In Mar. 13-19 issue
By Derek Aaron
Times Journal Sports Editor
LEFT: Bob Cumming shows a framed tee shirt with many historic autographs of UK basketball figures.
JAMESTOWN - Most University of Kentucky basketball fans know the sound of his voice, but to many people "Bob from Jamestown" is still a mystery. He is nearly always one of the first callers to the radio network call-in shows after the games and at other times when fans discuss their favorite team on the air.
Who is Bob From Jamestown, and how does he end up an early caller for most of the radio shows?
"I started calling when we won the championship in 1996," said Robert Cumming, the man behind one of the state's most noticeable voices.
Cumming, who attended Miami University in Ohio, said he has a special hotline number to make sure he gets on the air.
"(Athletic Director) Mitch Barnhart and the administration like what I say," he said. "I am real positive toward the program and it's become an ongoing thing."
He said he didn't know if others had the same type of fortune he had with the UK call-in shows.
"I know when I don't call they wonder what's going on or what I'm up to," he said.
Cumming has been a Wildcat fan since 1963, when his sister, a UK student, brought home a Wildcat sweatshirt. It was a Christmas present, for the then 9-year-old Cumming.
Growing up in southern Ohio, he went on to attend Hamilton Taft High School with one of UK's all-time greats, Kevin Grevey. That spurned his interest in the program even more.
After ten years of consistent calling, Cumming began calling less and less last season.
"Things were getting kind of stale (with the program)," he said. "(Former Coach) Tubby (Smith) is a great guy but I kind of think he let the program slip, recruiting-wise."
He said many people began asking him why he stopped calling in to talk basketball with the likes of UK broadcasters and radio friends Dick Gabriel, Dave Baker, Tom Leach and Cats Pause magazine founder Oscar Combs.
"It was at the time when the situation at the (Wolf Creek) dam was going down (last year) and someone called in asking where I was at and if I had got flooded out," he said.
After Smith left to coach Minnesota and a new coach, Billy Gillispie, was hired, "Bob from Jamestown" reappeared as a regular on the radio shows.
Cumming said he had met many UK greats of the past, one of the more notable being the late UK All-American Ralph Beard. Beard, an Olympic Gold medalist and a NCAA champion, became a pharmaceutical salesman after his playing days ended.
Cumming said he talked basketball several times with Beard when he made sales calls to local drugstores decades ago.
"I've met all kinds of players," Bob said. "During the 100th anniversary of UK basketball, I got my picture taken with the championship trophies from 1978, 1996 and 1998 and printed the picture on a shirt along with the words, 'The Original Bob from Jamestown.'"
Cumming, who still goes to as many games as possible, said players from the 1930s upward autographed the shirt, a piece of Wildcat memorabilia he keeps in a frame.
When asked who some of his favorite all-time Wildcats were, Bob came back with names like Dan Issel, former classmate Kevin Grevey, Kenny Walker and Richie Farmer, all of whom he has met.
Cumming even owns a UK coat given to him by longtime Wildcat equipment manager, Bill Keightley, affectionately known to UK fans as "Mr. Wildcat." Keightly has been the equipment manager since the days of Adolph Rupp.
Bob, a retired railroad worker with CSX, said he doesn't picture himself as a local or state celebrity, but by hearing one of his stories, it's hard to argue that point.
"One of the strangest things, I was up in Monroe, Michigan one time and stopped at a Frisch's Restaurant and the waitress came up and started to talk and recognized my voice," he said. "She was a UK fan and heard me on the broadcast."
He said with the streaming of games and call-in shows online, UK fans around the country can now tune in and hear "Bob from Jamestown" speak.
Another interesting story, Bob said, was when he was stopped once for speeding. Cumming said the officer was a UK fan and when he realized who he had pulled over, he let Bob go without giving him a ticket.
"You'd be surprised to see who all are Kentucky fans," he said with a grin.
Cumming said he listens to all call-in shows and game radio broadcasts on WKYM-101.7 FM in Monticello. He said he likes the station because they carry all call-in shows throughout the season and have an in-depth UK web site, www.wildcatsradio.com
'I love that site," he said. "It gives you all the stories about UK that you need to know from all the big papers."
He said the site also provides stories from the opposing team's area newspapers as well, giving an overall view of the week's games.
Cumming said the hiring of new coach Billy Gillispie was a good move by the university and that during the stretch run of this season the Wildcats have "stepped up," despite starting the year 6-7.
"You know, the coach started out hard-nosed and pretty tight with the compliments, but now you see the praise being heaped on him," he said. "You see how the players have grown on him and how he's grown on the players."
He said the play of seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford helped to lead the Wildcats to a 12-4 SEC record and that the play of sophomores Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson has improved leaps and bounds since freshman wunderkind Patrick Patterson went down with a stress fracture with three regular season games remaining.
The Wildcats have gone 2-1 without Patterson.
Kentucky plays in the SEC tournament at 8:45 p.m. on Friday and Bob said there was no doubt where he would be.
"I'll be cheering them on," he said. Yes, right after his scheduled airtime.