Ingram’s real deal is imitation

Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 11:09pm
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Kevin Ingram does sideline commentary at Neyland Stadium during the recent Vols-Commodores game. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

The ability to mimic others’ voices always has gotten laughs, and often something more, for Kevin Ingram.

For example, egged on by several classmates he stepped to the front of the room and offered his impersonation of his eighth-grade science teacher — a woman. Predictably the guffaws ensued, but when the teacher came into the room and heard him, he also was given some punishment.

Years later, he doesn’t actually get to hear most of the chuckles because they take place in living rooms, office cubicles and car seats, some of which might be a hundred miles or more away. Then again, he doesn’t get punished either.

Ingram’s knack for bending his voice to sound like notable local, regional and national sports personalities such as George Plaster, Bobby Johnson, Rick Pitino and others has helped earn him a prominent place on the Wakeup Zone, the morning sports talk program on WGFX-104.5 FM.

Originally targeted to be a bit player, he instead quickly carved out equal billing with the well-informed and always opinionated Mark Howard and one of the city’s most beloved former professional athletes, Frank Wycheck.

“When we first started out, the plan (was) just to get them in and out of the breaks, do the updates and then just kind of hand off to them and bring in the callers,” Ingram said. “It really kind of developed into something that was a whole lot more than the original intent was.”

Hearing voices

The truth is, it’s always sort of been that way.

Ingram didn’t develop his unique ability because he wanted to pursue the title of class clown. He did it because he wanted to amuse himself. The fact that others were entertained as well was just a happy accident.

He began with the voices of the broadcasters of his favorite teams of his youth, Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Reds and Cawood Ledford, the legendary voice of Kentucky basketball.

In college, he honed his skill in a running competition with a roommate who had a similar knack.

“We would see who could come up with the best stuff and we’d do all these bits on our answering machine and all this crap,” Ingram said. “People would just get tired and hang up after a while.”

These days, people actually request the voices — either over the phone when they call into the show or in person, when he makes appearances. Last winter, in fact, Catherine Johnson, the wife of Vanderbilt’s football coach, asked Ingram to imitate her husband during an event. He obliged and – predictably – got some more laughs.

“I’ve only heard it about three times,” Bobby Johnson said. “One was at the banquet last year, but I guess that’s flattering. I think he does (my voice well). I don’t think I’m hard to do, though, because I’ve had players over the years do it.”

Ingram insists that the process of copying someone else’s voice is, in fact, not that difficult. It starts with just a word or a phrase, such as the way Mike Krzyzewski says “basketball” or Pitino insists “‘I’m so proud of our basketball team.”

“For each one of them they kind of have a trigger, like you have a phrase you can say that you know sounds exactly like them,” he said. “ … So I’ll always start there and then sort of build the impersonation around that.”

Loyal listener

The trigger around which Ingram has built his broadcasting career is an uncle, David Beach, a one-time disc jockey whose on-air career was cut short by a 1978 auto accident that left him without the use of his legs and other medical issues.

Ingram has faint memories of the sound of his uncle’s voice as it came through the radio when he was a boy in Bowling Green, Ky.

“I was pretty small, but I can remember listening to him,” Ingram said.

With that, his fascination with the business was formed. He decided to follow in those footsteps and earned a broadcasting degree from Western Kentucky University.

He started with a part-time job, and his first full-time job was in news, which at least allowed him to pursue sports opportunities on his own time. He moved to Nashville 11 years ago and worked with WSM (95.5 FM and 650 AM) as well as WTN-97.7 FM before he moved to his current position.

For a time, right after college, he was the football play-by-play announcer for his old high school, and Beach was his statistician.

Ingram still considers one of the highlights of his professional career to be the night his color analyst was unavailable so Beach stepped in and the two worked together on-air.

Beach remains a resident of southern Kentucky and listens to Ingram as often as possible, whether over the airwaves or the Internet. These days, that can account for a significant chunk of a person’s week.

A voice of his own

In addition to his work on the morning talk show, Ingram is a sideline reporter for radio broadcasts of Vanderbilt football games, the play-by-play voice of Belmont men’s basketball and – this fall – the play-by-play voice for a local Thursday night high school football television package.

“All that stuff’s fun,” he said. “There’s a time commitment involved, but it’s not like it’s work. I’ve always wanted to do games, so that’s fine with me.

“The funny thing is when I was little, I really thought I wanted to do baseball but I never have done a lot of baseball. I’ve done a few Sounds games here and there (and) a couple college games. But I’ve done a lot more basketball and football.”

Even in those assignments, Ingram is prone to a bit of impersonation — albeit accidental.

He records all of his play-by-play work and then reviews the tapes during the offseason to identify areas in which he wants to or has improved. People have told him he sounds somewhat like Brennaman, and he can’t help but agree, particularly those times when he has called baseball games.

Unexpectedly, he also recognized Ledford’s influence when a national television network, as part of an NCAA basketball tournament preview, used some of his calls from Belmont’s near-upset of Duke in the first round of the 2007 tournament.

“The ones they played I thought, ‘I hope nobody thinks that sounded too much like him,’” Ingram said. “There [are] some guys who blatantly rip off other guys. I’d never want to be like that. To me, it’s OK to kind of give somebody a shout out so people know that’s who you like. But you want to kind of develop your own deal at the same time.”

Of course, part of Ingram’s deal is sounding like others.

It has created for him a unique place among the local broadcasting scene, sports or otherwise, and has given him the opportunity to have his own say on the issues of the day for four hours every morning.

“I think about that a lot — I don’t just want to be the guy who does the imitations,” he says. “That’s not really why I got into this to begin with. But if people like that, and that’s fun and that’s why they want to listen, I’m cool with that too.”