Mark Story

Jim Host’s dilemma: How to downsize a life’s collection of sports memorabilia.

To walk downstairs in Jim and Pat Host’s south Lexington home is to travel back into the history of sports, both in Kentucky and nationally.

Jim Host, 80, the longtime Lexington-based college sports marketing and radio broadcasting mogul, has the walls of his basement covered with sports and broadcasting pictures — every one of which has a story.

There, a youngish Cawood Ledford, the iconic University of Kentucky radio sports broadcaster, stands with Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers legend and pioneer of baseball integration.

Host believes the picture was taken in the early 1960s, when Robinson visited Louisville — where Ledford was then working as a sportscaster for WHAS radio and television — during the Civil Rights era.

Cawood Ledford with Jackie Robinson.JPG
This picture of legendary University of Kentucky radio play-by-play broadcaster Cawood Ledford, left, with Brooklyn Dodgers great Jackie Robinson was given to Jim Host by Ledford shortly before he died in 2001. Mark Mahan

Shortly before Ledford died in 2001, he called Host and invited him to his home in Harlan County.

Says Host: “When Cawood knew he was in failing health, he said ‘I want you to come down and pick things that you want.’ So I picked that picture. It is one of my favorites.”

In the basement office, you can see a youthful Host making a presentation to an aging Adolph Rupp.

“I was second-president at the K Club,” says Host, a former Kentucky Wildcats baseball pitcher, in reference to the organization of ex-UK sports lettermen. “We were making Coach Rupp an honorary member of the K Club.”

What to do with the memorabilia that Pat Host, 78, refers to as “the museum in our basement” is now a pressing issue for the couple.

The Hosts are downsizing. They have sold their home on Savannah Lane and purchased a smaller dwelling on Rabbits Foot Trail.

“It’s half the size, 40 percent of this size,” Jim Host says.

When Alltech founder Pearse Lyons, a close friend of Jim Host, fell ill before he died in March, Pat Host says it served as an impetus for the Hosts to make decisions about how to organize their belongings.

“We didn’t want to leave for someone else to have to go through all this stuff,” Pat Host says.

So what to do with a lifetime collection of sports memorabilia?

In his business career, Jim Host built Host Communications into a national player as a radio rights holder of college sports broadcasts for major universities.

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At various times, Host held the radio rights to schools such as Notre Dame, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and UK, among others, as well as for football games in the now-defunct Southwest Conference.

Host also essentially created the business sector that we now know as college sports marketing. His company had a decades-long run as radio rights holder for the NCAA men’s hoops tournament including the Final Four.

Documents that Host has saved from the rise of his business he plans to make available to the University of Kentucky archives. “I’ve still got the original contract I signed with UK (for radio rights),” Host says. “Stuff like that, I plan to donate to the university.”

Jim Host points to picture.JPG
During his business career, Jim Host built Host Communications into a national player as a radio rights holder of college sports broadcasts for major universities. Mark Mahan

The real dilemma is what to do with the array of pictures, many of them autographed, that cover the walls of Host’s basement.

A baseball enthusiast, Host has on a wall a signed photo of Stan Musial. Host acquired the picture through a mutual friend he shared with the St. Louis Cardinals’ great. “One of my favorite pictures of all time,” Host says.

One bank of photos features some of the famous coaches Host worked with throughout his career.

There is a signed picture from football coach Lou Holtz.

“The only coach I had at three schools — Arkansas, Notre Dame and South Carolina,” Host says. “This was the most interesting guy I was ever around in coaching.”

Another is from ex-Tennessee football coach and current Volunteers Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer. “One of the best guys I was ever around,” Host says.

A picture of Bobby Knight shows the ex-Indiana men’s hoops coach working the 1979 Final Four on the radio as part of a Host broadcast team that included Ledford doing play-by-play and the iconic former NBC sportscaster Curt Gowdy as pregame host.

“Cawood loved Bobby,” Host says. “Nobody knew that, but they had a great relationship.”

Though Knight was not especially adept as a television analyst when he joined ESPN after his coaching career ended, Host says a younger Knight was quite good on the radio.

“All I can tell you, he was the quickest analyst I ever worked with,” Host says. “He understood immediately what to say, when to say it, how to say it.”

Jim Host in front of memorabilia.JPG
After a lifetime spent in college sports marketing and radio broadcasting, Lexington’s Jim Host has accumulated a museum-level amount of sports memorabilia in his basement. At age 80, Host and his wife Pat, 78, have decided to downsize. They face the dilemma of deciding what to do with a life’s collection of memorabilia. Mark Mahan

The walls contain historical moments from Host’s career. One is a picture of the UK radio broadcast team, Ledford, analyst Ralph Hacker, producer Rick Edwards and Host in Rupp Arena for the initial game in the venue, a 72-64 UK win over Wisconsin in 1976.

There is at least one giant historical “what if” represented, too. An artist’s rendering shows a three-level, 25,000-seat Rupp Arena — some 2,000 more seats than the actual downtown Lexington venue has.

“This is something nobody has ever seen outside this home,” says Host, who helped spearhead the building of Rupp Arena in the mid-1970s. “There’s only one of these (sketches). (The pictured arena) was (designed with) 25,700 seats. But we couldn’t fit that (size an arena) on the site. That’s why it was scaled back.”

Picture of a 25,000 seat Rupp Arena.JPG
This sketch that hangs on the wall in Jim Host’s basement is of a Rupp Arena that would have seated in excess of 25,000 fans. “We couldn’t fit (an arena that size) on the site,” Host says. “That’s why we scaled it back.” Mark Mahan

Sifting through so many pictures accumulated across decades and deciding what stays or goes has to be taxing.

“Certainly, it’s hard,” Jim Host says. “It’s my life’s work.”

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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