free on the computer, which makes it effortless and not as special.

  15. The Blue Goose
    11:47 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    …and yes, Ralph Hacker was an important part of the broadcast. I even liked him when he was the main man after Cawood retired, but I’m in the minority there.

  16. Too Young
    11:50 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I had just turned 6 in march of 92 for “the shot” so i don’t remember listening to Cawood but from all the things i’ve seen on Youtube and heard in various forms of audio files he was quite a wordsmith. The end of the first clip “Come with me now to Memorial Coliseum or Rupp Arena for the tip off. Somewhere right now a boy or girl is dreaming of going to see the Wildcats play.. and maybe even being a Wildcat someday.” Gets me every time.

  17. Nitpicker
    11:52 am September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Not to pick nits, but Cawood’s last broadcast was the 1992 Championship Game, not the UK/Duke game (that was his last UK game).

  18. Kevin
    12:05 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    No lunch break for me. Watched the damn 92 clip. Sick to my stomach. I knew better.

  19. Chicago Chris
    12:11 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    My prevailing memory of Cawood was after Woods’s shot in ’92 when Hacker went on and on about how he had predicted a win were the game close and Cawood told him (in essence), “It’s not a win yet, Duke is #1 for a reason.” Damned if he wasn’t right. I recall being angry at Hacker afterwards for clearly celebrating before the game was over (even if he claimed he wasn’t). Cawood knew better. Hacker had a good voice but I felt he was more a talking head and I didn’t enjoy his years at the mic like I did Cawood.

  20. David
    12:22 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Looking to see if anyone has a better recording of the last game, as a teenager I recorded Cawood calling the game on several cassettes, poorly I might add. Even better would be a video of the game with Cawood dubbed over it, which was my original plan back then.

  21. The Blue Goose
    12:29 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I used to occasionally record call-in shows on cassette tape and found one of them a few years back. I wonder if I can find it again…

  22. BurnerTurner5
    12:30 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Cawood would be one of the four heads of a UK Mount Rushmore. Rupp,Cawood,Issel,Keightley.

  23. ryan in denver
    12:32 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    if I remember correctly, the memorial service for Cawood at Rupp Arena was cancelled by the 9/11 attacks. such a shame.

  24. Kentucky Packrat
    12:37 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    The best thing that happened to Cawood’s career was the year of no TV. Cawood got used to calling the Cats with people watching TV, so it was OK to miss a little action here and there, so long as you called “the shot”. In the no TV year, Cawood admitted that he had to get his game back up to snuff, to get back to where the audience didn’t need the TV. Without that experience, he probably could have cruised it in for another decade, but he would have faced a backlash and a drop of quality. Instead, he really did go out on top.

    IMHO, the greatest honor given to Cawood by his colleagues and competitors was CBS television switching over to the audio feed of Cawood on CBS Radio for his Final Four game. It takes a lot of ego suppression for an anchor to let that happen.

  25. Michael
    12:39 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    “Any flags, Ralph?”

  26. wildcatfan247
    12:46 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Nitpicker, Cawood was calling the 92 NCAA championship game and said someone congratulated him on his last game, he said last Saturday (92′ UK/Duke game) was my last game. I remember getting a transistor radio for Christmas with one of those old wide earphones and listened to all of UK’s games. I got a radio and cassette tape player one year and for 2 or 3 years, I recorded every UK game. I would stop the cassette during commercials and start recording after they went off so I didn’t have to listen to Al Purnell’s cause it’s good 20 times per game. 2012, in the NCAA tourney, when the games got tight, I couldn’t stand to watch so I would go out in the garage and listen to Tom Leach on the radio until I knew we had the game won. Brought back fond memories of my youth. How lucky we are to be fans of the greatest tradition in all of sports.

  27. Bucky_Trout
    1:18 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    #23, we need someone to photoshop that.

    1:39 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    19, Kevin. Same thing here. True story, after the Laettner shot my buddy slammed the radio we listened to during games and it broke into numerous pieces yet it continued to play as if Cawood’s voice was God.

  29. bb
    1:50 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Cant believe after 21 yrs I listened to that and still was yelling guard the guy taking ball out. wow! It will never go away. Never listened to cawoods version before. Didn’t realize Ralph jinxed us! I too, growing up in Ky. would listen to Cawood on radio over TV announcers.

  30. jimp
    2:01 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I am one of the older UK fans and have heard many broadcasters and no one has ever been as good as Cawood. That is why the networks would have him call the final four on radio,nation wide even when UK was not in it. It is a shame that many younger UK fans were not able to hear him. When you thought of UK sports, he was always one of the first people that came to mind, just like Rupp, Mr. Keightley, etc. He was the best in basketball and football also. I could listen to him and close my eyes and almost seem like I was at the games. That is how good he was. Cawood was probably the only person who could criticize the Cats if they were not playing well and get away with it. People would say ” You tell them, Cawood.” Today so many people would be on message boards and call in shows upset because he would have the nerve to say something negative about the Cats. He was also a first class person. He is the one who gave Paul Rogers who does UL games his start in the business and I have heard him and Tom Leach say many times that Cawood was far and away the best. As someone stated in an earlier post, I also think Tom Leach does a great job.

  31. cornbreadmafiacook
    2:08 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    One of my favorite Cawood memories comes from a game in the 80’s when the Cats were playing in Gainsville. Evidently one of Fla.’s cheerleaders blocked Cawood’s view of the action, leading to this exchange on the radio:

    C: “I’d like to apologise to the good people of Kentucky, because I can’t tell them what happened on the last play. One of the Fla. cheerleaders was shaking her fuzzy thing right in my face!”

    Ralph (deadpan): “That’s a pompom, Cawood”.

  32. KentuckyHouse
    2:15 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    ryan in denver, you’re correct. I was all set to attend Cawood’s memorial service, but it was cancelled due to the attacks of 9/11. I understand why they cancelled it, but it’s always bothered me that UK never tried to reschedule it after that. Cawood, for those of us lucky enough to have been able to listen to him, was a treasure and you didn’t fully realize how amazing he was until he was gone. The man deserved a proper memorial service with all of Big Blue Nation that wanted to be in attendance.

    To this day, that clip of Cawood borrowing Coach Rupp’s line in his farewell at the end of the Duke game can bring me to tears. He was one of a kind, never to be replicated.

    As for Hacker, never has a name been more fitting. I was never a fan of his and always thought he was a drag on the smooth voice of Cawood. I also didn’t like how he abandoned calling football at for the last few years of his career, yet kept calling basketball.

    Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with Tom Leach now. While I wouldn’t put him in the same Pantheon as Cawood (at least not yet), he’s an amazing announcer and some of his calls are legendary (think Stevie Getting Loose).

  33. Dude
    2:16 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I’ll never forget as a 16 year old kid Cawood and his wife walking into Arby’s in Corbin. The only thing I could say was “is that…”. His wife just smiled and said “yep”. He wrote me a note on the back of a tray liner and I still have it to this day.

    When I got a little older and started going to games at Rupp I learned that if I hung around long enough I could go down and talk with Cawood on the UK bench as he smoked cigarettes after the game. I actually did that so much that after a while I really felt like I knew him personally. During those early years of following UK basketball, Cawood WAS UK basketball to me.

  34. beavis606
    2:35 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I worked in the athletics association for two years in the 80’s and got to be around Cawood alot during game days. I have to say that he was a total jerk to everyone around him that was “below” him. He would keep a cop in front of him at halftime of games so he could smoke. No one could approach him before or after a game. I don’t know anyone who worked around him that was all that fond of him.
    My grandpa was such a fan of his that I never told him how Cawood acted in person. I just said “he’s just like he is on the radio”.

  35. hooters
    3:01 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Ledford at the annual UK game in Louisville. I think it was sometimes in the
    Late 80″s. We talked for about 10 minutes. He was one of the classiest persons I ever met. I told him about me being in Nam and listening to him doing the final games for armed forces radio. I told HIM THAT I TOLD all my friend s that he was a Kentuckian. He really seemed to enjoy me telling him that. I will always consider this a highlife in my life. RIP cawood you were a true cat fan and and a truly fine man

  36. Jim 1
    3:22 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    If the Cats were on tv you we always tuned Cawood in on the radio when possible. Sometimes you didn’t have to watch the tv, like Oscar said, Cawood painted a picture of the game with his voice.

    Some of my favorites: from the head of the keyhole (top of the foul line circle); comes across the time ribbon (half court line); threaded the needle, bingo, bottom of the bucket, etc (making a jump shot); the Cats are razor sharp ( scoring, passing, & running the fastbreak); he tickled the twines (when the ball goes through the goal touching only the net). Just a few of the phrases only Cawood could use in his picture of the game.

    No one could follow the ledgendary voice of the Wildcats. Thanks Cawood.

  37. jpbky2
    3:26 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    As much as I loved hearing Cawood call basketball games, I loved hearing his football broadcasts. I had an old LP that was a highlight of 1977 season that got water damaged. I would love to hear a Cawood football call or get a copy of that album again.

  38. BurnerTurner5
    3:38 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I guess next you’ll say that Bill Keightley was a jerk as well but Rick Pitino was really cool.

  39. BurnerTurner5
    3:39 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    The above comment was for Beavis606

  40. Jim 1
    3:56 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    To # 36 I’m glad you got to meet Cawood, such an honor. One thing I will always regret was letting this oppertunity slip by me. When Cawood retired he move back to his home in Cawood, Ky, a small community in the mountains of southeastern Ky. He owned a small farm where he loved to raise miniature horses. He never turned anyone away and loved show them the horses he breed. I’m told his wife was just the same as Cawood.

    I lived only 30 t0 40 minutes from his farm, as we say here in the mts. just over the hill. I never made that visit. I will ever regret the loss of being greeted by someone I loved as a child, listing to Cawood call the play-by-play of his KY Wildcats. Cawood made his Wildcats our Wildcats.

  41. Rich in Colorado Springs
    4:25 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    “Had a notion” I still use that phrase.

  42. Greg
    4:40 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I listened to Cawood for years and never understood how good he was until I started travelling around listened to other college announcers. Cawood simply was at another level of the game. He had a GREAT radio voice. It was smooth and his delivery made it even smoother. When he called a game you knew what was going on, who was playing well and who was not, both individually and as a team, how the refs were calling the game, and how the crowd was reacting to the game. He built all of that into his broadcasts and it sounded effortless.

    To give credit where credit is due, Ralph was the perfect sidekick. They both loved sports, you could tell by listening to the broadcasts, Ralph’s knowledge of UK sports was encyclopedic, and he knew just when to add a fact that put Cawood’s comments into perspective. My family never listened to television announcers when Cawood called the game; it seemed downright ridiculous and marginally criminal to miss out on Cawood.

    His football calling was every bit as good as his basketball and he called a darn fine horse race, too. Cawood was simply in a class by himself.

  43. NostraDanis
    4:56 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Although this will fade with time, I still consider Cawood the preeminent personality in Kentucky sports history. He is so closely attached to so many memories for so many people it is really amazing. My father got to spend a few minutes with him standing by the rail one day at the track and said he was every bit as humble and personable as you could hope for.

    Actually, I’m a little surprised no one has made a film about Cawood’s life; it really is a good story.

    As others have mentioned, he wasn’t just the gold standard in basketball, his horse-racing calls were also carried nationally for good reason. And, I can still hear him call it as Art Still rumbled down the field, “Look at the big guy go!”, or as Rex missed a free throw, “Chapman couldn’t throw in the ocean tonight.”

    Thank you and RIP Cawood.

  44. Plain Truth
    5:55 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I met him once through a mutual friend that had contracted him for commercials for a bank he was working for in the mid 80’s. I was told he was asked constant questions about UK, so in the half of an hour I spoke with him I tried to limit what was said. We talked a lot about the early career of Mohammad Ali, and the stories he could tell, even covering the first Clay vs. Liston fight for WHAS, he had great respect for his early ability’s. It did not take you long to know you were talking to a gracious professional who had been witness to a lot of sports history. One my favorite lines calling UK football (regrettably) “that one sent them to the exits”. And one of his many saying’s covering UK basketball, after the shot was away and after a short pause “Beauty”. This was a broadcasting talent on the national level; he could some how say it all with just a few words.

  45. Catty
    5:57 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Cawood was bigger than life, an icon.

    Having Billy Clyde on the clip was a definite downer

  46. Mick Lovell
    6:05 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    “Write it down.” Cawood was the game.

  47. ushouldno
    6:28 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I would turn ten years old in the summer of 1961 but in March of that year I became a UK and Cawood fan.
    On Friday March 17th I was tuning in channels on my Dad’s large box radio when I found a basketball game between U of L and Ohio State. A very exciting game in which U of L lost 56-55. The next night UK would play OSU in the Mideast regional final after beating Morehead on Friday. UK would lose to OSU but I became a fan that night when listening to Cawood describe the game it was like I was there. I could picture every play in mind.

    I got to see Cawood several times at the annual UK practice at Freedom Hall before the Norte Dame game.
    My Dad even got his autograph. Cawood was the best and I am so fortunate that I got to listen to him that night 52 years ago. It made me a UK fan for life.

  48. Michael Schroerlucke
    7:23 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    Brings back memories Cawood is a legend and I can clearly always hear the call of the Sean Woods shot only if it was the game winning shot that night what those 4 seniors might have done with Mashburn in the Final Four that year. We can only sit back and dream. Thanks for the memories lets hope Tom gets to call number 9 this year.

  49. dgtuk
    9:37 pm September 5, 2013 Permalink

    I was fortunate to attend that UK-Duke game that night. It was my first game since UK had been put on probation…forced my wife to go with me to Philly….bought tickets from a scalper and was so excited to be there. The energy in the Spectrum that night was unlike ANYTHING I have ever experienced.

    This is the first time I have ever heard Cawood’s call of the game….the class and professionalism of this man was unparalleled. Not a coach K fan, but I recall hearing after the game he came over and asked to be on the UK network with Cawood..congratulating the team on a great game and Cawood on a great career. Cawood was the best …. pure and simple