Dick Luedke, the longtime voice of ISU athletics, calls it a career after 36 'wonderful' years
This week's Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament will mark the end of an era for Illinois State athletics.
It will likely be the final time fans can tune in to hear Dick Luedke describe the action. Luedke has been the radio voice for Redbird football and men's basketball for decades.
At 72, Luedke said he started to give serious thought to retiring earlier this season, but gave it more time until he was sure he was ready to call it a career. “What’s really important to me right now is the ability to see my daughters and their families more frequently,” said Luedke, referring to his four grandchildren who all live out of state.
Luedke was the radio play-by-play narrator for ISU men’s basketball for 36 years and Redbird football for 32 years. He previously walked away from the gig in 1998 to take a job at State Farm in public affairs. He returned in 2003 to cover the men’s basketball team and was later restored as the voice of ISU football once his State Farm work schedule allowed it.
Luedke said he wanted to be a sports broadcaster ever since he was a shy 12-year-old growing up in Minnesota listening to University of Minnesota sports on the radio. “I think that’s part of the reason I became interested in this. I realized that if I can be on the radio, broadcasting a game that somebody is really interested in and really eager to hear the result, they’re actually going to be listening to what I have to say and I loved that.”
Luedke said his favorite moment behind the mic was calling Illinois State's FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) title game in Frisco, Texas in 2015 against perennial power North Dakota State, a game in which the Bison rallied to win in the final minutes.
“I don’t remember being so locked into a broadcast as I was to that one,” he said.
Luedke said his favorite player to cover at ISU was Dan Muller. Muller starred at ISU in the 1990s and helped the Redbirds to their last two MVC tournament championships in 1997 and 1998.
Muller was fired as men's basketball coach last month. “I wasn’t totally shocked by it, but it still affected me emotionally, even though I knew it was probably coming,” said Luedke, adding Muller was “gracious” in handling his exit. Muller joined Luedke for his final radio show the day after ISU fired him.
Luedke said radio sports broadcasting is still a “wonderful” industry, but he laments there’s much more emphasis on television broadcasts now than there was when he started more than four decades ago. “Every game now can be seen if not on your television at least online, which you can set up on your television,” he said, noting he was far less comfortable when he did television play-by-play because the broadcasters don’t have to paint the picture for viewers who can already see it for themselves.
Luedke said there’s a lot more to broadcasting a game than meets the ear. He said he typically prepares for about six hours before each game, compiling and reviewing statistics, practicing player pronunciations, seeking biographical data about each player and then familiarizing himself with players and their uniform numbers for instant recall during the game.
“I do less of that than I used to do because it works so much better after the game starts,” he explained, noting he can better associate names with the look of the player in addition to the number.
But Luedke quipped there’s no amount of preparation that will prevent on-air mistakes he can never get back and said he thinks about after every game. “It’s impossible to do a perfect game. I kept hoping that maybe I would, but it never has happened,” Luedke said.
Live sports broadcasting changed dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic as Luedke broadcast most of ISU’s road games from the Redbirds’ home. Luedke described the action he saw on a monitor in the Hancock Stadium press box while the Redbirds played at another venue.
Luedke said he welcomed the move because of concerns about COVID-19, but he said the monitor provided a far more limited view of the action and that sometimes made it difficult to relay to listeners what was happening “You just didn’t have the feel for the game that you have when you are there.” Luedke said. “It made me realize that I love more than ever being at the game, even if I had to drive 4½ hours to get to Des Moines, Iowa for Illinois State’s game against Drake.”
As Luedke prepares to turn off the mic one final time, he thanked ISU fans for their passion in following the Redbirds.
“That’s why I am doing what I am doing. I just love the fact that people actually want to hear what I have to say,” Luedke quipped. “Maybe that shows a little egotistical nature, but that’s what’s nice.”
Luedke said he and his wife plan to stay in Bloomington for now, and he looks forward to attending more ISU sporting events he couldn't go to when he was broadcasting.
The Redbird men's basketball team plays Indiana State in the MVC tournament opening round at 6 p.m. Thursday in St. Louis.