David Kellum: The Voice Of and For the Rebels
OXFORD, Miss. — When you hear the name David Kellum, you automatically think, “He’s the voice of the Rebels.” However, Kellum is much more than that, both on a personal level and in the sense that he is a living, breathing book of Ole Miss history — full of stories and experiences that span over a 44-year period of covering Ole Miss athletics. It is a career Kellum chose and one that brings him great fulfillment.
Kellum began his Ole Miss professional career as an announcer for both baseball and women’s basketball from 1977-88 before then becoming the lead announcer for Ole Miss athletics in 1989.
He recalls that even though they “would rather beat each other as breathe,” it was cool to him that Jack Crystal, Mississippi State’s lead announcer, was one of the first five people to call and congratulate him on his promotion.
When asked if he had any advice to give Kellum, Crystal replied, “Just give them the score over and over again. You give them the score until you’re sick of it and then give it some more. And, cut out all the bull.”
Kellum says he kept the “bull” because he likes to add stats and commentary to the broadcast, and Rebel fans find the stories and stats he adds part of the attraction of hearing him call a game.
‘…You build relationships’
Gathering all that information takes time and requires a huge commitment on Kellum’s part. Hours are spent on not only the preparation of the technical and statistical part of his job, but also on getting to know the players and coaches.
The 30-35 hours a week required to prepare for a football broadcast means Kellum spends most of his days during game week researching player stats for the opposing team, updating any changes on the Ole Miss side of things, and prepping for the pre-game show.
Basketball requires about 2-3 hours of preparation per game, and baseball about 4-5 hours for an SEC weekend.
Kellum feels baseball is an easier sport to make connections with individuals because he has more access to the team and is able to get to know the players’ families more so than in some of the other sports.
“I’m about the players and coaches and building relationships more than the individual games. Even in bad years when you don’t have good seasons, you build relationships.”
It is obvious Ole Miss players hold Kellum in high regard, with some even asking for a recording of his call of a home run to use as their ringtone.
When the Rebel baseball team traveled to Southeastern Louisiana this year, left fielder Kevin Graham was injured and unable to play, so Kellum asked him to fill in on air for Brad Henderson. Graham convinced Coach Bianco to let him give announcing a shot.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 15, 2022
During the call of the game, Graham noticed Kellum flipping through a notebook that held large cards on each Ole Miss player. The cards have handwritten notes and stats about each player from the time they began playing at Ole Miss and go until they leave.
Graham did not just ask if he could have his card at the end of the season; he wanted Kellum to sign it. Graham told his roommate Justin Bench about the cards, and Bench asked for his too, along with pitcher Max Cioffi who likewise wanted his card.
The players realize the stature of David Kellum in terms of his place in Ole Miss history. It obviously means something to them that Kellum has kept up with their stats since the beginning of their Ole Miss career.
The 2022 Season
The 2022 Rebel baseball season brought its ups and downs, but David Kellum navigated the Rebel fans through each game with the voice that can make even defeat sound not quite as bad.
In a talented league like the SEC, where 13 other teams are vying for a championship and all have the goal of Omaha in their sights, to keep knocking on the door is a huge accomplishment. “Teams are so talented in this league (SEC),” Kellum said. “Fans sometimes forget that….In this league, if there is even a little chink in the armor, you can get in trouble in a hurry.”
For the 2022 Rebel baseball team, that chink developed midway through the season, and Kellum says you feel for the guys and the team when they struggle.
However, he says players like Graham and team captain Tim Elko were always in the post-game conferences reminding people to stick with the team because they were going to figure things out. Players like Ben Van Cleve took on the role of leader and challenged fellow players to step up and reach their potential.
And figure it out the Rebels did!
The team saw a shift in the season with pitching and went on a winning streak in post-season play which took them all the way to Omaha and ultimately the national championship against Oklahoma.
Kellum received countless congratulatory calls and texts from friends and colleagues. “They would ask me things like, ‘Have you got a call planned for when you win it all?'” he said. “I told them, ‘No, I’m just going to call the game and see what happens. If I have some fancy call written down I will have to read that and screw it up. I’m just going to call the game and see what happens.’”
Needless to say, Rebels will replay Kellum’s final call of the College World Series game over and over for many years to come.
— David Kellum (@RebVoice) June 27, 2022
— Brad Henderson (@HenduReb) June 27, 2022
Reflecting on the championship series, David indicated just how much of a difference the Rebel fans in Omaha made.
“It was like having two Swayzes in that place. Two wild pitches late in the game and fans are on your tail. I just think it made a huge difference because those two games were home games for Ole Miss plain and simple, and you don’t want to play us at home.”
David Kellum on Rebel fans in Omaha
While there weren’t many Stanford folks who traveled to Omaha, Kellum did meet a couple — the Stanford broadcast team, who had been to Omaha with the Cardinal in back-to-back years. Stanford is a different animal in that it only has a campus radio station. There is no radio network like teams in the SEC have for games.
When Kellum went to introduce himself to the Stanford guys, they knew exactly who he was and his reputation in broadcasting. The kicker for Kellum was that the broadcasters were sophomores in college and had already been to Omaha.
Kellum laughs as he says, “I wanted to punch them….They are 19 and 20 years old and super nice kids. I tell my wife, ‘here I am; I’ve been to Omaha twice in 44 years and these scoundrels have been two years in a row, and they’re still in college.’”
Winning it all
David described his feelings after the Rebels won the College World Series title over the Sooners, 4-2, in the final game.
“The relief for Coach Bianco. The relief for this program that’s been good for so long. The relief for Keith Carter the athletic director who always wants to maximize all our sports and see us do things.”
When asked how it felt to see Tim Elko overcome his injury and fall to his knees in victory, David explained that as a fellow Christian, watching Tim overcome all he had dealt with renews one’s faith.
— David Kellum (@RebVoice) July 10, 2022
More than just sports
For Kellum, being the voice of Rebel athletics is about more than sports. “There are only three to five announcers in the SEC who graduated from the school they announce for,” he explains.
“I tell people since I graduated from Ole Miss I have a license to be a homer. It’s on my wall. It says, graduate of the University of Mississippi.”
He is not just the voice of the Rebels but a voice for the Rebels, as well.
For Kellum, this means he has more determination to cast Ole Miss in the best possible light. You could put him in another job calling sports, and he could use his considerable talent to make you believe he had loved that team and place all his life. But Ole Miss is obviously special.
“The truth is I am an Ole Miss Rebel. That is a totally different level, and so, I feel a degree of responsibility to fellow alumni and people who have fallen in love with the athletics here.”
David Kellum on being a Rebel
Part of the feeling of responsibility may be due in part to something his aunt told him.
“Aunt Gloria told me, “‘Look, you represent the body, the entire university.’ That makes me nervous. I’m just the radio guy doing his thing, but there are a lot of people that that’s kind of a focal point to find out about us athletically. If you don’t watch tv or do something else different (to find out about Ole Miss), then it’s the guy on the radio,” Kellum commented.
He fully understands what his aunt meant and the enormity of the responsibility, even more so since he is an alumnus.
When asked if he realizes he holds somewhat of a celebrity status among Rebel fans Kellum replied, “Warner Alford told me years ago, ‘The players and the coaches are the stars, not you.’ I said, ‘OK I get that.’ I knew exactly what he meant.”
The celebrity piece is something the “good ole boy from North Mississippi” is uncomfortable with and finds kind of crazy.
“I’ve always considered myself to be a conduit between the fans and the athletic department. My goal is to describe a game for you as a fan, I’m a fan too, and you understand what’s going on. My best compliment is when people say, ‘I felt like I was right there with you.’”
Representing Ole Miss
Reflecting on his years as the voice of the Rebels, there is no one particular game that stands out as his favorite nor any particular series Kellum looks forward to more than others. “Playing State in anything is fun. All the SEC series are fun,” he noted.
The journey and representing Ole Miss well are the important things to him. “Even though we won the national championship, and it was just a blessing and a joy to call that game, you’ve got to enjoy the journey,” Kellum says.
“People say I’m crazy, but we’re playing Murray State on a Tuesday night and I get to go call a baseball game…Is it as fun as the national championship? No, it’s 28 degrees and all, but I think the journey throughout the course of following teams is fun for all of us to do,” he added.
As far as his message to the Rebel fan base, Kellum says the public’s use of social media has changed his message from when he started announcing years ago.
“If you are a true fan, protect your team. Protect the student-athletes. Protect the coaches. Let the administration deal with when we need to change a coach because they see it every day….But we need to work on the social media piece. We really need to, not just Ole Miss but schools across the country. You get so pointed and you get behind a keyboard and it’s really easy to put down a player, put down a coach, and those things hurt. We’re trying to recruit players and we’re trying to do things. So, when things are kind of tough, hang in there.”
David Kellum on his message to fans
Fans have a vested interest in their team and passion for a program’s success; Kellum completely understands that. He says he does not want to sound like fans cannot have opinions — for, of course, they can. Just don’t make them personal.
“There’s not been a single coach that’s come through Ole Miss,” Kellum says, “that I didn’t think was not trying hard enough or didn’t have a plan to try and maximize what we could do and try to win. Sometimes I think as fans we forget that.”
When asked if retirement is on the horizon, David replied that he still has a passion for his job and the preparation side of it, but there are things he and his wife, Mary, want to go and do while they are still in good health.
At age 63, Kellum can’t see himself being 80 years old and still calling games, although he will never be disconnected from Ole Miss as long as he is alive. So, at some point between the ages of 63 and 80, he could put the microphone down.
In the past, Kellum would talk to kids at “Meet the Rebels” and they would tell him they wanted to be the voice of the Rebels one day. On those occasions, he would think to himself that he would probably still be going strong by the time they grew up. Now, when a young kid tells him they want his job, Kellum says to himself, “Well, you may just be the one.”
A piece of Ole Miss history
For now, Rebel fans will continue to listen to David Kellum and know that a fellow fan is behind the microphone using his talents to bring games to life. A piece of Ole Miss history is helping make new memories for us all and continuing to write chapters in the never-ending story of Ole Miss athletics.
What a wonderful feeling to know that someone with such a love for Ole Miss and an appreciation for all it has to offer is the person who conveys to people across the airways the excitement, disappointment, joy, and fascination that Ole Miss and its athletic programs can bring.
As Ole Miss fans, one of our fondest wishes should be that David Kellum will be there to navigate us through many future athletic seasons as the voice of the Rebels for many years to come.
Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.