You know the voices. Maybe you can’t pick the face out of a crowd, but hearing just a few words is enough to trigger recognition, as clear and identifiable as if it were from a family member. In the archives of University of Kentucky basketball, there have been several of these voices: Cawood Ledford, Oscar Combs and Tom Leach, just to name a few.
There’s another voice, however, that is almost as familiar to diehard Cats fans. Though not affiliated with the program or its broadcasts, “Bob from Jamestown” has become an institution on radio call-in shows over the decades, earning nearly as much time on the airwaves as some of the many journalists and coaches with whom he’s conversed over almost 30 years.
Starting in 1995, Bob became a frequent and well-known fixture on UK basketball call-in shows, dropping comments on coaches shows as well as pre- and post-game broadcasts. For an entire generation of Cats fans, his voice became synonymous with basketball season, well known and easily recognizable even if this face remained anonymous.
“I was in Monroe, Michigan one time, at a restaurant, and the waitress was from southern Kentucky,” Bob remembers. “She took my order and immediately recognized my voice. In Monroe, Michigan, she said, ‘You’re Bob from Jamestown!’ I’ve been pulled over by state troopers, and once I start talking, they recognize my voice. I don’t know if they’re UK fans or not, but instead of a ticket, I’d just get a warning.”
Bob has no idea how many times he’s called into UK shows; his estimate is simply “hundreds.” There aren’t many personalities to pass through the program — including players, coaches, administrators, and broadcast pros — he hasn’t met at least once. One of the two figures who Bob says stick out from everyone else he’s met over the years is longtime media personality Oscar Combs.
“I really liked Oscar Combs and really enjoyed talking to him and getting to know him. He was a legend in broadcasting and he knew how to conduct himself as a radio host,” Bob said. “He wasn’t insulting to fans. I’ve probably talked to him more than anyone [on radio].”
The other favorite is former head coach Tubby Smith, whom Bob still counts as a friend.
“I really got along with Tubby,” he said. “Some of the boosters would have him come down to the lake sometimes, and he’d bring the team, and I never missed an opportunity to meet with him. He was just a genuine, great guy, had a good family. I always liked Donna and his sons.”
A natural storyteller with a demeanor which suggests he could get along with just about anyone, it’s perhaps not surprising that Bob cannot name a least-favorite interaction and maintains that he doesn’t have a single negative story to tell on anyone. Even when prodded, he defends Billy Gillispie, the least successful and least-liked head coach at Kentucky in the modern era.
“He was friendly to me when I met him,” Bob says.
Born Robert Cumming, Bob was born in Minnesota and spent his childhood in Louiville, where his Kentucky fanhood bloomed. His father, an employee for Pillsbury, was transferred to Hamilton, Ohio when Bob was in fifth grade.
As early as the 1960s, his family owned a house in Russell County on the lake. Bob moved to this community permanently in the late 1980s.
In Hamilton, Bob was a friend, neighbor and classmate of future UK legend Kevin Grevey, who remains Bob’s favorite Wildcat to this day. The two went through junior and senior high school together, often walking in tandem to and from school.
“He had a blacktop half court set up at his house — his dad had played at Xavier — so they always played ball over there,” Bob said of his childhood friend. “In 1969, when the first moon mission went up, Kevin and I were in summer school, taking a math class, and he brought a portable little TV to school. Right before takeoff, the screen went white, and he slapped it. The picture came back right as the rocket was taking off — I thought that was prophetic.
“I remember his senior year, everybody recruited him,” he continued. “I always walked to school with him, and I remember one time the UK cheerleaders came and picked him up and took him to Lexington for the weekend.”
Grevey went on to win two SEC Player of the Year awards, lead UK to the 1975 national title game and enjoy an 11-year pro career that included an NBA championship in 1978. His neighbor — never a hooper — took a different route into the hearts of UK hoops fans.
“It’s just something I really enjoy,” Bob said. “I like talking to coaches, players, and meeting people around or involved with the program. I guess you could say it’s one of my hobbies, and I appreciate all the people who have listened to me.”