One of the all-time great names in Tennessee football history left us on Tuesday as former Vol captain Bill Anderson passed away at the age of 80. While he was a great player for the Vols and later the NFL's Green Bay Packers, he is best known for his role on the Vol Radio Network. Anderson spent 30 years alongside the great John Ward as part of the longest running duo in college football. I had the honor and the privilege of being part of that team as host of the Kickoff Call In Show for 17 of those 30 years on the Vol Network.
He was not a professional announcer. Kind of rough around the edges, Bill Anderson was an analyst; perhaps the most knowledgeable football guy I've ever been around. His style as he teamed with the very professional Ward for those 30 years was the opposite of Ward in every way. But that unique approach was the reason the pair was so successful for so many years.
One of the great stories about Bill Anderson took place even before I began working with the Vol Network. In the older days of radio, before the days of computers and, yes, even before the days of satellites, radio networks used telephone lines to get their games on the air. This was quite costly and, technically speaking, sometimes very complicated. If you ever lost your line, the chances of getting it back at all were about 50-50. The Vol Network was set up on telephone lines, sending the Vols' games to more than 100 stations; making it the largest network of its type in the country.
At the end of every game, when everything had been said and the Vol Network had signed off their broadcast for the day, someone in the booth would say, "Good night Telco". That would be the signal for the telephone line connecting the Vol Net to all their affiliate stations to be disconnected, ending the broadcast. An engineer would be listening and when he heard "Good night Telco" he would disconnect.
On a particular evening, the Vol Network engineer in the booth asked John and Bill to check their mics before they went on the air. John did his usual, "testing, testing one two three...." but Bill decided to be creative. He said, "testing, testing...Good night Telco." When the telephone engineer heard his cue to end the broadcast, he disconnected. He hung up on John and Bill and it took a while and many phone calls to get things straightened out and get the broadcast back on the air. Needless to say, Bill Anderson never uttered the words, "Good night Telco" again.
I miss Bill and the nights we would sit at a bar discussing life and, of course, Tennessee football. He was as cordial to the fans as he was his friends, because he considered himself to be one of them......a regular guy. He would always laugh when someone would compliment him on his job as the Vols analyst because he readily knew he was not a professional announcer, but he wasn't supposed to be. He was an excellent analyst and his tenure with John Ward is one that covers some of the most exciting years in Tennessee history.