College of Law

John Ward: Would I trade the UT Law education for anything? No.

Posted June 22, 2018

The University of Tennessee College of Law mourns the loss of John Ward, the former Voice of the Vols whose play-by-play calling was synonymous with UT Athletics for more than 30 years.

Ward, a 1953 graduate of the College of Law, died June 20, 2018 at the age of 88.

Ward decided not to practice law shortly after his law school graduation, opting instead for an advertising career and broadcasting work at UT that spanned from 1965 to 1999 and included 350 football and nearly 1,000 basketball broadcasts.

In a College of Law Career Center publication from the mid-1990s, Ward discussed his career choices and shared how his professional path was influenced by his legal studies.

His advice, in his own words, appears below.

Having simultaneously worked as a sports writer and sports broadcaster to help pay for law school, it was logical to continue those jobs following graduation in preparing for the bar exam.

Two hours into the bar exam, it became crystal clear – the practice of law was not for me. I left.

After Army service, the opportunity to join a Knoxville advertising agency which later led to the establishment of my own communications company, Award Productions Inc., in 1970, charted my career path.

In 1965, the UT Athletic Department asked me to broadcast UT basketball games, which I had done first while still a law student in 1954. Later in 1968, football was added, and then Award Productions began general supervision of sponsorship of sales for both radio and television, as well as general supervision of all UT Athletic Department broadcast productions.

While people think that announcing UT games is a full-time job, the broadcasts have never represented more than 10 percent of my time and income. Advertising is 90 percent. And my company has been fortunate to work with many of the leading businesses in the Southeast during the past 30 years.

Still the hobby of doing UT play-by-play, on what has grown during the past 25 years to become one of the largest college networks in the country, has given me the special privilege of representing my alma mater as the Vol Network brings the story of the Big Orange into the homes of hundreds of thousands of listeners each week.

To those who ask if there was ever an interest in joining a national network, the answer has always been, “Why? I have the best announcing job in the U.S.!”

Broadcasting football play-by-play or developing an advertising campaign requires an understanding of and comfort with the language. UT’s law professors taught me to use the language efficiently and effectively. The UT law degree represents the best possible education for a career in communications, period.

True satisfaction comes when an advertising idea is properly executed so that the consumer chooses to try the product or service, finds it fulfilling, and continues to use it. The fairest regulator of all is profit, because profit is simply the product of a consumer’s free choice. True satisfaction in sports broadcasting comes when listeners respond with enthusiasm. Perhaps a letter from a listener in Newbern who had been blind since infancy best reflects how much listener response means. He wrote: “When I listen to the Vol Network, I can almost see the game.” That, to an announcer, is true satisfaction.

My advice for students considering an alternative career: First, give law school all you have. Enjoy it and use the experience to learn the use of language. Communciations skills are crucial to any career. Second, be aware that happenstance can change a career. Don’t fret. Take advantage of every break, good and bad. Third, enjoy life by thinking of others first. Don’t set a goal of making big money for money’s sake. If you enjoy what you do and do it well, money just happens.

Would I trade the UT Law education for anything? No.

Do I regret not practicing law? Not one bit.