The exemplary life’s work of each of this year’s four Crittenden County Distinguished Alumni inducted last month involves careers in justice, technology research, broadcasting and business. This year’s inductees Judge Jerry Brown and Dr. Andrew Mason exemplify the very best of ambition, drive and hard work. Posthumous inductees Bob Swisher and Juanita Burks each shared a lifetime of contributions already recorded in history. All were recognized at a private luncheon May 27 and again at commencement ceremonies at Rocket Arena.
Swisher western Ky. sports broadcasting legend
By DARYL K. TABOR, THE CRITTENDEN PRESS
If a person can truly be born for a particular job, sports broadcasting was given Bob Swisher.
The longtime voice for western Kentucky sports, Swisher grew up during the Great Depression and World War II on the ballfields of Crittenden County. When he wasn't playing ball, he was pretending to call the games like the St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster he idolized.
"When he was little, he would go around with a tin can and play like he was on air," his college sweetheart and widow Hilda said. "He was trying to sound like Harry Caray."
It's for developing that passion into a long, successful career that Swisher will be inducted posthumously Friday as a Crittenden County Distinguished Alumnus. He began broadcasting for real while a student majoring in history and physical education at then-Murray State College in the late 1940s and remained on the airwaves in western Kentucky as a fixture until his death at the age of 82 in 2010.
Sports broadcasting was the perfect match for a man who excelled as an athlete both as a hard-hitting shortstop and as a quarterback for Marion High School's Blue Terrors. In 2000, he was inducted into the Marion-Crittenden County Athletics Hall of Fame.
After graduating MHS in 1946, Swish – as he was known by many of those close to him – traded in the ball for a microphone and was able to remain close to the games he loved. Settling in Paducah, he became station director for WKYB radio and broadcast professional baseball games for the Paducah Chiefs of the former Kitty League and gridiron action for Paducah Tilghman High School and Murray State.
"He had a great voice," said Gordon Guess, whose own amateur broadcasting career was greatly influences by his friend Swisher.
"It was a gift, and he had a nice easy way of doing it," Hilda, who plans to attend Friday’s induction ceremony, said of her husband's delivery.
Though he would leave Crittenden County to establish his career, he never forgot his heritage. In the years after he left in 1946, he would often frequent local sporting events, visit with friends and even emcee the annual Marion High reunion.
In 1957, Swisher put a face with that voice by signing Paducah's new television station, WPSD, onto the air. His television career budded earlier that decade in San Diego as a public information officer in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He left television in 1990, having influenced dozens of on-air personalities in his 30-plus years as sports director and production manager for WPSD.
Swisher never really retired from broadcasting. Though he maintained no regular broadcasts in his later life, he would turn up on air from time to time. In 2008, Guess invited Swisher, an infielder six decades earlier for Marion's amateur Twin States League team, to toss out the first ball for the Marion Bobcats on opening night of the inaugural season. He later joined Guess on air for the first-ever Bobcats radio broadcast.
For decades, Swisher's voice painted the picture of what was happening on the field. But he left his mark on western Kentucky in other ways. He organized Sports Against Cancer that continues to raise money for the American Cancer Society. At church, he used his silky voice to teach a senior women's Sunday school class.
"They just loved him," Hilda said.
Despite Swisher’s success, he never took his gifts for granted.
"Since he's gone, I just think about how many things he was good at," Hilda said, adding a little career advice for today's youth. "He worked hard at things he wanted to do. And if you get the chance do something you really love, that's just a wonderful thing."