Art Challis: The voice of the Thunderbirds

Challis at men’s basketball game, 2020

The Southern Utah University Athletics Hall of Fame is full of great athletes from all sports and even a few coaches. But only one broadcaster has ever earned a spot on the prestigious wall: Art Challis. His plaque, located in the America First Event Center, honors him as the man who has been narrating SUU athletics for over 50 years: the “voice of the Thunderbirds.”

Challis’ days of sports broadcasting began in 1970 when the Cedar High School baseball team took on Parowan High School. Local high school baseball was only the beginning for him. It was not until December of 1973, not too long after he had graduated from the then-Southern Utah State College with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication, that he started broadcasting for the Thunderbirds. He had 30 minutes to prepare for his first game after the main broadcaster, Ernie Riedelbeck, called out sick. It was a men’s basketball game against Grand Canyon University, one that SUU narrowly lost. After that, Challis never looked back.

Challis doing his thing
Challis doing his thing

In 1974, Challis started covering his alma mater’s football team and since then has given play-by-plays for football, baseball and both men’s and women’s basketball. He has covered far more than just sports, though, and has branched out beyond the scope of Cedar City. In the 1970s, he worked for KSL radio and TV, The Daily Spectrum and KSUB. During that time, he broadcasted on both television and radio and was also a writer. All the while, he was still working with KSUU, which used the call sign KCDR then.

The 1980s were endlessly busy for Challis. KCDR was going strong, and he started working for Deseret News. He also began his teaching career, earning his master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He enjoyed doing it all, and he never let the commute bother him.

“I took the two-and-a-half to three-hour drive to Vegas and then I’d come home that night, get up in the morning, then teach here,” Challis said.

He later returned to UNLV to get his doctorate from 1994 to 1998 while his schedule remained just as busy with one big difference. In 1993, Challis and some of his colleagues purchased KBRE and owned it until 2006. There, he sold ads and operated his own team, which included SUU’s current chair of the communication department, Matt Barton.

After finishing his own education journey, Challis still had his plate full. He was teaching full time at the newly renamed Southern Utah University, broadcasting on what had finally become KSUU, working as a correspondent for Deseret News and running his own station.

Challis’ plaque
Challis’ plaque

Once the new millennium hit, his responsibilities slowly decreased. His four kids were growing up, he stopped working for Deseret News and he sold KBRE. This let him enjoy the rest of his work a little bit more. To this day, some of Challis’ best memories with SUU are traveling with the sports teams. He has gone just about everywhere in the country while broadcasting games.

“I have now been to 47 of the 50 states,” Challis said. “The three I haven’t yet are New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.”

Challis has a remarkable memory and can recall just about all of his adventures with the Thunderbirds from throughout the years. He even remembers the first basketball game in the Centrum Arena, now called the America First Event Center. 

“The Centrum came on in ‘85, and Alex Adams made the first basket,” he recalled. 

Challis has seen the school grow from around 1,900 students when he began attending the College of Southern Utah to the over 14,000 students that SUU has now. He is in his 36th year of teaching and has seen SUU through seven different university presidents. From 2010-19, he served as the chair of the department of communication and has taught almost every communication course the school offers.

In 2016, the SUU Athletics Hall of Fame class proudly included Challis for broadcasting over 1,500 games. He continued to work with KSUU until 2020, when he retired after 46 years of radio. It will always hold a place in his heart.

Challis interviewing former head football coach Demario Warren, 2018
Challis interviewing former head football coach Demario Warren, 2018

“That was quite an honor, actually. It was fun to be inducted,” he said. “We’ve had that radio station on the air since 1967. I did the first newscast.”

Challis is more than just a radio broadcaster, thoughhe still teaches in the communication department and has been nominated for SUU Professor of the Year at least 12 times. Many of his students have gone on to do broadcasting of their own, including Ryan Steineckert, who is now the station manager for KSUU Thunder 91.1 and communication professor. 

“I love it; I enjoy it. The kids keep me young,” Challis said. 

Having been originally enrolled at the College of Southern Utah in 1968 and still working at Southern Utah University in 2023, Challis has been with the school for over half of a century. With 55 years under his belt, he will continue to be an SUU legend and will impact the lives of students until the day he signs off for good.



Story by Anden Garfield

Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics and Anden Garlfield

This article was originally published in March 2023 edition of the University Journal.