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Bill Culhane hangs up his headset after 27 years

Texas State Athletics
Thursday, April 16, 2020

Bill Culhane was perusing Twitter while doing some research in his Dripping Springs home one Friday evening on Sept. 15, 2017.

He was preparing to co-host with Brant Freeman on the radio broadcast of Texas State’s home game against Appalachian State the next day at 6 p.m. He came across a tweet with a link to the Dripping Springs Tigers broadcast of the team’s road game at Buda Hays, called by Clint Shields on KDRP/Sun Radio. Culhane decided to tune in and listen to the second half.

It ended up being one of the most intense games of the season for the Tigers. Junior wide receiver Parker Alford scored a touchdown to put Dripping Springs up 21-17 with 3:49 left to play. Senior cornerback Ryland Kinnard snagged his second pick of the game in the end zone on the next drive to seal the victory over the Rebels.

And Shields nailed the call. Culhane thought so, at least. And he made sure to let Shields know it.

“He sent me a message through Twitter,” Shields said. “And told me that he had caught our ball game and he complimented me on our sound, from a quality standpoint, as well as our preparation standpoints and things he could hear.”

Shields had been calling high school games off and on all over Texas since 1996. The night Culhane reached out, he’d been doing play-by-play at Dripping Springs for nine years. So while he had Culhane’s ear, Shields thought he might as well ask the voice of the Bobcats: How do you get to that next level?

“I tell this to everybody: you have to be willing to put the work in,” Culhane said. “Call every game like someone important is listening.”

Culhane’s put plenty of work in over his 27-year career calling Texas State games, but his path to becoming the voice of the Bobcats was never linear. He grew up on Kent Island, situated in Chesapeake Bay between mainland Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula. His dad passed away from pancreatic cancer when he was a senior in high school. Times got tough for his family.

He passed up on offers to play NCAA Division III football to join the military. He lived just across the bay from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but the idea of living on a boat never appealed to him, so he enlisted in the Air Force instead in 1982.

He began in personnel management, got stationed in at Royal Air Force Academy Alconbury in England and moved to nuclear surety before being called back to the States for special duty assignment. He worked in Clemson’s aerospace studies department and later South Alabama’s.

“Greatest team I’ve ever been a part of,” Culhane said. “And I got to the point, nine and a half years in, where I’m almost halfway to retirement. The question was, do I stay in and go to 20 (years) or more? Or do I get out? And I decided to leave the military and ended up moving here to Central Texas.”

Culhane was past his physical prime and couldn’t really play any sports, even recreationally. But he still wanted to be involved in them somehow. He remembered listening to Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell call Baltimore Orioles games on the radio as a kid and thought it was something he might be interested in. He enrolled at Southwestern Texas State as a mass communication major.

He worked at the Arboretum in Austin while he went to school, where he met Rick May, the long-time play-by-play announcer for Baylor’s women’s basketball team. May suggested Bill should try calling the Bobcats’ women’s basketball games to get his feet wet in the business. Culhane took the advice and started calling games for KTSW, the University’s student-run radio station.

During one game, Tony Brubaker, Southwest Texas State’s media relations director who also called football and men’s basketball games, was listening in. He was impressed enough to offer Culhane the chance to do color commentary during the 1994 football season.

“I said ‘Give me some time to think about it,’” Culhane said. “I called him back five seconds later to tell him yes.”

Culhane’s been the voice of the Bobcats ever since, staying on as an analyst and remaining loyal to the school for nearly three decades. He never actively sought out other opportunities to broadcast somewhere else, despite never being a full-time employee for the University. He fell in love with people like former head volleyball coach Karen Chisum and former head baseball coach Ty Harrington — people who cared for the program just as much as he did.

But now he’s hanging up the headset. Culhane announced last Thursday he’s retiring from the booth. 

He’s always held a second job as his main source of income. For the past six years, he’s worked as the vice president of marketing for a government contracting subscription service based in Austin called Bid Prime. The company is in “growth mode” and is beginning to require more of Culhane’s attention.

But more importantly, Culhane wants to spend more time with his family. He’s got a wife, a son who coaches Pflugerville Connally’s offensive line and two teenagers at Dripping Springs. Broadcasting had him on the road for 60-65 days out of the years. Over a 27-year career, that’s four and a half years away from home.

It wasn’t just the number of days he was gone either — it was the specific dates that he was missing, too. His daughter, Viktoria, made the UIL 5A state championships in swimming two years in a row. Culhane was out-of-state for both meets.

“The missed events just started piling up,” Culhane said. “We just came to the realization that, you know, I had to — ‘pull back’ is probably a more accurate description than ‘retire.’”

Culhane said the thing he’s the proudest of is doing his part to grow the Texas State brand. The name change in 2003, dropping the “Southwest” from “Texas State,” coincided with the start of his friendship and budding chemistry with Freeman, who became Culhane’s partner in the booth for 16 years. 

“Bill and I were not co-workers. You know, we were friends who happened to work in the same line of broadcasting,” Freeman said. “You spend so much time with another person, you just get to know so much about them and really develop feelings for them. And I’m being sincere when I say this, I love him and I really think of him as the brother of mine because he has been one of the biggest parts of my life over the last 17 years now.”

Culhane doesn’t remember seeing a thread of Bobcat gear in the early years of his career. Now, he can’t go a few days without seeing a bumper sticker with Boko on it.

“I’m not saying it’s because of Bill and Brant or whoever. But it’s certainly been a collective effort and it’s helped,” Culhane said. “When we put on the maroon and gold, we are representing the University as storytellers. And so that’s been important.”

Shields and Freeman agree that what sets Culhane apart from other broadcasters is how plugged-in he is to the school’s history.

Ask about his favorite game he’s ever called, and he’ll get to reminiscing over No. 16-seed Southwest Texas State’s Midwest regional draw against No. 1-seed Minnesota in the 1997 NCAA men’s basketball tournament at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. He begins pulling up pails of details from his deep well of Bobcat knowledge, sprinkling bits of trivia on every name that rolls off his tongue.

Donte Mathis was a sophomore on that team. Foster — Jeff Foster, who played for the Indiana Pacers for 13 seasons to be exact, though he’s just “Foster” to Culhane — was a sophomore, too. Dameon Sansom was in his second Big Dance after making a berth with the 1993-94 team. The head coach, Mike Miller, now holds the same position as an interim with the New York Knicks.

Culhane says each name like they’re old pals (because they probably are), with barely a breath in between each. Everything he remembers is off the dome, not off Google.

“I’m telling you, man, when your team is involved in it, it was absolutely incredible,” Culhane said. “I saw this (year’s) team kind of taking the same path … And so I felt so bad for (seniors) Nijal (Pearson) and Eric (Terry) and the team and (head coach Danny) Kaspar and his staff because I think a lot of people agree that the Bobcats had a great chance to win in New Orleans (at the Sun Belt tournament).”

Culhane was a little disheartened his career got cut short with the likes of Pearson and Terry. But truly, he didn’t want a victory lap anyway. To him, the focus should always be on the Bobcats.

Texas State announced Shields, who Culhane brought in to replace Freeman when Freeman was hired to broadcast for ESPN+ in 2018, will take over play-by-play duties for the 2020 football season.

Culhane is open to eventually coming back to call a few home games every now and then. He’ll never get rid of the bug — the buzz of a Bobcat win and his “Light the Star on Jackson Hall!” tradition.

“There’s nothing quite like being a part of the pomp and circumstance of game day,” Culhane said.

San Marcos Record

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