Ed Kallay

By Connie Leonard

During three decades as a beloved Louisville TV and radio personality, Ed Kallay was truly a jack-of-all-trades. From hosting the popular children’s show "Funny Flickers" (where his nickname "Uncle Ed" originated) to serving as WAVE-TV and radio sports director, Kallay could do it all and he did it with style.

His long list of jobs included: statistician, engineer, exercise show host, radio play-by-play and daily sportscasts on WAVE Radio 970. Kallay even served as the master of ceremonies for the inaugural Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame banquet in 1963, allowing his son Mike to introduce the youngster’s baseball hero, Stan Musial.

Edwin Kallay was born November 23, 1917, in Detroit, Michigan. He became the first television sports broadcaster in the state of Kentucky when he signed on with WAVE in 1948.

In his day, Kallay seemed to have every local sports team covered on the radio waves. During his career he did play-by-play for Louisville Colonels baseball, University of Louisville football and basketball, Kentucky Colonels ABA basketball, Louisville Blades ice hockey and the annual Male-Manual football game on Thanksgiving Day.

With a vibrant and playful personality, Kallay quickly became a Louisville icon and those who got the chance to work with him still call it a privilege.

"It was a thrill to be around him," said Kallay’s former intern, 84WHAS Radio sports broadcaster Paul Rogers. "I learned more from him that summer of 1973 than I did in four years of college."

What made Kallay so memorable in Louisville sports history may have been his willingness to try it all and give it everything.

In Kallay’s early years, radio broadcasts of baseball road games actually were produced at the local studio. Kallay would get basic information on the game from a ticker tape and act out the rest, pitch by pitch. Listeners thought he was actually at the away games.

Former WAVE-TV meteorologist Tom Wills fondly remembered the home games Kallay broadcast for TV. "He would shoot film and talk at the same time, calling the game play-by-play," Wills said, "You could hear the film camera underneath (his call of the game)."

Wills remembered why viewers kept coming back for Kallay. "He was the ultimate sports fan and he loved being involved as much as he loved reporting on the teams he covered," he said.

Shown here with KAHF President Jim Ellis, Ed Kallay's daughter, Kaelin Rybak, accepted on behalf of her late father.

Kallay’s son Mike agreed. "What I remember most about dad was his brutal honesty and being a complete homer," he said. "Whether it was his love for the Cardinals or Colonels, he was unabashedly for them. One time, he didn’t like a call and said ‘horse----’ on the air. Dad thought he was getting fired."

Fortunately for the listeners, Kallay’s boss had no intention of getting rid of his star.

The viewers also cherished Kallay the showman. Wills said when baseball season began, Kallay would memorize the classic, "Casey at the Bat." He would light a match on set and recite the poem, trying to finish it before burning his fingers. And when he broadcast the University of Louisville away games, Kallay would take time on the air to say hello to all the basketball players’ girlfriends.

Kallay had some high-profile friends in the sports world. He ran track in high school in Cleveland against the great Jesse Owens. Said Kallay’s daughter, Kaelin Rybak, "Dad knew it was never a race for first!"

Kallay hosted a weekly broadcast of youth boxing called "Tomorrow’s Champions" on WAVE-TV. It was during the production of that show that he became fast friends with 12-year-old Cassius Clay. After Clay rose to stardom and became heavyweight champion as Muhammad Ali, the friendship only grew. Kallay attended many of Ali’s fights.

During a Chamber of Commerce annual meeting in Louisville, Ali was honored with the "Man of the Year" Silver Bowl Award. What happened next is legendary in Louisville. According to Ed’s son, Mike, "Muhammad turned right around and gave it to dad!"

Longtime sportswriter Earl Cox remembered Ali’s words to Kallay, quoting the boxer as saying, "Back when I was scufflin’, wasn’t no Chamber of Commerce doing nothin’ for me, but Ed Kallay and Tomorrow’s Champions did!"

And when Louisville native and Green Bay Packers star Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras were forced to sit out the 1963 NFL season after being linked to gamblers and betting on NFL games, Kallay scored the first interview with Hornung. Although the two were friends, Kallay reportedly conducted a straightforward and fair interview.

Kallay suffered a heart attack in 1973, a few months before Rogers became his intern. Rogers still calls him the nicest man he ever met. "Everyplace we would go," he said, "all the people would come up and ask how he was doing, and that’s when I realized how loved he was."

That same year, WAVE hired Bob Domine, adding him to the sports staff to help the recovering Kallay. "When I first started," Domine said, "someone called to complain about me and Ed walked over, in his standard mock turtleneck, put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry about it kid, it don’t mean nothin’."

A year later, when Domine had become confident and started boasting about his success, Kallay made the same move toward him and said with a laugh, "Don’t worry about it kid, it don’t mean nothin’."

Four years later, in April, 1977, after serving as (ironically) grand marshall of a heart fund parade in neighboring Clarksville, Indiana, Kallay suffered a second heart attack and died. Domine said it was especially painful after Kallay’s death when people congratulated him on doing such a good job of taking Kallay’s place. Domine said, "No one could take Ed’s place. He was special."

Kallay was married to his love, Jane, for 31 years. They had four children: Daughter, Kaelin (at right), and sons Mike, Paul and Tom.

Now, long after the death of a Kentucky television pioneer, the stories of "Uncle Ed" live on, inspiring the work of another generation, including those of us lucky enough to follow in Kallay’s historic footsteps at WAVE-TV.

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KAHF ceremony photos by Jim Reed