In addition to losing the winningest class in school history, Murray State Athletics will also lose another figure at home football and basketball games.
Paul Radke, who has been the voice of women’s basketball for 27 seasons, men’s for 24 and football for 20 seasons, will retire this year.
“Sometimes in every person’s life, you know when the time is right to let the next person have their turn,” he said. “Both my wife and I feel that this is a good time to do this.”
After working in higher education for 38 years, Radke and his wife will be retiring to Foley, Ala. The move will bring him closer to his children, who live in Alabama and Mississippi, and to his wife’s mother, who lives in Orange Beach, Ala. He said he is not done working, however. He plans to do something, though he is not sure what that will be yet.
Before Saturday’s game, Murray State honored him for his time at the school. Radke said he was surprised by all the fans’ appreciation and that the feeling was rewarding.
“I just did a 360, just kind of looking at the student section, the band and all the fans who sit right behind me that I talk to on a regular basis, all the folks on the upper deck that pay general admission just to come in and watch a game,” he said. “It was just a blur.”
The hardest part for him was at the end of the game, when it was time for him to sign off and say goodbye for a final time he said. He got very emotional and still gets emotional thinking about it.
“I have that way that I always say it, which is ‘We appreciate your support of Racer Basketball, come again and please drive safely’,” Radke said. “Well, I started it, and I couldn’t finish it. A lot of the fans kind of cheered and yelled and they helped me get through it.”
That moment, he said, was one he would never forget. There was a lot of love in the room that day, and he really appreciated it.
When Radke started at Murray State in April of 1986, he did not expect to stay long. He thought he would stay for three years and then move up the career ladder, which was 27 years ago. Currently, Radke is the director of development for the Hudson School of Agriculture. He is also the Associate director of gift planning and has worked as the director of school relations.
When Radke came to Murray, he fell in love with the city and the University. He said it became home to him even though he grew up in Wisconsin and lived in Chicago, Ill.
“Murray State has given me an opportunity to be able to grow professionally, to be able to raise my girls in a safe, nurturing environment and to have lots of fun just working here,” he said. “It’s a place that I am going to truly miss, but I will not be a stranger.”
One of the things Radke is most excited to come back to Murray State for is Homecoming, and not having to work the event.
“I get to go to Tent City, and I can stay there as long as I want without having to run up to the press box in Roy Stewart Stadium to get ready for the football game,” he said. “I will be able to yell at the officials like every other fan does. I will be able to anticipate Racer One being let loose on a touchdown.”
He said he is excited to come back and be an alumnus. Even though he did not graduate from the University, he still feels like one in body and soul.
Radke said he got into announcing on a dare. He was a pitcher at George Williams College and the public address announcer for his college was leaving. They were holding open auditions, which his roommate dared him to go to.
“I used to kind of mess around with it in the room, you know the way guys do,” he said. “My roommate was a basketball player and a volleyball player. So I would introduce him in the room just to kind of get him pumped up for a game. So one thing led to another and I got picked.”
As a junior, he became the public address announcer for basketball and volleyball. This opened many doors for him. In the ‘70s in Chicago, there were many international volleyball matches.
He was able to announce the Russian National Team when it came through and played the United States Team, as well as the Japanese National Team. He also announced some South American teams and the Cuban National Team when they were still able to travel to the U.S. All in all, he has announced for basketball, soccer, football, some swim meets and water polo matches. One thing he never announced for, however, is baseball.
“Here, I am, a baseball athlete at heart, and I have never really gotten the opportunity to do a baseball game, other than my daughters softball games,” he said. “I have had a front row seat to a lot of great games, not only here at Murray State, but growing up, and it has been a lot of fun.”
For about the last 20 years, Radke has been the public announcer for the three major sports: football and men and women’s basketball. He started as just the women’s basketball announcer, then slid into all three sports over the years.
“I have had some blessed experiences,” he said. “I have had players fall in my lap. I have had players jump over my head. I have heard some words that I probably should not have heard. I have had cokes dumped on me, I have had water dumped on me, but I would not have changed it for anything. Its the best seat in the house.”
While announcing in Racer Arena and the CFSB Center, Radke has seen many greats pass through the doors and many last-second shots win games.
“I saw Don Mann go from the baseline with 1.2 seconds left of the clock,” he said. “I don’t know how he did it but he dribbled from the baseline and made a 3-pointer to beat Austin Peay by one point and the crowd went nuts.”
Radke said when he used to announce in Racer Arena the acoustics would be either terrible or fantastic, depending on whether a listener was a home or visiting team.
“It got loud and it was hot, it was nasty,” he said. “There were times when we would have a rolled-up towel on our table, with adhesive tape on the ends of it. We would have to throw that on the court because you couldn’t hear the buzzer and you couldn’t hear me. We would have to get the attention of the official.”
Popeye Jones was one of Radke’s favorite players to watch. The things that he was able to do on the court were unbelievable he said.
“Great young man,” he said. “I remember after ball games he would sit on the circle, and kids would be around him three and four deep. He would sign autographs or get pictures with them to a point, where the coach would have to get a manager out and say ‘Popeye in the locker room come on’. He was just a big kid at heart.”
Radke said he remembers one time, in a game against Morehead State, Jones grabbed a defensive rebound and led a three-on-two fast break. Jones passed the ball behind his back to another player and that player then laid the ball up with his left had. He said as Jones turned to run back down the court, the coach for the opposing team stuck out his hand to give Jones a high-five and it was unbelievable.
When the teams switched to playing in the CFSB Center, last season has to be one of the biggest highlights of his career.
“That game against St. Mary’s when Dick Vitale was here, everybody complained that the CFSB Center could not get as loud as Racer Arena,” Radke said. “Trust me it was one of the loudest game that we had ever had here, Racer Arena or CFSB Center.”
When he announced football, two memories really stand out to him. One was the field goal with no time left on the clock to beat Tony Romo, when he quarterbacked for Eastern Illinois. The Racers beat him to win the 2002 Conference Championship. The other was when Eastern Kentucky came to Murray to play. Roy Kidd was coaching for EKU at this time and he had just won many championships and was known as the Godfather of OVC football. Both teams were tied for the Conference Championship.
“We beat the living daylights out of them and Roy Kidd was so mad,” Radke said. “You could hear him on the other side of the stadium yelling, ‘If that horse runs one more time, you guys are going to be running until you fall down.’ It was just a lot of fun to be a Racers that day.”
The memories he made on campus, outside of athletic events are also very important to him. Radke said what he would miss the many wonderful people he has worked with and the students the most. To be able to help students make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives has been very rewarding to him.
“I have had a lot of good times here and the students are why I do what I do,” he said. “…They keep you young and they keep you excited. Sometimes you just scratch your head and shake your head, but it is all part of the growing up process.”
Story by Jaci Kohn, Sports Editor.