Neil Price freely admits that when he first came to Kentucky in 2005 to be the play-by-play announcer for women’s basketball and baseball he was unfamiliar with a certain broadcasting icon.
“Steve Angelucci asked me, ‘Who were your influences?’,” said Price last week when thinking back to his interview for the UK job with Host Communications. “I said, ‘Well, I grew up listening to the best guy who ever was. I grew up listening to John Ward.’”
Ward was the legendary broadcaster for the Tennessee Volunteers, but Mike Dodson, who worked for Host and was part of Price’s interview, leaned back in his chair sand said, “John was really good, but we had the best guy.”
“Really,” Price said, “who was your guy?”
“Cawood Ledford,” Dodson said.
Price got the UK job anyway, and his first day in the office he found a stack of CDs with his name on it.
“They were all Cawood tapes,” he said, “with a note on them saying, ‘Listen and learn.’ And I did.”
Now, sometime next month, Price will spend his last day at the UK Network. After 13 seasons as the voice of UK baseball and 12 as the voice of women’s basketball, the 37-year-old Morristown, Tenn., native is moving on to become the lead play-by-play man for Mississippi State football and men’s basketball.
A Middle Tennessee graduate, Price developed into a terrific radio play-by-play man whose easy style and broad knowledge helped him carry the solo broadcasts, which is far from an easy thing to do.
Asked for highlights, he lists the UK baseball team winning a share of the 2006 SEC title and the women’s basketball team capturing the 2012 conference crown. He points to the 2013 UK women’s four-overtime game with Baylor at Cowboys’ Stadium. He also broadcast all 21 innings of the Kentucky-Kent State NCAA Tournament baseball marathon at Gary, Indiana.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Price said, “but it was certainly memorable for all the wrong seasons.”
He said he considers women’s coach Matthew Mitchell a friend. He is thankful for the help provided by Mitchell’s predecessor, Mickie DeMoss. He enjoyed getting to know current baseball coach Nick Mingione after being close to his predecessor, Gary Henderson, who followed John Cohen.
“John was great when I first got here. He and Nell took in all of us guys that were single,” Price said. “Nell always had us over to the house once a month, sometimes twice a month, and she’d cook dinner for the guys who didn’t have anybody at home.”
Now Price will be working in a different capacity with Cohen, the athletic director at Mississippi State. Price became friends with Jim Ellis, who spent six years doing MSU men’s basketball and football after the legendary Jack Cristil retired. When Ellis announced he was giving up those two sports — Ellis will continue doing baseball — Price expressed his interest. He interviewed, received the offer on a Tuesday afternoon, spent that night talking with his wife, Beth, then accepted on Wednesday morning, June 14.
“We both agreed that a chance to do football and men’s basketball in the SEC is probably something you can’t pass on,” he said.
That’s the other thing that has changed since Price arrived in Kentucky. He and Beth will have been married six years next month.
“I don’t think people understand sometimes that this is a team deal,” he said. “I may be the guy who got offered this particular job, but she has to sign off on it and she has to be happy about it and she has been terrific through this. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Or some other people. When we talked Thursday morning, Price was on his way to Mt. Sterling to see and thank some friends who gave him the chance to broadcast high school football, an integral part in his receiving the opportunity at Mississippi State.
“I think there was probably some reluctance from fans certainly to accept a guy who had lived in Tennessee his whole life with the whole border rivalry deal, but people have been fantastic to me,” Price said. “I’ve never felt like a stranger here. It has been home for the last 13 years and I’m certainly thankful for everything that has happened here.”
And he leaves knowing all about Cawood Ledford.
“I developed a great appreciation for Cawood very quickly,” he said.