In an effort to continue promoting the area youth and schools, for the first time in 53 years the “Voice of Bradley County sports” can now be heard coming from a new venue.
Ever since he came to town in 1961, local radio sports broadcasting pioneer Corky Whitlock could be heard on WBAC, or one of its affiliate FM stations, but this past week the 75-year-old, and his longtime announcing partner Gary Ownbey, could be found on a different spot on the dial — Talk 101.3 FM “The Buzz.”
“We had been exploring opportunities to increase our (broadcast) coverage area and this presented the best option to do that,” explained Whitlock. “We talked about it and looked at a couple of different ways. After talking with Steve (Hartline, owner of WCLE), we felt good that his vision and desire to promote our local high school teams and kids was the same as ours.”
Since the mid 1990s, Whitlock and Ownbey’s broadcasts of high school sports from Bradley Central, Cleveland and Walker Valley, had been bounced around by the ownership of the East Tennessee Radio Group to several of their FM stations (95.3, 93.1 and 93.9) before being shifted back to WBAC-AM for the most recent basketball season.
“Being on the FM gives us a much larger coverage area, so its easier for fans to pick us up, plus we will once again be streaming on the Internet around the world,” Ownbey added. “When we were able to do that before, we had people from here serving in the military, or who had moved away, letting us know how much they appreciated being able to listen to their hometown sports. When Terrence Oglesby was playing here, his family back in Sweden would listen to his games at 3 and 4 in the morning while sitting outside in their cars.”
With a combination of more than 120 years of on air experience, Whitlock (58), Ownbey (22) and coach Earl Rowan (40-plus years of Bradley Central football), will be joining WCLE’s bountiful bevy of veteran broadcasters, including Terry Evans and Scott Carroll, who have been announcing Cleveland High football together for the past for 23 years. Evans, who began his radio career in 1974, also does some basketball games, along with Keith Arnwine, Briant Baines and Steve Shelton.
“Corky set the standard in sports broadcasting around here,” proclaimed Hartline. “To be able to add a legend like him, plus great veterans like Gary and Earl to our team is tremendous.”
“They are not just about broadcasting sports. Education is important to them as well. They promote the students, the campus and spotlight the entire school. I run into so many former local athletes who have ‘Corky stories’ from where he interviewed them on the radio.”
After weather postponements prevented an early season start, Whitlock and Ownbey began their new broadcasts this past week with a Bradley-McMinn County baseball game Monday and a Walker Valley-Cleveland match up Tuesday.
“We’ve already gotten some positive feedback from people who had heard that we were broadcasting the games,” Whitlock related. “The response has been immediate.”
This week’s schedule will have the pair at Raider Field for the Ooltewah-Cleveland game Monday evening, plus the Walker Valley at Bradley game Tuesday.
“We are going to be doing the regular season district games on Monday and Tuesday evenings, or possibly Wednesday if there’s a rain out,” Ownbey explained.
Plans have already been made to continue the broadcasts come football and basketball seasons.
“I see the potential in making this move as not only a way to continue what we’ve done over the years, but insure it would continue on beyond me,” expressed Whitlock, who has suffered at least five strokes over the years.
“If it hadn’t been for Gary and Earl, I would have had to give it up years ago,” he added. “Physically I couldn’t have continued on without their help. I don’t know for how much longer I’ll be able to do this, but I want to make sure it (the broadcasts) continues on.”
Making sure “the show goes on” is nothing new for Whitlock and Ownbey, who back in December of 2009 prevented the loss of broadcasts by purchasing air time themselves to put them on.
East Tennessee Radio Group owner Paul Fink was in the process of moving his operations to Dalton, Ga., and intended to no longer broadcasting Bradley County sports, when the pair agreed to purchase the air time themselves, relieving the station of the advertising responsibilities.
“For the first time, we had to go out and get advertisers ourselves to be able to broadcast, but that really wasn’t too much of a problem as most of our advertisers that had been with us for years, plus some others were ready to jump in to keep the games on the air,” Whitlock related. “Gary did most of that work for us, but what I was able to do I enjoyed.”
After last football season, Fink decided on a format change to Hispanic programming for his 93.9 FM station, which was carrying the games. He informed Whitlock and Ownbey the games would go back to the AM station, which has a broadcast coverage area of only Bradley County.
With its transmitter in Calhoun, 101.3 “The BUZZ” is able to be heard in surrounding counties as well.
Having just been on the air for a year, “The BUZZ” is a translator station of WCLE-AM 1570, meaning the programming is simulcast on both stations.