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Clay Henry

Hank delivered the goods on Arkansas radio sports talk

You never know what you’re going to get with callers, but one in particular was special over the years.

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To quote Forrest Gump, radio sports talk is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get.

There are good callers and there are some that should have their phone thrown to the bottom of the swimming pool.

I’m not going to give the bad ones any publicity. I don’t want to encourage their antics.

We all have our favorites. Some grow on you like Charlie the Tuna, one of the regulars on Halftime, the mid day show hosted by Phil Elson and Matt Jones. I spend two hours with them starting at noon most Wednesdays on the ESPN Arkansas stations.

Then there is what only can be referenced as Hog Delight, the calls from the famous Eddie from Clarksville. I had the good fortune to meet Eddie in the stands before an Arkansas-Texas A&M game around 10 years ago. Bo Mattingly and I got to put a face with a voice with a 10-minute visit during warm-ups.

It was — if I can borrow from Eddie’s routine — just plain delightful.

There are others who make you want to turn the channel. I’m not saying who they are because bad publicity is exactly the goal. I don’t want to give them the pleasure of knowing they were a bother.

The point of all of this is to remember one of the greatest Arkansas call-in guests, the one and only Hammering Hank from Prairie Grove. Oh, how I miss Hank.

In the words of my old radio partner Chuck Barrett, Hank was radio gold. No one did call-in radio better than Hank.

The idea to write about Hank hit me over the weekend. Somehow I remembered that Hank passed July 22, 2016. How a date like that burns into my memory is up for debate. I don’t remember the exact date of my father’s passing, so that Hank’s last day is unforgettable says all you need to know.

Hank holds a special spot with me. Well, let’s just say Hank was special in every way.

I loved Hank so much that I went to his memorial service at First Methodist Church in Prairie Grove. The place was packed. I’ll never forget Natalie West Bartholomew’s lengthy remembrance of Hank.

I had tears streaming down my face when Natalie told the story of the call from Hank, her husband’s uncle, when he found out she was pregnant. He wanted her to know not to worry; there were books on suckling. The church roared with laughter. That was Hank!

I met Hank a few times. He’d catch rides – sometimes standing in the middle of Highway 62 in Prairie Grove – to visit the Fayetteville downtown square. He’d chat with everyone. If you saw Hank hitch hiking, you’d pick him up. All in Prairie Grove did, too.

I met Hank a few times. He’d catch rides – sometimes standing in the middle of Highway 62 in Prairie Grove – to visit the Fayetteville downtown square. He’d chat with everyone. If you saw Hank hitch hiking, you’d pick him up. All in Prairie Grove did, too.

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You knew it was Hank. He’d have on his suspenders and his Cat in the Hat top hat. Oh, I loved that hat.

Hank’s calls to first Barrett and then Mattingly for over 30 years were heart warming. I was on both of those programs and so looked forward to hearing that distinctive voice and the wonderful detail in the calls. The producer always moved Hank to the front of the line on busy call-in days.

There was always the same opening remark, “Gentlemen, gentlemen … “ He would have three wonderfully constructed points and hang up when he was done. He was a stat king. He knew how many yards Darren McFadden had gained and it was broken down for some sort of meaningful discussion from the hosts.

Barrett would let Hank do his thing and we’d do it justice in our follow-up after Hank was gone. It would only be a short segment in the overall show.

There was one famous end to a three-part question that is legend. As far as I’m concerned, it has to be the greatest question to a sports talk radio show.

Hank’s last thought that day, “And have you watched the Space Jam movie and seen Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny take on the bad guys? I’ll hang up and listen for your answer.”

Neither Chuck or I had seen Space Jam but we promised that we would work that movie into a date night with our wives.

Mattingly preferred a different style of handling Hank calls. He engaged with Hank in a delicate conversation that Hank seemed to enjoy.

There are two unforgettable classic calls. I’ve repeated them with joy in many settings. They make me smile from ear to ear. Mattingly remembers one of them especially well.

“It was the spring storm season and there were tornado watches all over the state,” Mattingly said. “It was a quite serious situation. Prairie Grove was about to get a storm, but Hank called anyway.”

After his usual opening, Hank informed Mattingly that he’d be brief because he was “a little worried.” Slowly, Mattingly pulled it out of Hank that there were tornado warnings and he was calling from under his bed. The call continued for a few minutes before Hank thought it best to end the call in the name of safety.

It was beautiful radio.

There was another call when Hank was fighting a serious head cold, but stepped forward with some meaningful stats nonetheless. His voice took a hit because of the stuffiness.

After Hank paused after delivering his three topics, Mattingly said, “Hank, you sound like you are calling from the bottom of your swimming pool.”

Hank’s matter-of-fact answer, “I don’t have a swimming pool.”

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Gosh, I loved Hank. So did Prairie Grove. They treated him in kingly fashion. He was a prominent member of the Sports Booster Club at the high school. All knew him and looked forward to the same sort of conversations we had with him on the radio.

The thing about Hank that made him special was his positive outlook on life. He enjoyed his daily phone calls. If you were in your car and in a conversation, they ended. You turned the radio louder. It was must listen. It was Hank!

There was no mention of troubles with Hank. He didn’t want a player benched or a new coach. It was just simple questions about the stat of the day. He knew them, too. He knew lineups. He absorbed sports and could tell you what happened in the game of the day.

You need callers — good and bad — to have a radio sports talk show. They are the spice of life. But I’d trade them all to have Hank back.

I miss seeing that top hat on the square. I miss hearing his open, “Gentlemen, gentlemen … “ I miss that tremendous enthusiasm for sports. No one can quite match Hammering Hank in that regard, not even the great Eddie from Clarksville.

In some ways Forrest Gump was wrong on Hammering Hank. You knew what you were going to get every day, pure radio gold.

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