Redbird play-by-play man Dick Luedke, right, interviews former Redbird basketball player Osiris Eldridge courtside. (Photo courtesy of WJBC)
Dick Luedke was addicted to competitive sports as a kid, but at around age 13, like so many others, he started to realize he wasn’t physically destined for athletic greatness himself.
Then one day, while listening to the radio, something clicked. It was February 1964, and a couple of boxing giants, Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, were squaring off in the first of their epic heavyweight bouts.
“I was hanging on every word, I was so fascinated by it,” Luedke said. “The thought occurred to me, ‘Man, it would be neat if somebody could be listening to me someday, like I’m listening to this guy.’”
And that’s exactly what Redbird fans have been doing for the last 32 years. Luedke is the “Voice of the Redbirds,” the play-by-play man for Illinois State basketball and football games on WJBC Radio.
STATEside caught up with Luedke between games this weekend at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis—his 27th tournament—where the Redbirds were set to take on Wichita State later Saturday.
Luedke, a Minnesota native, joined the Redbird family in the 1981-82 season, when he was hired at WJBC. He left the Twin City station as sports director in 1998, after 17 seasons, only to come back five years later calling Redbird games on a part-time basis. Luedke works full-time at Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance.
For a part-time gig, play-by-play work is demanding. Luedke likes to spend three or four hours on basketball game prep, laying out relevant stats, notes, and player bios he’ll use in the broadcast. (His prep for Redbird football takes a bit longer, since there are more players.)
At Arch Madness, however, Luedke’s prep time gets crunched, because a team can play twice in less than 24 hours. And that happen several days in a row.
“It’s demanding when you win,” Luedke said with a laugh. “If you lose the first game, it’s pretty easy.”
Luedke keeps a small laptop and an iPad Mini in front of him while on the air, tracking stats and sponsorship messages he’s supposed to read during the game. Those stats are important to Luedke, he says, in part because he never really played the sports he calls himself.
“That’s the way I understand the game,” said Luedke, who’s paired up with analyst Mike Matthews for Redbird basketball and Ted Schmitz for football.
Arch Madness is special, Luedke says, because St. Louis is full of fans from all over, who get to cheer for their team in a giant Scottrade Center for the big prize—a trip to the NCAA Tournament. After 27 tournaments, Luedke says Illinois State’s 1997 and 1998 championships are the most memorable. Those teams were led by Dan Muller, now head coach of the Redbirds.
“Those two experiences are still pretty vivid in my mind,” Luedke says.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.