By Trey Williams
Tim Cable is best known for his 25 years at WJHL-TV, but radio was “Cable Country” too.
Cable, who died Sunday after a month-long battle with COVID-19, was a rock-solid play-by-play man during a career that spanned five decades. He covered the Elizabethton Cyclones (WBEJ) in the ‘80s and Science Hill (WKPT/ESPN Tri-Cities) for more than a quarter of a century beginning in 1989, and he spent the majority of the past 10 years broadcasting Daniel Boone and David Crockett football and basketball for WJCW (Cumulus).
Cable, of course, intended to be at it again this year. He interviewed Daniel Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins on media day at the beginning of preseason camp.
“He was down in his back, but he was there,” Jenkins said. “He came in and talked to me. And it was later on that day or the next day that he got really sick.”
Jenkins recalled listening to Cable do Elizabethton basketball games in the ‘80s when his uncle Jamie played for Hampton with Tim Campbell, now the Boone principal.
“I remember listening to Tim Cable on the radio doing that Hampton-Elizabethton game because I was young and didn’t go to it,” Jenkins said. “You couldn’t even get in the place at Elizabethton. It was when Elvin Browne and them were there. I’m pretty sure Hampton beat ‘em twice that year.
“You felt like you were right there with them with Tim doing the play-by-play. He made it real personal and meaningful to you.”
In a couple of interviews in the past eight years, Cable offered some reflection. He began in radio working with Bill Wilkins, the Voice of the Cyclones and a former head basketball coach at Science Hill.
“Bill told me my most important duty was pouring a beer with the right head on it,” Cable said with his familiarly wry smile.
Cable admired longtime Tennessee play-by-play man John Ward and Marty Brennaman, the voice of the Cincinnati Reds from 1974-2019.
“John Ward was a big play-by-play influence,” Cable said in 2015. “I always wanted his gig. And also Marty Brennaman of my beloved Cincinnati Reds – I still want his gig.”
Cable enjoyed working with former East Tennessee State coach John Robert Bell for five seasons while doing Science Hill games along with Scott Gray. Bell, best known for coaching ETSU to a win against Terry Bradshaw-led Louisiana Tech in the 1969 Grantland Rice Bowl, was not exactly a seasoned radio man. It took a while for him to stop talking into and out of commercial breaks.
“He would kind of walk over us on the air and shout different things,” a chuckling Cable said. “Like, one of his favorite things was he always thought the slant pass would work all the time. So he’d talk over us a little bit and say, ‘The slant! The slant’s open!’
“He would vocalize things while we were in the middle of play-by-play or whatever. He did that the first few games and then we talked to him a little bit. I said, ‘Coach, those are great comments, but wait until one of us finishes a thought.’”
Cable would invariably chuckle if you mentioned a sawhorse, which is what the large, 70-something Bell was atop while attempting to scale the Memorial Stadium fence one year when they’d been locked in.
There were never barriers with Bell. Cable alluded to Bell’s kindness a number of times during nearly 30 years of crossing paths in gyms and press boxes. Cable’s cousin’s wife, Marilyn Tester, was Bell’s longtime secretary.
“I had known him a little bit through her,” Cable said, “but when I started working with him I was just blown away, because he is the most genuinely nice man I’ve ever met. I mean, he was just incredible. How far it went – and I know he did this for a lot of people – his wife Anne made my kids Christmas stockings. She hand-crocheted them and put their names on them and everything, and he was happy to deliver those. They were such great people.”
Bill Curry, the former head coach at Alabama, Georgia Tech and Kentucky, spoke at Bell’s funeral.
“Wherever we went on a road trip it would take us 30 minutes to get into the stadium and get up to the broadcast booth, because he was talking to everybody and shaking hands with everybody,” Cable said. “He had such great contacts – Bill Curry, Tom Landry. The list goes on and on.”
Gray and Cable broadcasted Science Hill football games for 25 years.
“I loved doing the games with Tim,” Gray said. “We had instant chemistry on the air and he made me a better broadcaster. I’ll always cherish those times, but even more so the time we spent off the air, traveling to the games and eating at our favorite restaurants. His laughter made me laugh.”
Cable would readily recite a number of Hilltoppers players he enjoyed watching. Aubrayo Franklin, Jeremy Owens, Malik McGue and Brad Fields were impressive. All-time leading rusher Terry Copeland was at or near the top of the list.
“He was incredible, and if things had gone the right way with him, you know, we may have been seeing him play on Sundays,” Cable said. “I just think he was that good. Strong, and yet fast. He could beat you two ways: he’d either run over you or run around you.”
Copeland led the ‘Toppers to back-to-back quarterfinals appearances under Mike Turner and Scott McClanahan in 1993-94.
“My favorite memory in football was in ’93 against Jeff County,” Cable said. “We called it the Lateral-Roosky play. They were trying to kick the extra-point, which would’ve tied the game as I recall. … Darrell Love was holding and Matt Maggard was kicking. It was a high snap and went through Darrell Love’s hands, and so Maggard picks the ball up and starts taking off toward the goal line. And he doesn’t make it very far, because he wasn’t that swift. And he laterals it over to Darrell Love, who then throws it – loops it up in the air – and Tyrone Bachman jumps up and catches it in the end zone and they beat Jeff County by one point.
“That was kind of a magical season anyway. That’s the one play I remember most.”
Turner, who went on to become the head coach at Carson-Newman, is fond of talking about beating Baylor in the second round of the ’93 playoffs. The pregame meal was bananas and Gatorade due to a bus breakdown.
“And they came down and got to the game not long before it started,” Cable said, “and warmed up real quick and then proceeded to beat Baylor and make it to the third round. I think that was the year they lost to Oak Ridge, 18-15, on that last-second field goal in the rain. It was pouring the rain at Memorial Stadium. Oak Ridge kicked that field goal – I think it was 40-some yards and we thought it wasn’t gonna get there and it just kept going end over end and barely went over the crossbar. And that knocked them out of the playoffs.”
Cable smiled recalling a number of Science Hill athletes.
“Toby (Patton) was probably the fastest Hilltopper I can remember,” Cable said. “Reed Hayes could really throw it. I guess I wasn’t surprised about his throwing as much as I was by his running his senior year. If they needed a play, he always made it, it seemed like.”
Hayes was the quarterback in what Cable described as the most electric setting he’d seen for a high school football game – when Science Hill visited Dobyns-Bennett with both teams sporting 9-0 records in 2012. The Indians, led by Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford, rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win, 37-34.
“That was the best atmosphere we’ve had in 25 years,” Cable said, “and it was a great game too. It was just bad for Science Hill, because they should’ve beaten them.”
Cable helped Gray broadcast Science Hill basketball for 13 years beginning in ‘89. Science Hill won the state tournament in their first season and finished runner-up the following year, but Cable’s most exciting game was when Science Hill defeated Ron Mercer-led Oak Hill in sold-out Freedom Hall in December of ’94.
“Freedom Hall was unreal,” Cable said. “It was packed. You couldn’t get a seat.”
Cable also saw Science Hill defeat two Whites Creek teams with future NBA player David Vaughn (in Bristol and Murfreesboro) and beat a team with future NBA player Jermaine O’Neal in Atlanta.
“What an incredible opportunity we’ve had to travel with Science Hill basketball,” Cable said. “We traveled with them to Alaska twice, Canada, Ft. Myers, Florida., Louisville, Columbus, Ohio, Metropolis, Illinois, Atlanta to play in the old Omni.”
Anxiety began to accumulate during the Alaska trip in ’93.
“We went to Portage Glacier National Park,” Gray said. “The closer we got to the park, the heavier the snow became. As you get within a mile or two, you drive on this little tiny, wilderness road to get there. And the snow was coming down pretty good and we didn’t have a 4-wheel- or all-wheel-drive vehicle. They had all been snapped up before we could get one.
“We were talking as we were driving (about) how ironic – and sad and comical – it would be if we fly some 3,000 miles to Alaska, then can’t do Science Hill’s first game because we got stranded in the wilderness. But, we did make it out okay.”
Gray and Cable went to Alaska in 1993 and ’95. Meals at Sourdough Mining Company and The Cattle Company in Anchorage were worth the trip.
The WKPT and WJCW stations were both in Alaska.
“The Alaska paper did a story on us,” Gray said. “They couldn’t believe that two radio stations doing the same team were going to Alaska.”
Gray still marvels at the double duty Cable managed to pull off one time when Science Hill was hosting Dobyns-Bennett in Freedom Hall in the early ‘90s.
“We were setting up for our broadcast courtside when he proceeded to tell me that he wasn’t sure he could do the game because he had to shoot video of the game for WJHL,” Gray said. “He was the weekend sports anchor for them during that time, and they wanted to spread their videographers out to as many games as possible. So they asked Tim to shoot the Science Hill/D-B game.”
Cable was less than enamored with the impromptu duty, but pulled it off.
“Tim figured out how to accomplish both,” Gray said. “He shot video while – at the same time – calling the game on the radio and somehow made it work. It’s almost like being two places at once, but he did it.”
Cable did some baseball broadcasting too, including a late-80s stint with the Kingsport Mets and some Science Hill games in the early ‘90s. Baseball was especially enjoyable for Cable, a huge Cincinnati Reds fan and an all-conference pitcher/shortstop for Doug Phillips at Hampton in 1978-79.
“We had never beaten Happy Valley and we finally beat them my senior year,” Cable said, “and that was one of the happiest times of my life.”
Cable recalled doing Science Hill baseball games when Jeremy Owens played. Owens made it to Triple-A with the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres.
“He was a ballplayer,” Cable said. “We liked Cowtales and we talked about it on the air, and Jeremy’s parents, Mike and Sondra, would send us a big box of Cowtales up there about every game.”
Basketball player Gilbert Charles’ grandmother, Sarah “Babe” Hamilton, baked cookies for Gray and Cable. The late Jack and Shirley Ann Chinouth, arguably the Hilltoppers’ most avid boosters for decades, popped in Cable’s mind, too.
Baseball and football memorably intersected when Cincinnati was playing Oakland in the 1990 World Series.
“On October 19th, 1990, the Reds were playing Game 3 of the World Series at Oakland the same night we were broadcasting a ‘Topper football game,” Gray said. “The Reds had taken the first two games in Cincy. I told Tim we were planning to give updates on the World Series during our broadcast. He took his headset off during those updates and told Coach Bell and myself not to give anything away because he was recording the game at home.”
Cable recorded football games for first-year David Crockett football coach Hayden Chandley in 2018. The Pioneers had the most successful season in school history, advancing to the quarterfinals before losing a hard-fought game on the road against eventual state champion Knox Central.
“During that memorable 2018 season we had, he made copies of every game that he called for all of the coaching staff for that year,” Chandley said. “He gave ‘em to us and we’d go back and listen to ‘em. … He just always put a smile on your face when you heard his voice. He meant so much to not only the Jonesborough community, but the Gray community as well. Nobody will ever replace Tim Cable.”
Cable would tell you there was something unforgettable about Friday nights, especially when his wife Christinia was in the press box beside him as a production assistant. Seeing them happily working side by side might’ve been the best part of more than one Friday night in recent years.
The sound of Cable’s voice could help settle a keyed-up press box. He didn’t harp on officials missing calls – “I’m not gonna beat the dead horse,” he’d say – and didn’t make every four-yard run by the home team sound like Walter Payton was carrying the football.
Unabashed homers are a dime a dozen. And fairness is important to any avid fan of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Cable and Gray could quote seemingly every episode of the sitcom classic. Cable was asked one time how he’d cast himself and Gray in the show.
“I guess I’d have to be Andy because I have dark hair and Scott’s a little bit thinner than I am,” Cable said with a sly smile. “Not saying that I’m the sheriff. … We have so much admiration and care about each other and respect for each other.”
Cable was thankful to do what he loved. He smiled at the electric scene for the 2018 Musket Bowl at David Crockett. Surveying the overflow crowd, you couldn’t help but think about the surreal setting for Science Hill at Dobyns-Bennett six years earlier.
A large crowd braved the pandemic for the 50th annual Musket Bowl last year, and Cable smiled watching Crockett’s Prince Kollie rise to the occasion in the Pioneers’ 20-14 victory.
It turned out that Prince Kollie, now at Notre Dame, provided a royal sendoff for Cable. In fact, his talent evoked images of Copeland doing his thing for Science Hill nearly 30 years earlier.
On Friday nights, Cable would tell you, it was like you were still 18 years old.
“There’s something about the Friday night lights,” Cable said. “They never go out, you know. They’re magical.”