Bob Kesling to start 25th season as ‘Voice of the Vols’

Tom KingFarragut

When the 2023 Tennessee football Volunteers kick off this season in Nashville against the University of Virginia on Sept. 2, Bob Kesling will be celebrating 25 years of calling the play-by-play as “the Voice of the Vols.”

In 1999 he took over for the legendary John Ward, his mentor and friend, when Ward retired. Ward had a massive influence on Kesling – both personally and professionally. Ward in 1974 hired Kesling as a film editor on the “Bill Battle Show” and starting in 1976 he began a 15-year run of sitting next to Ward at all games as his “spotter” plus handling pre-game, halftime and post-game interviews.

Yesterday Kesling, 69, talked about an array of topics as the speaker at the Rotary Club of Farragut’s meeting at Fox Den Country Club.

“Many people in our business of broadcasting, at ESPN, the TV networks and college and the pros move around a lot and live in a lot of different places,” Kesling said. “I am blessed by being here, working at my alma mater (1977 UT graduate) and never having to move my family around. What I do is so much fun. I still pinch myself.”

Leading up to his Vol Network jobs, Kesling was sports director at WIVK Radio and for 19 years was sports director at WBIR-TV.

Kesling also has a long history with the Lady Vols basketball team, serving as the radio play-by-play voice from 1978 through 1999. He was behind the microphone calling the late coach Pat Summitt’s first six NCAA National Championships.

Kesling came to UT as a walk-on fullback from Dayton, Ohio, during coach Bill Battle’s tenure and in 1972 played on the UT junior varsity as a freshman. How did he not become an Ohio State Buckeye? His father was the drum major for the Ohio State band and his younger sister, Diane, an OSU graduate in vocal music, sang with the Metropolitan Opera Center – The Met – for 18 years.

Here’s the story: “… I was being recruited by some small Ohio schools. One of my best friends’ dad knew Ray Mears when he was at Wittenberg in Springfield, Ohio. They came down to visit Coach Mears about my buddy walking on the basketball team and becoming a manager. They invited me to come with them.

While they were visiting Coach Mears, I went to Coach Battle’s office and asked how do you walk on the team. He walked me down to the freshman running back room to talk with the freshman running back coaches Curt Watson and Don McLeary. They took me back to Coach Battle’s office. He says if I can get in school, they would be happy to have me. I told my Dad I was going to Tennessee. He said if I was going to walk on at a big school I should go to Ohio State. I said it was cheaper to go to Tennessee out of state than to go to Ohio State in state. He then replied, “Go Vols.”

Here are a few other tidbits from Kesling:

  • Ward and Bobby Denton, who was the general manager at WIVK, were both instrumental in him not leaving Knoxville.
  • A question put to him: Why has coach Josh Heupel been so successful here: “Simple answer. He found the right quarterback (Hendon Hooker) to run and manage his offense.”
  • The transfer portal: “I have no idea where it’s going for college football.”
  • Has one pre-game superstition – he wears lucky underwear.
  • Plays the cello.
  • Huge Boston Celtics fan.
  • He said UT basketball coach Rick Barnes does not like being outscored by the football team.

Tom King is a career journalist and a past president of the Rotary Club of Farragut. If you want more information about Rotary or are interested in attending a meeting or joining, please email Tom. The club meets every Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at Fox Den Country Club.

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