Thursday, April 21, 2011

End of an Era

As a kid growing up in North Carolina, I fell in love with the University of North Carolina through its football and basketball teams. My father is a Carolina grad (class of '58) and I graduated from Chapel Hill thirty years later. In addition to my father, the one other person that helped nurture my love for Tar Heel blue was Woody Durham.

I grew up at a time when sports was not all over television as it is now. The idea of college sports being televised was still a rather novel idea. Fans connected with their teams through radio announcers much in the same way that baseball fans of years ago connected with their teams. What set these men apart is they didn't just announce the games. They had a unique connection with the teams and often served as the school's lead cheerleader.

Woody Durham just such an announcer. If you mention his name anywhere in North Carolina folks will immediately know who he is even if they don't follow Carolina sports. His voice also was featured in countless commercials across the state. In addition to his radio duties he hosted weekly television shows with the football and basketball coaches.

Fans connected to Woody in such a way that when Carolina games finally started being televised across the region it became tradition to "turn down the sound" on the television and listen to Woody's call of the game on the radio. On a side note, even during my years at Carolina I frequently watched games with friends on TV and the sound was turned down. I also frequently took a radio with me to the football games I attended. It was that important to hear what Woody had to say.

Another sign of Woody's connection to the fans: at games it was common practice at a football game for someone to start a chant of "Wood-y, Wood-y". The crowd would keep cheering until Woody would lean out of the press box and wave to the crowd.

During my last couple of years at Carolina I had the privilege to work with Woody. In 1987, I went to work at WCHL (the flagship station for the Tar Heel Sports Network - a collection of radio stations in North Carolina and along the eastern seaboard that carried the games - a network that existed primarily because of Woody) to help cover the U. S. Olympic Festival to be held that summer in the Triangle area. That job led to a even better position later that fall as a locker room reporter during home basketball games. For the entire season, I was able to sit in the press box with Woody and watch him work. At the time, I was seriously considering becoming a broadcaster because of Woody.
I will never forget the commitment he had to every broadcast in getting every detail just right even down to the pronunciation of the players names. His recall of facts and figures was simply amazing. Most of all, he carried an enthusiasm for Carolina sports that was unrivaled among other announcers.

But all good things come to an end. After 40 years as "The Voice of the Tar Heels", Woody is calling it a career. He's leaving on his own terms which is just the way it should be. Of course Carolina sports will never be the same.

Thanks for the memories, Woody. It was an honor to know you and to be able to work alongside you even if it was for all too brief a time.

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