Radio Network History

Through the years, Virginia Tech fans have followed the Hokies on radio through the descriptions of a series of talented broadcasters, many of who have gone on to gain national fame.

The Tech network dates back to September 18, 1954 when Radford radio station WRAD began broadcasting Tech sports. Joe Knakel and Bob Bradford called the first-ever Tech football radio broadcast, a 30-21 victory over N.C. State. In the booth that day were producer Tom Gannaway and spotter Ralph Price.

Price didn't stray far from the Tech radio booth for the next 40 years, serving as the network's spotter and statistician.

"In 1955, we played at Pennsylvania, and their stadium held about 100,000 people," Price said. "Our radio booth was at the 20-yard line and when the ball was on the other end of the field, you couldn't even see the jersey number of the players. You couldn't tell who had the ball. We had some guessing to do that day!"

The WRNL Era
In 1957, Richmond station WRNL, led by station manager Frank Soden, took over the network and expanded to 43 stations.

Soden hired Frank Messer as the new Voice of the Hokeis. "He had a great voice, and really knew the game well," Soden said.

Eventually, Messer left Virginia for New York as the voice of the New York Yankees and called World Series games in 1977 and 1978. He also called games for Major League Baseball.

Messer was replaced in 1961 by Bob Gilmore, who had worked Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasts with Waite Hoyt before ending up in Richmond.

From 1963-1971, Charlie Harville and Soden made up the Tech radio crew. The two worked Tech's first-ever bowl game, 1966 Liberty Bowl game against Miami.

Soden's work on the Tech network was truly remarkable. His 13-year run as analyst is the third longest tenure of any Tech broadcaster, and he became an institution in Richmond for his work with the University of Richmond and Richmond Braves baseball club.

Because Soden was one of the most respected broadcasters in state history, the Frank Soden Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually to the person who has contributed the most to broadcasting in Richmond.

"This one Belongs to the Reds!"
In the early 1960's, Tech basketball games were also broadcast by a young man named Dave Van Horn. He and Tech sports information director/analyst Wendy Weisend were there when Bill Mathews, in his first game as coach, defeated Kentucky in Lexington 80-77.

Van Horn called Tech basketball games for five seasons, and filled in on some football broadcasts with Soden during the 1968 season.

But baseball was Van Horn's calling and when Major League Baseball expanded in 1969 to Montreal, he became the English voice of the Expos.

By the mid 1970's Tech football was getting bigger and bigger. So, in 1973, Athletic Director Frank Moseley hired the state's premier broadcaster as his new voice: Marty Brennaman, a 31-year old Portsmouth native and radio and TV voice of the Virginia Squires of the ABA.

Brennaman - a three-time Virginia Sportscaster of the Year - was teamed with Don Lloyd Fleeger, station manager of Blacksburg's WKEX-AM.

Brennaman soon left to become voice of the Cincinnati Reds. Two years later, the Big Red Machine captured the 1975 World Series in a dramatic win over Boston.

"This one belongs to the Reds" became Brennaman's trademark call after each Reds' victory, a phrase he still uses today in his role as the Reds radio announcer. A legendary baseball voice, Brennaman has been inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame for his work with the Reds.

Don Lloyd Fleeger - air name Don Lloyd - was the first Tech broadcaster to call both Tech football and basketball on a consistent basis. Hailing from Ohio, Fleeger had 20 years experience, including three as the play-by-play announcer for William & Mary. As the station manager of the Blacksburg station, he was the voice of Tech sports from 1974-1982.

In 1975, Tech's network grew considerably under the direction of Ken Haines, the university's Director of Public Affairs.

Haines served as color analyst on Tech football and some basketball games with Fleeger. The size of the network tripled to nearly 50 fulltime stations carrying every Tech football game on Saturdays.

"That was a 'Sweep-Style Play', Jeff"
In 1983, Jeff Charles replaced Fleeger as Tech's radio voice. Like Fleeger, Charles was from Ohio. He had come to Tech from Furman University where he had been that school's voice after working at Atlanta radio station WSB.

Along with handling the radio broadcasts, Charles hosted the 'Bill Dooley Show' a weekly television show featuring Tech's head football coach.

The show was often taped in the wee hours of the morning. Every Tech fan could imitate Dooley's North Carolina drawl and mannerisms that aired on every Sunday show. To wit: Dooley loved to add the word "style" to describe the action, as in "sweep-style" play or "draw-style" play.

Today, Charles is the voice of the East Carolina University Pirates.

The Singing Bandit
One of Charles' first moves at Tech was bringing in former Tech tight end Mike Burnop to serve as football color analyst.

In 1995, at a game at Navy, Burnop added a new twist to his presentation. As the Navy band played "Anchors Away," Burnop starting humming, then singing along with the band. After Tech won the game, fans on the network's post-game talk show, "the Point-After," applauded Mike's selection.

The following week, Tech played the Akron Zips. Burnop sang "Zippity-Do-Dah." Tech won again.

By now, Tech fans and the media picked up on the act. The Richmond Times Dispatch ran a feature story - not on Burnop's exceptional analysis of the games - but his choice of melodies each week.

As long as Tech won, Burnop agreed to sing. And, as long as he sang, Tech kept winning!

The Hokies put together a 10-game winning streak and Burnop had to keep churning out the tunes.

Tech 27, West Virginia 0: "Almost Heaven, West Virginia."
Tech 31, Syracuse 7: "New York, New York."

The wins and songs kept coming. Although the melodies were familiar, Burnop changed the lyrics each week to match the opponent.

Before the Hokies played in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, Tech coach Frank Beamer promised he'd sing along with Burnop if the Hokies beat Texas. Sure enough, Tech won, meaning Beamer and Burnop had to perform a duet following the Hokies' 28-10 win.

The melody was "Yellow Rose of Texas."

The lyrics were:

Oh the Hokies went to New Orleans
To play a football game.
The Sugar Bowl had chosen,
The teams to entertain.

The Texas guys were awesome,
Self-assured and unafraid.
The Hokies were just happy,
To be in the Parade.

But the Yellow Rose of Texas
Has turned Maroon tonight.
The Hokies beat the Longhorns,
This game was outta sight!

So, Frank Beamer became the first coach in history to win the Sugar Bowl and then have to sing about it on his post-game radio show.

Today, Burnop is in his 20th year as the network's analyst. He was inducted into the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame in 2000 and continues to be one of the most popular figures on the Tech sports scene.

Touchdown Tech!
In 1988, 22-year old Bill Roth replaced Charles as the Voice of the Hokies. Roth had been the radio voice at Marshall University the previous season. Now, in his 15th season, he has broadcast more football and basketball games than any other announcer in school history.

Roth is known for his two signature lines: his opening to every Tech broadcast, "from the Blue Waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the Hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air!"

And every Hokie fan loves to hear him say "Touchdown Tech!!" - and the more, the better.

In 1995, Roth became the first Tech announcer since Brennaman to be named Virginia's Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportcasters and Sportswriters Association. Bill has won the award four times in the last seven years (1995, 1996, 1999, 2001).

Together, Roth and Burnop comprise one of college football's longest-running broadcasting teams, having described the action of the every Tech football game dating back to the 1988 season. Burnop added the role of basketball analyst for the 1996 season.

The Occasional Tomfoolery
While broadcasting big time college sports is serious business, Roth and Burnop keep listeners tuned to the Hokies' large radio network with a unique blend of excitement and wit.

Roth has created several fictional characters whose inspirational and somewhat witty stories often become part of the broadcast when Tech is on the losing end of a lopsided game. Among them: "Paco, the Mediterranean Sailor Boy," and "Goose Goose, the Tibetan Mountain Climber."

Together with a 'supportive' Burnop, the stories help soften the blow of a tough Hokie loss (and keep listeners tuned into the broadcast!)

"We like to have a lot of fun on the air," Burnop told The Washington Posts' Angie Watts. "Most of the time, we're serious. We do our homework on the teams and try to create an exciting and fair broadcast," Burnop said. "But if you've ever seen Billy drive, you know it's quite an adventure. It's only fair that our listeners know this stuff."

For example, where did the moniker "Wrong Way Roth" originate?

"He backed through the Callahan Tunnel in Boston," Burnop said.

Is that true?

"Well, not the entire tunnel. Besides, I didn't want to pay the toll," Roth responded.

"There's a million cars going into the tunnel, and we're backing up in a rental car," Burnop said.

The misadventures of driving in Miami, Newark, and cities around the country seemingly make their way into broadcasts on a weekly basis.

So does the term "Buffet Buddies."

"They've closed two Pizza Huts and three KFC's in West Virginia because of what Burnop did to their buffets. The man can flat-out eat," Roth told Watts.

"In 1988, we were walking out of a restaurant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi after a wonderful meal and Mike received a standing ovation from the other patrons after making 25 visits to the crab leg station," Roth recalled. "To this day, Mike's picture hangs in the entrance to the "Country Catfish Mississippi Buffet."

[Reprinted with permission from Hokies Handbook, by Chris Colston, 1996 by the Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishing Co., Wichita, Kansas.]
Radio Broadcaster History
1954Joe KnakalBob Bradford
1955Joe KnakalBob Bradford
1956Joe KnakalBob Bradford
1957Frank MesserFrank Soden
1958Frank MesserFrank Soden
1959Frank MesserFrank Soden
1960Frank MesserFrank Soden
1961Bob GilmoreFrank Soden
1962Bob GilmoreFrank Soden
1963Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1964Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1965Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1966Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1967Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1968Charlie HarvilleDave Van Horn
1969Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1970Charlie HarvilleSteve Bodley
1971Charlie HarvilleFrank Soden
1972Bud KaatzDamon Flanary
1973Marty BrennamanDon Lloyd
1974Don LloydKen Haines
1975Don LloydKen Haines
1976Don LloydKen Haines
1977Don LloydKen Haines
1978Don LloydKen Haines
1979Don LloydKen Haines
1980Don LloydKen Haines &
Rich Haney
1981Don LloydKen Haines &
Rich Haney
1982Don Lloyd Ken Haines &
Skip Hanson
1983Jeff CharlesMike Burnop
1984Jeff CharlesMike Burnop
1985Jeff CharlesMike Burnop
1986Jeff CharlesMike Burnop
1987Jeff CharlesMike Burnop
1988Bill RothMike Burnop
1989Bill RothMike Burnop
1990Bill RothMike Burnop
1991Bill RothMike Burnop
1992Bill RothMike Burnop
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1994Bill RothMike Burnop
1995Bill RothMike Burnop
1996Bill RothMike Burnop
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2011Bill RothMike Burnop
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2013Bill RothMike Burnop
2014Bill RothMike Burnop
2015Jon LaaserMike Burnop
2016Jon LaaserMike Burnop