Mark Story

Mark Story: For Joe B. and Denny, a bittersweet end to their radio days

Former  Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall took part in the Joe B. and Denny radio show Thursday. It was on the air for more than 101/2 years.
Former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall took part in the Joe B. and Denny radio show Thursday. It was on the air for more than 101/2 years.

By Thursday morning, Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum were down to their last two hours as radio talk show hosts. So the two reached back to their shared prior career to fill their final day with support.

In Lexington, Hall's studio was packed with former Kentucky Wildcats, including a national championship point guard, Kyle Macy, and, arguably, the best player Hall coached at Kentucky, Kenny Walker.

In Louisville, Crum's studio was packed with former Louisville Cardinals, including a national championship point guard, Jerry Eaves, and, arguably, the best player Crum coached at Louisville, Darrell Griffith.

After an improbable run of 10 years, seven months and two weeks, The Joe B. and Denny Show came to an end Thursday. For the two coaching rivals turned fishing buddies and radio show co-hosts, the day epitomized bittersweet.

When Hall, 85, arrived at his studio at Lexington's Cumulus broadcasting Thursday morning, there were blue and white streamers on the door. Inside, the studio was filled with blue and white balloons. On a glass wall hung signs that read, "We're So Blue" and "We'll Miss You."

"I really loved this show," Hall said. "For 10 years and seven months, every morning I got up, I looked forward to it. It's been this show that gets me out of my pajamas every morning."

Said Crum: "Doing this show, it's really been a lot of fun. No negatives to it, just a treat to do."

For anyone who ever listened to the program hosted by the coaches responsible for nine of the Final Four trips and three of the NCAA championships accumulated by Kentucky universities, Thursday's finale began perfectly.

While Crum, 77, and host Tony Cruise came on the air from Louisville, the Lexington part of the show — Hall — was silent due to technical difficulties. There was always a certain dysfunction to a show that occurred from two cities. To me, that was part of the program's charm.

What it lacked in slickness, The Joe B. and Denny Show made up in other areas.

For those of us who grew up in Kentucky during the 1970s and '80s, Hall and Crum were the two most important sports figures of our formative years. Any time I heard their voices on The Joe B. and Denny Show, it provided a trip back.

In a time when the atmosphere surrounding the Kentucky-Louisville sports competition has turned snarky and mean, having two such prominent symbols of the Cats and the Cards show that being on opposite sides of the rivalry did not preclude friendship was a needed example.

"I think this show created a lot of goodwill between Kentucky and Louisville," Crum said.

Words on a napkin

The idea for The Joe B. and Denny Show was born inside Lexington's Wheeler's Pharmacy.

While Hall did a phone interview for a radio program hosted by former basketball coaches Wimp Sanderson (Alabama) and Sonny Smith (Auburn), his friend Dick Robinson scribbled something down on a napkin.

The Joe B. and Denny Show, it read.

Subsequently, Hall and Robinson (who died in 2011) ventured to Louisville to try to sell Crum on the idea. "We sat down," Hall said, "and within seven minutes, Denny said 'I'm in.'"

The show went on the air on March 15, 2004.

People who remembered their coaching days, when Hall and Crum used to trade pointed barbs over UK's then-long-standing policy of not playing other in-state programs, were confounded. "The thought of Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum as co-hosts blows a mental fuse," the Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton wrote before the show's launch.

Yet not only were they co-hosts, it soon became apparent Hall and Crum were genuinely friends. They had long bonded over a mutual love of the outdoors, especially fishing.

"Denny was always a congenial coach who had no chip on his shoulder," Hall said. "He'd take a (verbal) stab at Kentucky. And I'd take a stab at Louisville. But it didn't affect our relationship because we both understood each other and we were both fighting for our programs."

The show's demise

At its height, The Joe B. and Denny Show was carried by 21 stations. There still were 18 affiliates as of Thursday.

In Lexington, The Joe B. and Denny Show has been airing on the Cumulus-owned WVLK-FM. Two weeks ago, Hall said he was told the station was changing formats and no longer would be able to carry the show.

"The decision was made in Atlanta by corporate," Hall said. "I called them. They were pleasant, but they said, 'You don't understand radio. This happens often. We've changed formats.'"

As late as Tuesday, Hall and Crum had hopes of keeping their show on in Louisville while seeking another Lexington station to carry it. However, an official with iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel), which owned their Louisville affiliate, WKRD-AM, told Hall on Tuesday night that it was too late.

"He said, 'I had to contract with somebody to take your place," Hall said. "And we understand that. That's radio."

So, on Thursday, Hall and Crum said goodbye.

A caller that the two ex-coaches had nicknamed "Chicken Liver" due to a fishing story came on the phone a final time.

"I love you guys," Chicken Liver said.