Recalling our state's sports voices

By Frank Giardina
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's a busy time of year for sports, a time where you can listen to talk shows, college football and basketball, high school football and more.Here are some memories of some of the sports personalities and voices we used to hear on our favorite games in years gone by.
  • Bob Bowen: One of the nicest men I have ever met, Bowen was a television sports legend in the Huntington-Charleston market in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. He was an excellent TV and radio play-by-play broadcaster best known for doing Marshall games in the MMI tournaments back when that was a major event. On Friday nights when you watched the high school football scores, everyone watched Bowen. His updates on his "mighty Minford Falcons" was can't-miss TV. 
  • Terry Bumgarner:  Having grown up in the college football town of Norman, Okla., Bumgarner had a great love for college athletics. He came to WOWK-TV in the early 1980s from Texas and became one of us. He developed such an affection for the area that he returned on his own to watch the 1992 I-AA national championship football game at Marshall. Many may not realize he was also the nephew of famed Hollywood actor James Garner.
  • John Dickensheets: Everyone in town knows the longtime radio personality. You name it, Dickensheets has done it: play-by-play, talk shows, public address, coaching, etc. He did play-by-play all over the West Virginia Conference and was a regular fixture as the stadium voice for the Charleston Charlies at Watt Powell Park. He and longtime sports writers Mike Whiteford, Shorty Hardman, Bill Smith and others made summer evenings enjoyable in the Watt Powell press box. 
  • Jack Fleming: What can you say about the legendary voice of the Mountaineers? He was our state's most popular and beloved radio voice. Wherever you went across the state on a fall football Saturday, you heard Jack Fleming. On Sundays in the fall, he was also a legend in Pittsburgh as the radio voice of the Steelers.  
  • Fred Persinger: We're still listening to Persinger, the voice of high school sports in West Virginia. His play-by-play call means it is an early spring day at the boys state basketball tournament in Charleston, or it could be a cold night at the state football playoffs in Wheeling. Every high school administrator and coach in the state has known Fred for almost 40 years.
  • Ernie Saunders:  Saunders was the Curt Gowdy of sports in our state. If there was a big event, Ernie was there. If there was a big game to broadcast, he used to call it. When I think of Saunders, I always think of listening to a Stonewall Jackson-Charleston High game from a packed Laidley Field or a classic state tournament game in the old Charleston Civic Center.
  • Jim Thacker:  The former sports director of WSAZ-TV in the 1950s and '60s, Thacker may have been our state's most accomplished television sportscaster. He left our state to work for WBT-TV in Charlotte, N.C., and he also became the lead play-by-play voice of ACC basketball. He was also one of the original television play-by-play voices for ESPN. 
  • Wade Utay: Utay was Charleston's most visible television sportscaster in the 1970s. He anchored the sports on WCHS-TV, served as the radio voice of the Charleston Charlies in 1972 and did the play-by-play for the famous Marshall-Xavier football game in 1971 that was chronicled in the movie "We Are Marshall." Prior to coming to Charleston, he served as the play-by-play voice for the Naval Academy. 
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