After 30 years as the ‘Voice of Cyclone Women’s Basketball,’ the time has come for Rich Fellingham to hang up the headset. Over the last 30 years he has cemented a long legacy of commitment and a love of Cyclone women’s basketball that won’t soon be forgotten.
It was at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa where Rich Fellingham first discovered broadcasting. It was a natural fit for Fellingham as he was offered the news director job for KICD in Spencer, Iowa out of college. There were two people on staff doing play-by-play and Fellingham was assigned the Girls State tournament, which ignited a love for women’s basketball.
It was 15 years later that he made the move to KASI in Ames, Iowa. Fellingham soon became a part-time broadcaster of the women’s basketball games, doing mostly home and drivable away contests.
The early days of ISU broadcasting were not easy. The Cyclones were a struggling program, averaging under 10 wins a season. However, the hiring of a young Bill Fennelly changed all that. Upon his hiring, Fennelly made sure to request that all Iowa State women’s basketball games were on the radio.
“From our standpoint we were looking for it to give us some credibility and to say that we were important, and we were also trying to get people invested,” Bill Fennelly said. “It was one of the early things we pushed hard for and we got it.”
“It was extremely important to have all of the games on radio as we were broadcast across the state of Iowa,” former Cyclone assistant coach Brenda Frese said. “We were able to get into so many more households.”
With the commitment to radio solidified, Fellingham stepped in as the primary play-by-play announcer for Iowa State women’s basketball. In a day when radio was the primary medium to tune in to listen to the Cyclones, it was Fellingham’s verbose descriptions of the action that brought Hilton Magic to the homes and vehicles of the Cyclone faithful. As the fans in the stands grew, so did the reach of Fellingham’s call.
His call was not only admired by the fans in the area, but around the country.
“That’s what they grew up with,” Fennelly said. “That person was the person their families listened to. He was the grandpa, uncle or brother telling the story of what was going on in their lives and that’s how they heard it. That’s how they followed it, was through Rich’s voice and his descriptions of the games.”
That was the case for former Cyclone women’s basketball player Mary Fox, whose family lived in Cleveland and used the radio to follow along.
“I had a special bond with Rich not only because he was always with us, but also because my family were huge Rich Fellingham fans as well,” Fox said. “Being from Cleveland and the youngest of seven kids, my family couldn’t make it to every game, so they would all gather together and have ‘listen parties’ during the games. The voice of Rich Fellingham filled my house on game nights.”
The same can be told for the Medders family, who tuned in from California to keep up with the Cyclones, and daughter Lyndsey Medders.
“My Dad jokes he could hear Rich in his sleep back when I played because they listened to him so much,” said former ISU point guard Lyndsey (Medders) Fennelly. “I believe many families of players tune in. He’s known for talking with Coach after games at length in a way that fans have really appreciated.”
There were 310 fans in attendance at the first women’s basketball game in the Fennelly era, a statistic that still resides prominently framed on the head coach’s desk, a constant memory of where the program began.
“One of Bill’s philosophies was not to tell fans why they need to come out, but to thank them for being there,” Fellingham said. “I remember he said that to (then-athletics director) Gene Smith when Gene was talking about how for a football game the team deserves it and you need to fill the stadium. Bill said you don’t tell them that they need to come. You just keep thanking the ones that come and they’ll come back and they’re going to draw more. That’s been one of his philosophies all along.”
A philosophy that worked. Every game Fennelly would come out of the locker room like clockwork and join Fellingham on the air and as the fans would head home from the game, they tuned in to get the head coach’s thoughts. Fennelly would always thank the fans as they drove home.
Just a few years into the Fennelly era, there were thousands of season ticket holders. A true testament to the hard work and a desire to be a part of what the Cyclones were building.
Few people understood what being on the radio could do for a growing program like Fennelly.
“The radio gave me a vehicle to get to a lot of people and say thanks for coming, before Twitter and everything,” Fennelly said. “I think people should be thanked. We’re not like football or men’s basketball. We have to do things differently. I’ve always felt that.”
“I get the opportunity to say whatever I want to say and the people who are interested get to hear it, so I go to great lengths to make sure that those people know that we appreciate it because I am speaking for our players and our staff,” he continued. “The radio has become a very big piece of it.”
With over 30 years on the call for the women’s basketball program, Fellingham has worked with about a dozen color commentators over the years. He has been the one constant presence over the years. His continual voice has even helped inspire the next generation of Cyclone broadcasters.
“Growing up my idols were Pete Taylor and Rich Fellingham,” said Brent Blum, one of Fellingham’s many on-air sidekicks. “I listened to Rich as a middle schooler during Coach Fennelly’s first tournament teams run and can recall his patented three-pointer calls to this day… ‘Stacy Frese for three, ‘It’s Good!’ His knowledge and experience and stories are incredible. In my mind, Rich Fellingham is just as big of a part of Cyclone women’s basketball as any player or coach. He has been the soundtrack of so many great memories.”
Blum’s first experience working with one of his idols came in 2006 when he was a senior in college.
“I was really intimidated because I grew up listening to him,” Blum said. “He couldn’t have been more friendly and professional, he treated me as an equal even if I was brand new and inexperienced. That first year doing games with Rich is something I will always cherish, he showed me how to be a professional.”
Professionalism is another big piece of what Fellingham embodies. He takes his responsibilities seriously, no matter how many people are listening.
“Even though it is a hobby he doesn’t treat it like one,” Fennelly said. “You’d think he is doing the NBA Finals or the Final Four. I think he views it as it might only be important at the moment to a handful of people, but if it is to them, it is to him. That’s a trait that we don’t really have enough of. I think people think ‘Oh this is good enough,’ but it’s never really good enough for him.”
That professionalism starts from the moment he enters the arena, from the way he sets up his equipment to the way he signs off after the game.
“Rich takes his pre-game equipment set-up very seriously and it’s best not to interrupt his routine,” said Molly Parrott, who has worked alongside Rich for over 10 years as a color commentator for women’s basketball broadcasts. “He’s been known to arrive for Big 12 Tournament games several hours before the team, even leaving me at the hotel once in Oklahoma City. Fortunately, the arena was within walking distance.”
In addition to being the consummate professional, Fellingham’s calm and friendly demeanor has always made those donning the Iowa State uniform comfortable as they came out of the locker room to talk to the Cyclone faithful listening in.
“He made you feel welcome on air whether you lost by 20 or won by 25,” Lyndsey Fennelly said. “His presence on air is so calming and confident you didn’t have to think twice about what you were going to say or talk about.”
While his professionalism and friendliness comes across over the airwaves, it is his love of the game and witnessing some of the Cyclones’ great moments that endeared him to the audience.
“Rich cares tremendously about this program and his passion is evident during broadcasts,” Parrott said. “In recent years, I’ve caught him choking up on the air after big wins, overwhelmed with emotion and happiness. Maybe aside from Coach Fennelly, no one loves Iowa State women’s basketball as much as Rich does.”
Much of what kept Fellingham dedicated to the program, were the people and the memories surrounding them.
“It is a family. They talk about Iowa State Athletics being a family, and it is, but the Iowa State women’s basketball program is truly a family,” Fellingham said. “It always wants to make you keep coming back. They play some pretty exciting basketball, and it’s the friendships you make.”
Those friendships only deepened as time went on and more memories were made. It was weddings of former players, visits to Ames for games and reunions that continued to keep everyone close.
For Fox, it was the Fellingham’s continual trips to Cleveland, where Fox lives that has helped them keep in contact.
“Similar to Coach Fenn, he’s someone who you wanted to keep in touch with, after you left the program,” Fox said. “That is what makes Iowa State so special–the people. There’s a reason why the people that are a part of the women’s basketball team have been there for so long. They are wonderful human beings, who love their job, and work hard at doing it the right way, the Iowa State Way.”
For Fennelly, Fellingham has been a constant friend on road trips, and someone he can always talk to.
“Deb isn’t always on the trips and sometimes you can’t always talk to your staff about everything,” Fennelly said. “He’s been kind of my counselor or my therapist at times where we would sit and talk about stuff. He understands the way I go about things and the way we do things. It’s been fun to see him grow and celebrate with us.”
Road trips during basketball season can be a bit of a bonding time for the team, staff and travel party. With over 20 years traveling with the team, Fellingham has been able to get to know many of the staff members over the years. He is known for his endless stories, friendly demeanor and predictable food orders.
“More than anything, I will fondly remember the nights before games on the road enjoying Rich’s countless stories as Rich sipped on his patented glass of wine with a smile on his face,” Blum said. “Rich can tell stories for hours and each one was better than the first.”
In addition to serving as the ‘Voice of Cyclone Women’s Basketball’, Rich has also served as the CEO of Special Olympics Iowa off and on since 1996.
“Their President and CEO left and some of the board members came to me and said, ‘We think you ought to take that job.’ I told them they were crazy, and three months later I started that job,” Fellingham said. “Since then, I have been the President and CEO of Special Olympics Iowa. Then I retired, and then came back for a year. Then I retired again. Now, I’m back again.”
Fellingham’s commitment to his passions is something to be admired. And it has not gone unnoticed by those close to him.
“My memories of Rich is that he is someone who speaks from the heart,” Frese said. “You get this right away from his broadcast as well as off air, where he is heavily involved with Special Olympics. He always had so much care and empathy for others.”
The decision to retire from calling ISU women’s basketball games was not an easy one, but one he knew it was time to make. His decision was expedited by a recent bout with cancer. Though he is in remission, he still knew it was time to hang up the headset.
For Fellingham, retiring from radio is bittersweet. While it’s difficult to leave behind his post as the ‘Voice of Cyclone Women’s Basketball,’ he and his wife Alice look forward to more time with their family. The two share a combined seven children and 14 grandchildren. In addition to family time, Fellingham is looking forward to an extended February trip to St. Martin — a trip he takes every year and the only thing he will miss a women’s basketball game for– plenty of golf and an extra glass or two of cabernet.
Fellingham won’t be far from Hilton Coliseum on game days as he plans to be in the stands cheering for the Cyclones. Instead of being the voice bringing Iowa State women’s basketball into the lives of many, he will now be among the loyal and forever true inside Hilton Coliseum every chance he gets.