Mark Story

Retired from TV, Alan Cutler finds a way to have ‘so much fun, it is ridiculous’

For his last day on TV, Alan Cutler gets to say farewell from the Kentucky Derby

LEX 18's Alan Cutler last day on television before retirement is Saturday, coinciding with the 144th Kentucky Derby. Cutler is a longtime sportscaster for the Lexington NBC affiliate.
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LEX 18's Alan Cutler last day on television before retirement is Saturday, coinciding with the 144th Kentucky Derby. Cutler is a longtime sportscaster for the Lexington NBC affiliate.

Alan Cutler spent the final on-air day of his three-decades-plus run as sports anchor/reporter for WLEX-TV covering the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Amidst what was a long and rainy day, I asked Cutler the question that always gets posed to those choosing to retire: “How are you going to fill your days once you no longer hold a full-time job?”

“You may think I’m crazy,” Cutler said that day, “but what I’d really like to do is radio play-by-play for a good high school team. I think that would be really fun.”

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WLEX-TV sportscaster Alan Cutler’s final day on the air before retiring was the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Rich Copley Herald-Leader file photo

That conversation came to mind often last winter after Cutler, 66, started doing radio play-by-play for broadcasts (primarily) of Madison Central High School boys’ basketball on platforms owned by Richmond’s Wallingford Broadcasting Company.

“I had a great time. An absolute great time,” Cutler said last month. “I had so much fun, it was ridiculous.”

From the time he was a little boy growing up on Long Island in New York, Cutler said “radio play-by-play was all I ever wanted to do. I used to turn the sound down (on telecasts) when I was 7, 8 years old and do play-by-play of Yankees games. In the (19)70s, I got into (broadcasting) to do radio.”

As a young announcer, Cutler said one year he did play-by-play for over 140 live sporting events while working for radio stations in Grand Junction, Colo.

Yet, as often happens with careers, Cutler’s took a detour. He left behind his first love, radio, and transitioned into television.

With his ebullient on-air style and a nose for news, Cutler eventually became a Lexington television staple.

In his mind, however, Cutler said he always thought about the path his career had not taken. “I never wanted to be on TV, see my face on TV,” he said. “Career-wise, it was a huge mistake getting out of (radio). A HUGE mistake. I enjoyed TV, but I loved radio.”

So once his retirement from WLEX was official, Cutler contacted a former colleague who owns radio stations to express his interest in finding a platform to do high school play-by-play. That led to a suggestion he reach out to Wallingford Broadcasting.

That is how one of the most familiar faces in Central Kentucky wound up behind the microphone last winter on WEKY-FM 92.5 and WBON-TV (a live streaming provider) for Madison Central Indians boys’ basketball games.

“I didn’t tell our players Alan was going to be doing our games,” said Allen Feldhaus Jr., the Madison Central boys’ basketball coach. “So, for the first game (Cutler announced), he shows up and they were like, ‘Is that the guy from TV?’ I’m like ‘Yep, he’s going to be calling your games.’ The guys were excited. It was fun.”

Cutler reported that the reality of calling live sports in his 60s was different than doing so as a 20-something.

“When I was 23 years old, if you put two rosters in front of me and left me alone for 15 minutes, I could have it memorized,” Cutler said. “(Now), I really struggled memorizing names and numbers.”

Cutler’s arrival as play-by-play announcer at Madison Central was tough initially for Michael Watkins, who had previously been filling that role for Indians broadcasts. After thinking about it, though, he decided sliding over to the analyst role on the broadcasts could prove beneficial for his own career arc.

“It was hard for me at first just from the standpoint of my own ego,” Watkins said. “But, after I thought about it, I felt it would be good for me because I could learn from (Cutler).”

Watkins, 30, said the level of preparation Cutler put into their game broadcasts was eye-opening.

“He would call both coaches before the games, get stories on each of the players — where are they from? Did their parents play for that school? He took it way beyond just ‘the scoring average, height and weight,’ kind of thing,” Watkins said. “The level of preparation he did made a big impression on me.”

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The Wallingford Broadcasting Company crew that live-streamed Madison Central boys’ basketball games last season included, from left to right, play-by-play announcer Alan Cutler; analyst Michael Watkins; sideline reporter Samantha Burford; cameraman Lance Gaither; and video sports producer Austin Hanks. Photo submitted by Michael Watkins

In retirement, Cutler said three letters essentially determine how his time gets spent.

“F-U-N,” he said. “If it’s not fun, I ain’t doing it.”

At the top of the “fun list” for the post-TV Cutler is more time to spend with wife Judy, their two children and two grandchildren. So are additional hours to exercise and read books.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I think I want to try stand-up comedy,” Cutler said. “I am not afraid to fail.”

Cutler said broadcasting high school basketball on the radio has proven every bit as appealing as he envisioned on the first Saturday in May in 2018.

“Michael Watkins and I hit it off, have gotten to be really good friends,” Cutler said. “And it’s high school sports. I’m not saying high school sports is pure — there’s no such thing as pure anymore — but, to me, it’s a total positive event.”

This fall, Cutler plans to serve as the color analyst to Watkins’ play-by-play role on Madison Central football broadcasts. “If I struggled (memorizing the names and numbers) in basketball, how am I going to do it in football?” Cutler said.

Come winter, Cutler is planning to spend another year of his retirement serving as the play-by-play voice of Madison Central basketball.

“Some people play golf (in retirement); I want to do basketball play-by-play,” Cutler said. “It takes me back to my childhood. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 7 years old.”

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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