John Kilgo, the voice of the Davidson Wildcats’ basketball team and a long-time fixture on the Charlotte sports media landscape, is calling it a career.
“I feel good,” Kilgo, 82, told the Observer on Tuesday. “But I just figured it was time for me get out while I was still enjoying it.”
Kilgo has been the Wildcats’ radio play-by-play man since 2000. But his influence on Charlotte sports goes back to 1953, when he graduated from old Central High and went to UNC Charlotte (then Charlotte College). After transferring to North Carolina, Kilgo returned to Charlotte where worked for the Charlotte News, writing a local column for 10 years.
It was during that time that he struck up a friendship with North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, with whom he did radio and television shows and later became his biographer.
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“That was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me, meeting and becoming close friends with coach Smith,” Kilgo said.
Kilgo went on to spend two years as Davidson’s sports information director, where his main job duty was to keep flamboyant basketball coach Lefty Driesell in line. Kilgo then was then hired to be news and sports director at Charlotte’s WAYS radio and started a chain of weekly newspapers.
In 1975, Kilgo became the radio play-by-play voice of the Charlotte 49ers and was on the microphone in 1977 when they advanced to the NCAA basketball tournament’s Final Four.
“That was just a sensational season, a sensational story,” Kilgo said.
Kilgo moved on again in 1984, going to work for Charlotte-based Jefferson-Pilot, where he would become general manager of WBT radio and J-P Enterprises.
In 2000, he got another call from Davidson, and he accepted the Wildcats’ radio job.
“I thought I’d do it for a year or two,” he said. “There I was suddenly on a bus to a game at Georgia Tech with a bunch of people I didn’t know. It would have sounded crazy then, but I lasted 19 years.”
Kilgo often called games between the Wildcats and 49ers, and was torn when doing so.
“I’d like to see Davidson win,” Kilgo told the Observer before the Davidson-Charlotte game in 2013. “But if anybody says anything negative about UNCC, they’ll get a fight from me.”
Kilgo said covering the 49ers in the Final Four, Smith’s Tar Heels - especially the teams featuring Michael Jordan - and Davidson’s run to the 2008 Elite Eight with Stephen Curry - are the highlights of his career.
“John has been a vital component of our success and an incredible teammate in helping create a culture of excellence at Davidson for almost two decades,” Wildcats coach Bob McKillop said. “He always represented the truth. And, he did that clearly, candidly, and with utmost honor and integrity. I will miss him dearly. All of Davidson will miss John.”
He said he might continue to write now, but has no interest in going to back to radio (he has done some guest stints on local sports talk radio shows).
“Now maybe I can play some golf now, go to some Davidson games and even see the Tar Heels play again,” he said.