The "Voice of the Vols" legend, John Ward, has died at the age of 88.

Ward passed away Wednesday night after a lengthy illness, according to Steve Early of the Vol Network. He called Tennessee football games on Vol Network radio for 30 years from 1968 to 1998.

"It is with a heavy heart that we announce a great voice has gone silent. Mr. John Ward, legendary advertising executive, and one of the most beloved broadcasters and ambassadors for the University of Tennessee, passed away this evening in Knoxville," a statement from the Vol Network said.

His final days behind the microphone came as the Vols captured the 1998 football national championship and the SEC Eastern Division basketball title.

"He propelled Tennessee to the forefront of marketing and broadcasting, and remains the standard by which all others are measured," the Vol Network wrote. "While it is a sad day for all Vol fans, we take great pride in the fact that John belonged to us."

"John Ward belonged to us," Early said. "He was a Tennessee Vol."

The day Ward told Tennessee, "It's time" is a memory many Vols fans will never forget.

"Only the Tennessee Volunteers could call John their own, and he was proud to be the 'Voice of the Vols.' He loved his alma mater, the fans, and the state of Tennessee. He remains the very heartbeat of the Vol Network."

In 1976, former WBIR Sports anchor Bob Kesling was hired by John Ward to serve as his spotter for Vol Network radio broadcasts.

"John made such an impact on Tennessee athletics. For years, his broadcasts were the link between the Vols and the fans. It is a bond that is still strong today. He was a brilliant broadcaster and communicator. We lost one of the true legends in broadcasting and Tennessee athletics," Kesling said after learning of Ward's passing.

Kesling sat beside the legendary "Voice of the Vols" for 15 seasons. He is the current Voice of the Vols.

"We would start telling the old stories, and we'd start talking about the old games and what happened," Kesling said. "Not so much what happened in the game, but on the road trips, being late or whatever. And we just had such a good time. And I cherish those moments."

Last fall, Tennessee honored him at the game against Vanderbilt. The Neyland Stadium crowd gave Ward a standing ovation as he waved to them.

In 1994 Ward and his wife Barbara, who passed away in July 2017, made the then-largest financial gift ever to the UT athletic department, according to the University of Tennessee Athletics. The next year, level four of the press box at Neyland Stadium was named the John Ward Broadcast Center.

According to UT Athletics, the senior class of 1998 named a pedestrian greenway on the UT campus in honor of Ward and retiring UT president Joseph E. Johnson.

"He meant a lot, not just to Knoxville, Tennessee, not just to the University of Tennessee, but the entire state of Tennessee, reveled in the fact that John Ward was our guy," Early said.

"Through his voice, he was that link, and he accepted that," former Sports Information Director Bud Ford said. "And people felt like they knew him."