BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Charles Wesley “Wes” Strader, the “Voice of the Hilltoppers” as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for Western Kentucky University football and men’s basketball for 36 seasons and one of the most prominent figures in the commonwealth of Kentucky’s sports broadcasting history, passed away Tuesday evening. He was 79.
J.C. Kirby and Son on Lovers Lane in Bowling Green will handle the arrangements which are still in the process of being finalized.
Inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002, Strader earned a reputation as one of the outstanding radio sports broadcasters in the state through his work covering Hilltopper basketball and football, and his longtime involvement with the broadcast of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association “Sweet Sixteen” boy’s state basketball championships.
“We are deeply saddened at Wes Strader’s passing,” said Director of Athletics Todd Stewart. “He was an iconic broadcaster in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and a loyal member of the WKU family, whose friendship and dedication to the Hilltoppers spanned decades. His Hall of Fame broadcasting career was intertwined with generations of our athletes, coaches, administration and fans and positively impacted all whom he touched. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sue, son Chuck, and daughter, Kim.”
On February 21, 2013, Strader was accorded a unique honor from his alma mater when WKU unveiled a banner bearing his name in the rafters of E.A. Diddle Arena, alongside the great athletes and coaches in the history of Hilltopper and Lady Topper basketball. To date, Strader’s banner remains the only banner hung across all WKU sports for a non-player or former coach.
Over the years, Strader’s career coincided with so many of WKU’s all-time great coaches, administrators, and student-athletes as evidenced by the fact that 47 members of the W-Club’s Hall of Fame inductees from football and men’s basketball (88 total) played or coached during Strader’s time behind the microphone.
A native of nearby Barren County, he grew up on the family farm near Hiseville, Ky., and was a graduate of Hiseville High School, where he played both football and basketball.
His association with Hilltopper Athletics goes back to the late 1940s when, as a 10-year-old, he began regularly attending athletic events on The Hill with his father, a season ticket holder.
His career in radio began at WKAY (now WGGC) in Glasgow in 1957 while he was in college at WKU. He enrolled at Western Kentucky University in 1955 and spent three years on The Hill before transferring to the University of Kentucky to obtain a degree in radio arts. While in Lexington, he began his involvement with radio play-by-play of athletics, first with the campus station and later as a back-up on the UK network and doing high school games in nearby Frankfort.
Strader then returned to Hiseville to help with the family dairy business that also served the Bowling Green area. It was then that Hank Brosche, the owner of WKCT radio in Bowling Green, asked the young Strader if he would be interested in doing the play-by-play if the station added game coverage of Hilltopper events.
That was in 1964 and Strader has been associated with Hilltopper football and basketball ever since. His first game on the courtside on the air was the Hilltoppers’ 1964 basketball opener, also John Oldham’s first game as the Topper head coach and All-American Clem Haskins’ first varsity appearance.
Strader handled WKCT (and later WBLG) Hilltopper game broadcasts for the next 36 years until the conclusion of the 1999-00 season. In 2000, Strader began an eight-year run doing a post-game call-in show following Kentucky basketball contests while maintaining his regular sports talk show in Bowling Green. Then, in 2008, he returned to The Hill to host Hilltopper pre-game and post-game call-in shows until his health declined late in 2017. Strader is also the namesake of the local “Wes Strader Schoolboy Classic” which enters its third year in 2018, a high school basketball tournament which annually features eight top local, regional, and national teams.
Strader is survived by his wife, Sue, two children, daughter Kim and son Chuck, two grandchildren, grandson Wes and granddaughter Kara, and a great granddaughter, Olivia.