UK's airwaves brace for perfect storm

John Clay
John Clay

If you're a Kentucky football and basketball fan, your cup could runneth over this weekend. Literally.

With the men's basketball Wildcats playing in the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday and Saturday, and the women's hoops team playing in a Brooklyn, N.Y., tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday, and the football Cats playing archrival Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, you might need a Mensa membership to figure out how to keep up with all three.

Tell that to IMG, proprietors of the Big Blue Network, which will make creative use of its on-air talent (and then some) and its various affiliates to meet the needs of one crowded weekend.

After all, for the first time in UK broadcast history, there is the possibility of a UK football game and a UK basketball game being broadcast simultaneously.

More on that later.

First, the lineups. The voice of the Wildcats, Tom Leach, will travel to Knoxville along with color man Jeff Piecoro to do the radio broadcast of the football game, starting at 6:30 p.m. ESPN2 handles the telecast.

Dick Gabriel, the sideline reporter for the UK football radio network, is instead traveling to New York to do the radio play-by-play for the women's team, which begins play at 4 p.m. Friday.

WKYT's Dave Baker will fill in for Gabriel at the UK football game on Saturday. Luckily, Baker's final game as the sideline reporter for Raycom's SEC package is Friday's Egg Bowl game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss in Oxford. After that game, Baker will commute to Knoxville to sub for Gabriel on the UK radio broadcast.

Meanwhile, Gabriel is subbing for Neil Price, the voice of the women's basketball Cats. Price will be in Las Vegas subbing for Leach at the men's basketball games. Price will join Mike Pratt for the radio broadcast, with the tip time scheduled for 11:59 p.m. EST Friday. ESPNU has the telecast.

So it's Leach, Piecoro and Baker on football; Price and Pratt on men's basketball, and Gabriel on women's hoops.

How men's basketball fares Friday will determine Saturday's schedule.

If the men's basketball team wins, it advances to the Las Vegas Invitational finals, scheduled to tip off at about 10:30 p.m. EST Saturday. The UK radio network will go directly from Rich Brooks' post-game show from the football game in Knoxville to the basketball broadcast in Nevada, sans the usual pre-game shows.

But if the basketball Cats lose Friday/early Saturday, then the fun begins. The Las Vegas consolation game is scheduled to tip Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST, which would put it right in the middle of the football broadcast. Since radio has multiple affiliates in the state's two biggest markets, plus Cincinnati, the games will be aired at the same time, on different stations.

The football game will be carried on 98.1-FM "The Bull" in Lexington, 840 WHAS-AM in Louisville, and 1360 WCKY-AM in Cincinnati.

The basketball game will be carried by 630 WLAP-AM in Lexington, 1080 WKJK-AM in Louisville and 1530 WSAI-AM in Cincinnati.

Towns without multiple affiliates will carry the UK basketball radio broadcast on a tape-delay basis after the football broadcast.

As for television, the basketball consolation game would be carried by the Big Blue Television Network and broadcast on CWKYT (Cable Channel 5) in Lexington. Jeff Barber and Larry Conley, the ESPNU broadcast crew for Friday night's UK-Kansas State game, will serve as the broadcast crew for Saturday, as well, that is if the Cats end up in the consolation. Fox Sports South will also carry the Saturday basketball game.

Got all that?

While IMG believes this is the first time UK's football and basketball teams could be playing at the same time, it's the not the first time the broadcast crews have been forced to split to cover both sports.

Back in 1979, the UK football team was playing at Florida on the same day the UK basketball team played in the Tipoff Classic against Duke in Springfield, Mass.

Cawood Ledford and Ralph Hacker traveled to Gainesville to broadcast the football game. Dick Gabriel traveled to Springfield to do the play-by-play on the basketball game.

Gabriel's broadcast partner that day?

None other than Jock Sutherland — before the former Lafayette High School coach went on to become the longtime basketball analyst on the U of L radio network.