Randy Smith: Bobby Denton: A True Tennessee Treasure

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

The University of Tennessee family has lost another icon. Legendary public address announcer Bobby Denton passed away early Wednesday morning following a short bout with cancer. He was 80 years old. In addition to his work as the Vols’ P.A. announcer for more than forty years, he was also a very well- respected broadcaster. The former vice-president and general manager of WIVK radio in Knoxville led the station to unparalleled success as a country music giant in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bobby Denton was widely known for a pair of phrases. First, there was “Please pay these prices, and please pay no more.” Many years ago, that phrase was in response to the fast rising prices in the concession areas at Neyland Stadium.  The university began to print the concession prices in the game program, so Bobby simply encouraged everyone to read them on page 99….then, don’t pay more than the published price. (Just in case the prices rose again)

Bobby’s second popular phrase was, “It’s football time in Tenn-uh-seeeeeeee.” He had to share that one with another Tennessee icon John Ward, who also used it on the Vol Network broadcasts. No one seems to know for sure who used it first, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Bobby Denton has been a big part of the U.T. game day experience for longer than I can remember. He is one of the reasons bleacherreport.com still lists Tennessee as the best tailgating school in the country. That statement is quite debatable, but when you throw in the many fans enjoying their game day food on boats just outside the stadium, it becomes pretty unique. He referred to the body of water outside the stadium several times through the years. When a team was faced with a third down and thirty-six yards to go for a first down, he said, “It’s third down…..and the RIVER…..”

Bobby believed in making big appearances. A few times, he was said to arrive at the stadium in a big limousine. I know for a fact, he showed up for a Tennessee game just a couple of years ago wearing an orange shirt and orange and white checkered pants; pants that looked a lot like pajamas. He was one of the few P.A. announcers who ever reached legendary status with their teams.  In some ways, he was a character that was bigger than life.

People may have smiled when they saw his clothes on game day, or laughed at his antics over the public address system, but few people knew how brilliant Bobby Denton was. He was an innovator in the broadcast industry; a man who was not afraid to try different things while he served as the general manager at WIVK. Folks in the business can’t really remember when some of those ideas failed, because most if not all of those ideas worked. Four different times under his tutelage, WIVK was the Country Radio Station of The Year nationally. Once WIVK obtained the exclusive contract for Tennessee athletic broadcasts on the Vol Network, the station began to flourish even more. After  more than thirty-five years, WIVK remains the flag-ship station for U.T. sports.

The loss of Bobby Denton is just another chip off the Big Orange block that has forged a great tradition surrounding Tennessee football. Few of the old-timers who remember what it was like a long time ago are still around.

I prefer to look at his passing this way; heaven had an opening for a great P.A. announcer and Bobby was offered the job. He accepted.


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. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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