How important is the radio broadcasting job at UNC – or any major college or pro sports team – these days?
Certainly, every school and pro franchise needs a radio network so their fans can listen to the few games that aren’t on TV or if they can’t watch those that are on the tube. But the days of your favorite team’s broadcaster being your umbilical cord to the action are long gone because there are now so many options for staying connected. In these digital days, you can follow “live” play-by-play on your computer or mobile device, and those with enough “G’s” can watch the games on their 4-inch phone screens!
When Woody Durham used to utter one of his pet predilections to Tar Heel fans during a close game – “Go where you go and do what you do” – my ex-mother in law would lock herself in the bathroom and yell through the door, “What’s happening?” Nowadays, people still leave the TV room during a tight finish and some old-timers rely on the radio because Woody’s words were more comforting than watching. And, of course, there is Dick Vitale, who has kept radio alive all by himself.
But the advent of color and, now, high definition TV has cut steadily into radio audiences over the last 10 years, especially with broadcast deregulation that has allowed unlimited games to be televised by the national networks and regional carriers. Football and basketball freaks can literally watch weekend games from 11 a.m. to midnight on CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN 1, 2 & U, Fox and a variety of other cable channels most of us have never heard of (TruTV?).
A UNC athletic official, whose primary job is to sell out Kenan Stadium and the Smith Center, said last summer that HDTV has become the biggest challenge to declining ticket revenues. With the cost of tickets going up and the time and expense to take your brood to a live sporting event, sitting in your cushy living room in front of a 50-inch flat screen with all kinds of playback and slow-mo gizmos seems like a responsible alternative to some families.
People who couldn’t go to games have been watching on TV for years, and many UNC fans got used to “turning down the sound” and listening to Woody anyway. Then, when TV transmission changed from moving across telephone lines to bouncing off satellites in the sky, a disconcerting delay between most TV and radio broadcasts ended a lot of turn-down-the-sound parties. (Not with WCHL, though, because engineer Anthony Wellman expertly syncs up the broadcasts!)
So what’s left are college and pro radio networks with actual audiences that are hard to measure. The NFL is a completely TV-driven league with every game televised. Virtually all Carolina basketball games have been on TV since Roy Williams returned as head coach in 2003, and Carolina’s first three 2011 football games are on the tube. The rest of the TV schedule will be released in the fall.
As a result, the pre-game and post-game shows, when fans can listen in for the coaches’ comments, have become even more popular, because by kick-off or tip-off the live TV coverage has begun.
So replacing a legend like Woody Durham, frankly, is not the big deal it once was. When Durham succeeded Bill “Mouth of the South” Currie in 1971 (after an interim year by Currie’s old sidekick and current Indianapolis Colts broadcaster Bob Lamey), “Ol’ Woody” was a young 29. And for a few years, people longed for Currie and his occasional potty-mouth behind the mike. Of course, Woody grew into the job and held it for 40 seasons until his recent retirement.
Durham’s son, Wes, was once considered a frontrunner to succeed his old man. But the younger Durham has become a big brand in Atlanta, where he is the Voice of Georgia Tech, the NFL Falcons and has his own radio and TV shows. He probably makes too much money to take the UNC job in more provincial Chapel Hill and he definitely does not fit the new profile Carolina wants.
UNC prefers the stars to be the players and coaches, not the radio broadcaster. That’s why young, talented and unassuming Jones Angell, third banana in the booth the last few years, has a great chance of getting the job. Angell is here, he’s cheaper and he does so much more behind the scenes than old-time broadcasters who often just showed up, put on the head set and start talking.
Woody Durham was the exception with his preparation and his ubiquitous presence at virtually every Carolina event of note. He wanted to do the high-profile on-court and on-field presentations, served as a Rams Club spokesman and MC as part of his job and generally became as synonymous with the Tar Heels as the Tar Heels themselves.
TV has made such a “legendary” presence less important. They may still call the new guy with the gig Voice of the Tar Heels, but what most fans need now more than ever is a really good radio announcer who describes the games accurately when they can’t watch them in person or on TV.
Woody Durham with the Late Jim Valvano and Frank McGuire
Who is your choice as new Voice of the Tar Heels?