It's hard to believe that 40 years has gone by since I became (perhaps) the first sports announcer to ever interview a stripper at halftime of a college basketball broadcast. In fact I may be the only sports guy to ever have that distinction.
Heaven Lee was the darling of Printer's Alley in Nashville, Tennessee in the 1970's. Practically every one of her shows was sold out back then. You had to know someone to get in the door to see one of her two-three shows each evening. She got a lot of notoriety for showing up on Saturday at Nashville area college basketball games. She always seemed to pick a game that was being televised, and she would undoubtedly come to the game as a guest of one of the college fraternities. This is where I come in.
I was doing analysis for the late, great "Voice of the Blue Raiders" Monte Hale at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders had a TV game scheduled for a particular late February afternoon in 1974. I asked some of the fraternity guys I knew if they were bringing Heaven Lee to the game on Saturday, and none of them would give me a straight answer.
I asked Monte Hale if Heaven Lee came to the game, would he allow me to interview her. He laughed and said yes, very likely doubting if I was serious, or even if I could pull it off if she was there. My good friend Jim Freeman, who was MTSU's Sports Information Director at the time told me he would get me back stage and introduce me if I wanted to go with a group of our friends to see her one night at Printer's Alley. I said yes.
As we all watched Heaven perform the first of her shows that evening at the "Skulls Rainbow" strip club in Printers Alley, I actually got a little nervous as I waited for the chance to go back stage with Jim Freeman to meet her. After all, I had never met a stripper before. Heck, I had never even been to a strip club before that night. We walked into her dressing room, was introduced and after a bit of small-talk, I asked her if she was coming to the game. She said yes, and agreed to do an interview with me at halftime of the game. She was coming as the guest of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at MTSU, and some of the fellows agreed to escort her to the floor at halftime.
I have interviewed many famous sports stars, coaches, and administrators in my long career, but never have I ever done an interview like this one. With about two minutes left before halftime, Heaven Lee, wearing a tight, low cut dress began to walk toward press row. She was accompanied by four Kappa Sigma's, and as she approached our broadcast position at mid-court, I suddenly realized that I was the only person still seated. Monte Hale and our staff statistician Bob Alexander, had already gotten up and left the floor area, and so had every other writer, sportscaster, or school official. They had left me to fend for myself with a beautiful stripper and a microphone at mid-court.
When we came back live from our first halftime break, I began the interview. I still have no idea what I asked her or said to her, but I do remember one of her responses. "Oh Randy, thanks for having me here on the radio. I have so many friends here at MTSU." And she started to name them one by one. "Jim Freeman, and Jim Simpson, Coach Jimmy Earle and his assistant coach Ramrod Simpson, President M.G. Scarlett, Bob LaLance........" She had mentioned every one of the men that got up and left before she was seated. In other words, she had told every one listening on the six-station Blue Raider Network that many, many men on the MTSU campus had been to see her shows, some many times.
At the end of that five minute interview, I breathed a big sigh of relief; glad that it was finally over. When Monte Hale returned to press row, he was as red-faced as I have ever seen him. You see, Heaven Lee had also mentioned his name on the air. I will hand it to Monte; he backed me up 100% when a few women called his station on Monday morning and complained about the network having a halftime interview with a stripper. Monte also backed me up many more times when I would do some weird things.
I don't know what happened to Heaven Lee. I heard she got out of the burlesque business and got married a few years later. I do know this; I will always remember that day at Middle Tennessee State University in late February of 1974. The day I interviewed Heaven Lee on the radio, and managed to get a couple dozen of my friends in big trouble with their wives!
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson, TN. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org