He just wanted one seat, but he got them all.
On Friday night, the press box at Chester High School was officially named in honor of the late Carlisle Roddey, who spent 47 years behind the microphone as the radio “Voice of the Cyclones.” Roddey, obviously, spent many years as Chester County supervisor and the county government building is named in his honor, but I figure that he would be even more tickled by this honor. Government was his job, but the Cyclones were his true passion.
That showed itself pretty much anytime he was on the air. He made no pretense about being a fair, impartial arbiter or a disinterested third party. He was very pro-Cyclone and fairly anti-anybody else.
“We are not pro. We do not try to be,” he once told me of his broadcasting style.
So, if officials made a call against Chester he didn’t agree with, he let the referees have it. I once heard him say, “That white cap is the world’s biggest bozo.” Chain crews and clock operators would sometimes end up on the receiving end of his always good-natured ribbing. It was all in fun, because that is what high school football is supposed to be. He loved his team and wanted them to win worse than just about anything, but he was rarely critical and even in the bad years (and he called lots of those) he stayed positive and upbeat. After all, he often said, it’s a bunch of 16-year-olds playing a rough game and trying their best. He had a perspective more folks should adopt.
The vibe he wanted listeners to get is that they were listening to a couple of guys sitting in the bleachers talking like fans do. He wanted a conversational tone that made people feel like he was talking directly to them. He also didn’t feel the need to bore the audience. Just because the game was a one-sided tail-whipping lacking in intrigue and drama didn’t mean listeners should be bored. So, when things were out of hand, the game kind of became secondary to whatever else he decided to talk about. He went into full-blown, Southern storyteller mode. He might decide to do play-by-play of someone in the stands eating a hot dog, or to start recollecting about the great uncle of Chester’s starting tight end. He’d laugh about how that guy drove an ugly old beater of a car, loved bologna sandwiches and got the nickname “Sparky” because of a prank gone wrong involving firecrackers when he was a boy. See, given his day job, the fact that he was a people person and pretty much involved in everything that happened in Chester, he knew everybody. Heck, he probably called games later in his tenure featuring the grandkids of players from his early years.
When he did call the action, he didn’t just say stuff like “the back hit the hole hard.” No, that is a radio cliché and he didn’t use those. The running back ran through it “like a shot cat” or a “scalded dog” or “like he stole something.”
Trust me when I tell you, the colorful picture he painted on the Friday night fall airwaves wasn’t just listened to by die-hard Chester fans. He had listeners pretty much anywhere within the reach of his radio signal. I was at a concert in Greenville once upon a time and struck up a casual conversation with a guy who told me he was from Lugoff. When I mentioned working in Chester, his eyes lit up.
“Do you know Carlisle Roddey?” he asked.
Of course, I told him. He then enthused that though he wasn’t a Chester graduate or fan, his Friday ritual during football season was to set a trash barrel on fire, enjoy a six-pack (or 12-pack, or maybe a case) and just sit around listening to Carlisle.
When Carlisle called his final game in 2016, it was truly the end of an era. Chester is lucky to have a great broadcast team still bringing fans the action in Clint Davis, Jeff Kerr and Jim Fuller. Sadly, many radio stations and newspapers don’t have the staff or the desire to dedicate themselves to prep coverage they way they used to. Even when they do, there just aren’t many instantly recognizable, homer-ish, funny, homespun, hometown voices coming out of the speakers. Carlisle always stood out, was always Chester’s biggest cheerleader and was really one of the best ambassadors high school football in this state has ever had.
Chester High had actually honored Roddey by naming something in his honor before. When you call games on the radio, there isn’t a lot of time to run downstairs, stand in line and use the bathroom, so Carlisle lobbied to have one built behind his spot in the press box. He jokingly said he wanted that bathroom and toilet to be named after him and it was. For those who have never been up to the press box, his picture hangs on the door to the facilities and has for several years. Now the entire press box bears his name. So from now on, I and every other reporter and broadcaster covering Chester games will always be sitting in a seat named in Carlisle’s honor…not just when we have to take a quick break from the action.