After 30 years, Elvis has officially left the building. Steve Landers, longtime public address announcer for Benton Panther football, has decided to retire. Creator of the legend of Frank Hobbs and known for his signature sign-off, “Elvis has left the building,” Landers has been the most recognizable voice in Benton for 3 decades. The following piece on Landers appeared in Friday’s edition of The Saline Courier courtesy of Tony Lenahan.
It’s been a long tenure for current public address announcer Steve Landers, but after 30 years, Landers has decided to call it quits. That journey likely ends tonight when the Benton Panthers host the Marion Patriots at Everett Field in the first round of the 6A state playoffs (this piece was written before the Panthers were forced to bow out against Marion because of Covid protocol).
“As far as I’m concerned, until I know better, tomorrow is the end,” Landers said Thursday. “I’m ready for some Steve time. Thirty years is plenty.”
Landers, 64, was calling Future Panthers games before he hooked up calling the varsity program. At the time 30 years ago, Steve Landers’ uncle, Robert Landers, worked in the press box and the transition went smoothly.
“Max Wright had announced forever and my uncle was the clock operator,” Landers explained. “He knew I was doing the Future Panthers games. At church one Sunday, he said, ‘You ought to be my announcer.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ There it began.
“He (his uncle) has since been deceased and Steve Jordan took over his position. We’ve always kidded that you have to die out of this job. You can’t just quit. I’m going to break the mold. I’m getting out while I’m still alive.”
Landers, who enjoys “going to the car races,” and works at Everett Chevrolet, said he will miss his “gang” the most.
“Being around my press box gang,” Landers said. “Steve Jordan, Jim Futrell, Phil Richardson and Robert Yates. That’s my crew. And then Mason Woolbright is going to take over for me.”
Despite his departure, Landers believes he is leaving his legacy in the best of hands with Woolbright.
“Absolutely, he’s been training since he was in the eighth grade,” Landers said of Woolbright. “He’s graduating college this year. He started coming to the press box when he was in the eighth grade and we raised him in the press box to be the announcer that he’s becoming. He does a fabulous job. I wanted him to do it because he knows how it’s supposed to be done, instead of somebody getting up there and mouthing.”
Knowing how it’s supposed to be done is simple, according to Landers.
“Tell them what they want to know and shut up,” he said. “Don’t over describe it. That’s what TV people are for, and radio people. You tell them who’s got the ball, what they just did, who carried the ball and what down it is and what yard line they’re on. And then shut up.”
Landers recollected some close calls through the years on when shutting up didn’t work.
“Don’t push the button until you’re ready to talk,” he said. “Whenever we played Bryant one night at C.W. Lewis, I think it was the student council president at the time came up and got a remote mic, one of the wireless. He was walking down the stairs of the press box, turned it on and said, ‘Bryant sucks.’ They stormed my little area of the press box. I said, ‘I didn’t do nothing but I heard it.’ You might want to check with your student council president. He had a hot mic. So, I got out of that one.”
Landers also remembered avoiding another “oops” moment on the microphone in the early days.
“Back when I first started you had this old microphone that looked like a CB type microphone,” he explained. “Not a handheld, but one you set on the counter and push the button, leaned over and talked into it. Somebody had taken a toothpick and jammed it in there and had it where it was open. We were just sitting up there before the game shooting the bull. Fortunately, nothing was said out of line and my cousin hollered, ‘Hey, we can hear you.’ I looked and I could see that toothpick then. That was the closest I’d come to really doing something ignorant.”
Regarding his fondest memories, Landers mentioned his daughter, Farra (manager), and son Cayce lettered for the Panthers since the eighth grade, and Benton never lost to Bryant when his son was playing in the late 1990s.
It was during one of Cayce’s games which Landers remembers the most.
“Benton was playing Sheridan at homecoming and the score was tied with like 6 seconds left on the clock,” Landers said. “Tim Merrick blocked a punt and my son returned it for a touchdown with the siren going off to win the game. I liked to fell out of the press box.”
Landers also recollected a game against Springdale during a serious storm.
“My dad (Bill) had brought a package of peanut butter sandwich cookies up there for us,” he said. “It was during the storm, because the stadium emptied because it was a bad storm; torrential downpour, lightning to the ground, struck the scoreboard. We were trying to throw the cookies that he had brought out of the press box into a trash can down by the field. We had more fun trying to throw those cookies into that trash can. Everybody in the press box got involved.”
Though Landers will miss the good times in the press box, once the game starts, it’s all business when that mic goes hot.
“There’s a lot more stories I could tell because it is absolutely comedy central when that mic’s not on,” Landers said. “I have to remind them, ‘when y’all see me turn it on, shut up.’”