The Real Story of the Beginning of Bobby Denton’s Broadcast Career
The iconic voice of the P.A. announcer at Tennessee home football games was silenced when Bobby Denton passed away at 73 in April of this year. Bobby was a 1959 graduate of East High, and a broadcasting legend in Knoxville.
As I read the articles written in numerous newspapers and posted on-line I was drawn back to some palpable memories of times Bobby, Don Whedbee and I played together in the early fifties. As I looked at the pictures, most taken in the years after he began his broadcasting career, and read about the genesis of his career I realized two things.
First, there are some pictures that few if any have seen of Bobby. One of them is at the top of this story. Others follow.
Secondly, I believe I can shed significant light on the reporting of how his career actually began. I believe that only his sisters; Carolyn, Charlotte and Toni, his mother, Don Whedbee (EHS 1958) and I know the real story. Bobby lived in a duplex in the middle of the twenty five hundred block of East Fifth Avenue. In the early 1950’s Bobby, Don and I played together almost every day. Football in the 5th Avenue Baptist Church yard, basketball in my backyard on Cherry Street…on a dirt court…baseball at Chilhowee Park and even fishing in the lake at the park filled many days during those growing up years.
Bobby’s bedroom was on the second floor of his home. One day as we knocked on the Denton’s door for another day’s play, his mother, a kind and gracious lady, told Don and me to “go on up, Bobby is in his room.” We found Bobby sitting on the floor, behind the door of his room, announcing a fictitious baseball game that was playing in his mind. So as I read the story of his initial announcing gig at the raceway in Maryville I realized, that the story was minimally incomplete and really just flat wrong. He may not have had a big audience, or gotten paid, but his true broadcast career beginning was in 1951-52, not in Maryville in 1957.
As Paul Harvey famously said, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
Most of the people in the attached pictures are identified. Most attended high schools in Knoxville and some attended Tennessee.
1952 YMCA Biddy League Eagles
Front L-R: KENNETH BOMAR (Attended Park Junior…moved to Nashville, graduated UT…now tennis coach at a Christian School in Atlanta), ROSS GREENE (EHS-1958), BOBBY DENTON (EHS-1959), CLARK SMELCER, DAVID FRY (Also lived on 5th Avenue, graduated EHS and in a Presbyterian minister…his brother Bob, graduated from KHS and played football at Tennessee in the early 50’s and coached high school sports in Knoxville)
Middle: Coach PAT SCRUGGS (KHS-1951, played on the state championship basketball team at KHS in 1950-51. Owned Scruggs Electric in Knoxville)
Back L-R: KENNETH LAWELL (EHS-1958), DAVID ANDERTON (Bearden HS 1958…also was all state basketball player at Bearden and played at Tennessee…retired from NASA space program in Orlando), DON WHEDBEE (EHS-1958, Graduated Tennessee and owns an Insurance Company in Houston), UNKNOWN, RAYMOND GAMMON (Attended Park Junior, was Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion…later was convicted of killing two women in Memphis and died in prison)
1952 Photo. Three aspiring Tennessee footballers
Front: DAVID GREENE (Holston 1963…Played Baseball at Tennessee…Sales Career in the trucking industry)
Back: BOBBY DENTON, ROSS GREENE
1952 Y.M.C.A. Biddy Basketball Eagles
Players the same as other photo with two additions as noted.
Front L-R: BILL HIGDON (Holston HS 1962…Assistant Athletic Director at U. of Tennessee, now retired) CLARK SMELCER, DAVID FRY, BOBBY DENTON, KENNY BOMAR.
Back L-R: ROSS GREENE, DON WHEDBEE, DAVID ANDERTON, ED POORE (EHS 1961…Graduated from U od Florida, All SEC Basketball, later coached in Florida)
I didn’t know of Bobby’s passing until I received this Knoxville Heritage. Thanks, Ross, for keeping up with these things when the rest of us can’t seem to find the time to do so. It brings back many fond memories not only of our days playing Biddy Basketball at the downtown Y but of the days he and Ross played for the Red Sox in Little League baseball (I was on the arch-rival Yankees). As an adult I never attended a Vol football game and heard him bellow “Pay those prices and pay no more!” that I didn’t think about those days growing up in East Knoxville.
I grew up and lived at 2557 E. 5th Avenue, across from Bobby. Good to see the writeup. (EHS 1954)
Ross, thank you for the story about Bobby Denton and the memories of a special time in our lives. Please continue to keep us informed! Bill and I moved from Knoxville in 1959, but I am interested in friends and classmates. Sympathize when someone dies. It is nice to hear what they have been doing all these years! We have a wonderful family of 3 children and 10 grandchildren. I worked as an RN for 23 years at Jackson- Madison County General Hospital here in Jackson, TN. Loved my job and now enjoying retirement with Bill. We have lived in Huntsville, Al, Merritt Island, FL, and Jackson, TN.
I lived at 2543 Magnolia and Bobby lived behind my house on E. 5th in a duplex and I remember well of seeing and talking almore daily with Bobby. His Father was the Divsn. Engineer with Southern Ry and passed away wile Bobby was a teanager and in school. The entire family was wonderful people.
Thanks Ross, and I while I didn’t know Bobby Denton growing up, I read this article carefully, so as to perhaps find both Family Members and Friends I may have known, and the KHS names were very familiar, so it’s just a pattern I have adopted to find both friends and classmates from all of my Knoxville schools – McCallie Elementary, Knoxville High in 1950-1951, and Knoxville East High in the 1951-1952 timeframe. I liked the way you told and ended your story, as it breathed life into it from long ago and far away, but reminded us all that a story has never been fully told until everyone speaks and perhaps adds a treasure for everyone reading it. Who was thet teacher again you once complimented for teaching you how to write? She did a great job and I think she might have been at Park Jr, if memory serves… Thanks again Ross!
For those of you who do not live in the Knoxville area you will not believe the extent of the coverage given to Bobby’s passing.
The newspaper, all 3 tv stations and several of the radio stations were running stories about Bobby for a week. The radio station where Bobby started ran live coverage of Bobby’s last hour. Many radio personalities were telling anecdotes of how Bobby helped their careers. It was amazing.
This is a great story of Bobby’s start as an announcer years before the Maryville racetrack in 1957 where he was coaxed into taking up that microphone. As usual, you effortlessly recall details of the past and convey them to those of us who continue to be nostalgic about our youth in an era so unlike today. You definitely have an autobiographical memory and we are the fortunate ones to benefit from your research, pictures, and articles about childhood days, EHS, and beyond of families, friends and classmates.
Since leaving Knoxville in 1967 and never returning to live there since, I have met people in other cities/states where I lived and can attest that when I tell them about EHS and the bond from 1952 through 1968, I sense they cannot relate but might wish. Most say they never attend high school reunions or remember much about it. Even my own children do not attend their high school class reunions! Sad, at least to me, but think our society today is a “sign of the times,” that is vastly different from our era.
But we have you who keep our school and memories alive as far back as elementary school! Thank you for your diligence, commitment, and perseverance in keeping EHS and our Knoxville Heritage alive!
Thanks Ross, most of my old photos are gone. When I got married and moved out, my mother put them “up” and most never surfaced again. The photos and my “baseball cards” are all gone. If I remember you were a Red Sox fanatic, and I liked the Yankees. Wonder what my Mantle rookie cards are worth, and who has them. LOL
I also remember The Tic-Toc Drive in and the 5 cent frosty root beer when we played sandlot at the park. Wow, lots of memories are dormant, and many are just gone. Thanks again for jogging the memory stem.
I grew up across the street from Fifth Avenue Baptist Church and remember very well all those football games, you guys played, i also remember the kick the can and hide and seek games we played and always present was Bobby and his sisters, We will always remember those twinkling brown eyes and his quick wit and deep laugh and generous heart and his love for Knoxville and his Vols. What a loss for this family and all of us who knew and loved him.