The Voice of the Mocs let out a soft chuckle Wednesday afternoon.
"I've been fooling people for 999 games," said Jim Reynolds as he reflected on his distinguished broadcasting career. "Hopefully I can fool them for at least one more."
One thousand University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball games. That's the number of Mocs contests the man many of us affectionately know as "J.R." will have called by the close of tonight's Southern Conference showdown against UNC Greensboro at McKenzie Arena.
And that would have been reason enough to honor the 57-year-old father of six daughters, which the school will enthusiastically do at halftime, Jennifer -- "We call her 'Rocko'" -- Julie, Amy, Holly, Kaitlyn and Squeaky all joining in the tribute to their dad.
But no one lasts 1,000 hoops broadcasts in a competitive, passionate radio market like Chattanooga without more in his corner than longevity.
"[J.R.] is one of the most professional radio people I've ever encountered, and I've done this a long time," said former UTC coach Mack McCarthy, who worked with Reynolds for 12 seasons.
"He could be a really good friend and very good listener and still ask the tough question without being confrontational."
Said longtime radio partner Todd Agne, who still works UTC football games with Reynolds: "J.R. is so accurate, something that I don't think people always appreciate. He treats the game as a reporter rather than a fan. His postgame questions are sometimes perceived as hostile, but they're honest. He only tells you what he knows as fact, rather than theory. He's one of the most respected broadcasters in the league."
His first UTC basketball broadcast came on Nov. 29, 1980, with the Mocs mashing Maryville 82-53. That season also delivered the school's first NCAA Tournament berth following a SoCon tourney title game victory over Appalachian State and its charismatic coach, Bobby Cremins.
Thirty-three seasons later, Reynolds still counts that conference title game as one of his five most memorable moments, right up there the Sweet 16 run in 1997, Lance Fulse sinking two free throws to knock off Marshall in the 1988 SoCon tourney semi, the NIT second-round win at Lamar in 1985 and the NCAA win over N.C. State in 1982.
His two worst moments? Gerry Born -- UTC star Brandon Born's older brother -- hitting a 35-footer at the buzzer to stun the Mocs in the 1986 SoCon tourney final, followed by UNC Greensboro hitting a last-second shot in the 2001 SoCon final to beat UTC by one, a gut-wrenching loss that probably cost Henry Dickerson his job a year later.
"I hope I can paint emotions with words," he said. "In an age where so many games are on television -- though not a lot of ours -- I'm that old-fashioned black-and-white photo. I try to never forget that the game is the star. I always go back to something I learned in college at Illinois State. My job is to inform, to entertain and to educate."
Thanks to a conversation he once had with the late, great Harry Caray -- then the broadcaster of the Chicago White Sox before he joined the cross-town Cubs -- he almost never went to college.
"My high school girlfriend's family knew a beat writer for the White Sox and she arranged for me to go to a game with him," recalled Reynolds, an Illinois native. "He took me out on the field and I got to meet Harry.
"I told him I wanted to be a broadcaster and asked him what college I should go to. He said, 'Son, don't go to college. Get behind a microphone. College is a waste of time.'"
When young Reynolds returned home and repeated the story to his mother, Martha, she quickly replied, "Harry Caray's not your parent."
Thus did J.R. later graduate from Illinois State while doing high school and Illinois Wesleyan games before landing the UTC gig as a 24-year-old.
"Some of the giants of our business were still working back then -- John Ward at Tennessee, Larry Munson at Georgia, Cawood Ledford at Kentucky, Woody Durham at North Carolina, Jack Cristil at Mississippi State," recalled Reynolds.
"It was just wonderful to have a chance to listen to those guys. To this day, John Ward has gone out of his way to be nice to me."
Yet Reynolds never went out of his way to mimic those radio legends. Remember, the game was the star.
"I've fallen off a stool now and then, too, but I couldn't make it as humorous as Munson did," Reynolds said.
That doesn't mean he's never emotional.
Agne recalled a time in Huntington, W.Va., when the Mocs were in town to play Marshall. As is often the custom, the hotel the team was staying in shut off long-distance service to all the rooms officially listed to the UTC traveling party in order to avoid billing issues.
But Reynolds wasn't a player. He was a broadcaster in desperate need of an outside line.
Finally, in exasperation, he called the front desk.
Recalled Agne: "He said, 'I know we're in West Virginia, but you guys do have outside lines, don't you. You have heard of Alexander Graham Bell, haven't you?'"
Reynolds admits he's heard the praises of his fairness.
"You should ask the questions the fans are asking," he said. "That's your job. But you can ask tough questions respectfully. You don't have to ambush somebody."
No one knows how much longer the tough questions will be asked. But with six daughters needing college tuition at some point, Reynolds doesn't expect to call it quits any time soon.
"I'll die doing some Southern Conference game," he said. "I'll be 107 years old and everybody will say, 'He should have retired 15 years ago.'"
Maybe, but all-time UTC great Nick Morken -- who was a junior college transfer during Reynolds' first season on the job -- doesn't think so.
"I just hope I'm lucky enough to hear J.R.'s 2000th game," Morken said.
Don't we all?
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...