Cawood Ledford (April 24, 1926 – September 5, 2001) was a radio play-by-play announcer for the University of Kentucky basketball and football teams. Ledford's style and professionalism endeared himself to many sports fans in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and he remains among the most popular sports figures in the state.
A native of Harlan, Kentucky, Ledford was educated at Hall High School and Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He began broadcasting high school basketball and football games for WHLN radio in Harlan in 1951 and began broadcasting Kentucky Wildcats games in 1953 after moving to Lexington. He remained in his position of play-by-play announcer for University of Kentucky basketball for 39 years. His last game as an announcer for a Kentucky basketball game was in 1992, when Kentucky fell to Duke 104-103 in overtime in the NCAA East Regional Final, a game widely considered to be the greatest college basketball game ever played. In a gesture of appreciation, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski walked to the broadcast area immediately after the game's conclusion and congratulated Ledford on his career.
He also worked as the play-by-play announcer for national radio broadcasts of the NCAA Men's Final Four on the CBS Radio Network, and called many runnings of the Kentucky Derby for CBS Radio. Ledford also announced broadcasts of basketball games of the Kentucky Colonels, a successful American Basketball Association franchise.
Ledford's play-by-play style was known for its technical prowess, excellent command of the English language and colloquialisms, enunciative quality, gentility, timeliness, humor, and rapid but unhurried delivery. Listeners to his basketball radio broadcasts found that he was able to paint an extremely detailed visual picture of the game and call the action as it happened without sounding rushed. Fans observe that Ledford rarely let a call "lag" behind the action (e.g., when the sound of the crowd cheering is heard before the announcer comments on the game's action). Ledford's voice was generally higher pitched and mildly nasal, which allowed for clear enunciation. However, the tonal quality of his voice was smokey and resonant, which balanced a subtle twang and provided his listeners with a smooth and highly articulate delivery.
Fans of Ledford frequently share stories about listening to his University of Kentucky broadcasts over the years. Many of these stories revolve around themes of fans going to great lengths to pick up Kentucky radio affiliates from faraway locales, tuning in to hear Ledford's voice over the radio even when the game was televised, and feeling as if Ledford's voice extended a feeling of warmth, familiarity, and comfort on sometimes dreary winter nights.
Perhaps because of the success of the University of Kentucky's men's basketball program, Ledford is generally best remembered as a basketball announcer. In a 2001 dedication, the University of Kentucky named its basketball court at Rupp Arena in Ledford's honor. The words "Cawood's Court" and a radio microphone are painted on the floor in commemoration. The microphone is located at the sideline opposite the scorer's table close to where Ledford broadcast games.
Cawood Ledford was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987. He won three Eclipse Awards for outstanding coverage of thoroughbred racing. He was also named Kentucky's Sportscaster of the Year a record 22 times.
Ledford is generally considered among the finest play-by-play commentators in the history of American sports broadcasting and is highly esteemed by his peers. He was and remains a much beloved and respected figure in Kentucky, in college basketball, in college football, and in horse racing.
Commenting on Ledford's legacy after his death, longtime friend and Lexington-based CEO of Host Communications, Jim Host, said "Cawood was the ultimate in genteel class. He exuded a quiet confidence, but always remembered who he was, where he came from and who he worked for." In 1992 Host Communications published Cawood Ledford's autobiography, Hello Everybody, This is Cawood Ledford, as told to sportswriter and author Billy Reed.
During the Summer of 2014, Kentucky announced that it's multi-team event will be called the Cawood Ledford Classic. Previously, this event was known as the Keightly Classic. The Cawood Ledford Classic has 5 participants for 2014, including Kentucky, Grand Canyon, Texas-Arlington, Montana State and Buffalo.