Last Call: The Voices That Define Sportscasting

This past weekend, the Thoroughbred racing community bid Tom Durkin, the Voice of New York Horse Racing, adieu as he stepped into retirement following a 43 year career.

Durkin’s voice could have been heard calling more than 80,000 races including the Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown, and Breeders’ Cup races.

Announcers like Durkin are part of a long tradition that, in part, trace their origins back to the University of Kentucky where an earlier announcer pioneered much of what we recognize as modern sports broadcasting today.

In Voice of the Wildcats: Claude Sullivan and the Rise of Modern Sportscasting, Alan Sullivan, Claude Sullivan’s son, along with Joe Cox, give the behind-the-scenes account of the man whose voice embodied University of Kentucky Athletics from 1947 to 1967. The 1940s witnessed an explosion in sports broadcasting across the country, and when Sullivan, a seventeen-year-old from Winchester, Kentucky, took up the microphone, he became part of a rapidly changing field. Sullivan’s career developed as Kentucky began its rise to prominence and spanned the first four NCAA Basketball Championships under Coach Adolph Rupp. He also revolutionized the coverage of athletics by introducing a coach’s show with Kentucky football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It was not only copied by other institutions but would also become an important innovation that paved the way for the modern televised sports entertainment industry.

While Sullivan never had the Thoroughbred racing bona fides of Durkin, he did call races including Tim Tam’s 1958 Bluegrass Stakes photo finish win.

That race call, along with 27 other archived audio files spanning Sullivan’s career announcing UK basketball and football games (plus a few with the Cincinnati Reds), can be found on the Voice of the Wildcats website. There, you can also read an excerpt from the book and look through photos documenting the work of the original Voice of the Wildcats, David Sullivan.

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