State of the Hogs: Jon Williams

Jon Williams once gave it a try as a Razorbacks baseball player. Now, he's living the dream as the new PA man at Baum Stadium.

Jon Williams has a lifetime of special memories as one of the top radio on-air personalities in Northwest Arkansas, emcee of dozens of charity galas and work as the public address announcer for Arkansas Razorbacks women's basketball and gymnastics.

Passion and enthusiasm are the common denominators in all of his work, the traits Williams hopes to bring to the microphone in a dream spot Friday afternoon at Baum Stadium. He will take on the responsibility of PA man in the footsteps of the beloved Larry Shank for Arkansas Razorbacks baseball.

Williams applied for the job when Shank died of cancer in 2007, but Pat Kelly was picked. Kelly moved out of state after last season to open the job again.

Asked if he “did a little dance” when the word came this week, Williams said, “No, but my wife Judy and I did turn a dinner date that night into a celebration. It meant so much to me and she knew it.”

Williams has been a radio morning show host for over 22 years, now working with best friend Deek Kastner on 104.9 the X. He's probably told his “Loyal and Royal Army” a few times about his tryout as a Razorback baseball pitcher for Norm DeBriyn.

“I was an invited walk-on but it didn't take very long for Norm to cut me,” Williams said. “If you are going to be a righthand pitcher in the SEC, you better have one of two things, a fast ball in the high 80s, or pinpoint control. I didn't have either.”

That's not to say Williams wasn't a decent high school athlete. He played three sports at Longmont, Colo., lettering in baseball and golf for three years. He said he didn't get a lot of playing time in basketball, the third.

The trick in baseball was a cut fastball that ran in on the hands of right-handed batters. It was especially effective for Williams on snowy days.

“And, we did play a lot of games in the cold and snow,” Williams said. “When your hands are that cold, hitters don't like the ball inside.”

Williams loves DeBriyn.

“How can you not?” he said. “I'll never forget how nice he was the day he cut me. No one has ever been fired, cut or let go as nice as he did it. By the time he was done, I was consoling him.”

That put Williams full-time into his broadcast journalism career, ultimately landing a job doing the morning show on what was then Mix 101.9.

First, there was another career high point, a summer intern gig in Baltimore that, among other things, put him in the Orioles broadcast booth with Jon Miller and Brooks Robinson.

“That was like going to heaven,” Williams said. “It was the first year of Camden Yard. Jon Miller advised me to go into radio and train my voice. Here I was with two hall of famers. And, it was great to be around Brooks all summer, the best third baseman ever. He loves the Razorbacks and was excited to have me around.”

Few are as passionate about the Hogs as Williams.

“I can't believe that I'm going to do this,” Williams said. “I'm so lucky. Honestly, you can't believe how humbled I am to follow Larry Shank and Pat Kelly. I loved Larry so much.”

Honestly, Williams feels lucky that Kelly followed Shank first.

“I interviewed the last time and with one of my best friends, Matt Shanklin,” Williams said. “He told me, you will thank me some day. You don't want to follow Larry. I understand that. I filled in for Larry a few times and I was like a kid in a candy store. I have such deep admiration for Larry.”

But it wasn't easy. The Baum Stadium crowd did not take well to anyone handling the PA other than Shank.

“I went out for the seventh inning stretch in a 11-1 game,” Williams said. “The crowd turned to look at me and began to chant, 'We want Larry.' It was not good.”

The charge from the UA brass, Williams said, is to be himself. That means enthusiasm front and center “along with the traditions like 'this is baseball,' and strike a balance between the fundamentals and helping fire up the crowd.

“I look forward to it. It doesn't get much better. It's a doubleheader for me, with gymnastics Friday night. There will be another baseball/women's basketball doubleheader later. Those will be long days, but fun.”

There is lots of fun in his days. He's grown a business that includes his own sales for his show, along with the many night time events. Days start at 5 a.m., with the radio show beginning at 6 a.m.

"We are on until 10, then it's sales calls," he said. "I love everything I do, from the events like the UA's Red Tie Gala, to the many charity events."

It was after a charity event that he began a close friendship with Cameron Smith, the owner of Cameron Smith & Associates.

"He's been a great mentor to me," Williams said. "Cameron hammered home in me the belief in my brand, teaching me the business side of sales.

"I've also learned a lot from Bo Mattingly. We've both done similar things as far as owning our shows and building the brand. Bo's done so well and I listen to him. Both Cameron and Bo are mentors to me.

"It's all just so exciting for me right now, everything I'm doing. I love Razorback baseball. What Norm DeBryin and Dave Van Horn have built here with the baseball program is just out of this world. The atmosphere in our stadium is wonderful.

"I've been humbled by the reaction in the last week since this has been announced. The texts and tweets and the congratulations in person have been overwhelming."

In the personal view, Williams will do well. Anyone who has heard his work at women's basketball and gymnastics understands the UA's choice for Baum. He did well in his fill-in role for men's basketball for John George recently.

But baseball is another animal altogether.

"That's so true," Williams said. "There are times to talk, times not to talk, some specific nuances to baseball. I think I know the game and can add some enthusiasm in just the right places."

Yes, it will be baseball Arkansas Razorbacks style. Or, simply, "This is Baseball!"

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