As the ACC basketball tournament gets cranked up this weekend, North Carolina Tar Heels are faced with the sad news that Woody Durham, the voice of the Tar Heels, has died.
Growing up in North Carolina the son of a Tar Heel (my father graduated in 1958) I had no choice but to become a Tar Heel fan. Woody started his career with the Heels in 1971 when radio was still the dominant medium in college sports. As a result, generations of Tar Heels like myself grew up listening to Woody's calls.
The impact that Woody had on Tar Heel nation was visible. It was not uncommon during football games for fans to chant "Woody, Woody" over and over again until he would lean out the press box and wave to the crowd acknowledging he had heard their chants. Fans would frequently bring radios to the game so they could listen to his call while watching the action.
It was also common when games were televised for many folks to "turn down the sound" and turn on Woody's call of the game. I can vividly remember while a student at Carolina being at numerous viewing parties where Woody's call was on while the game was on television.
When I was at Carolina there were only eight teams in the ACC so the basketball tournament would start on the first Friday of March. I always made a point to make sure I didn't have any Friday classes after noon (and if I did I would have skipped them) because not only would be calling the Carolina game he would call the entire tournament. That meant on opening day he would call four games. Stop and think about that for a moment. And he was just as sharp at the end of the day as he was at the beginning. It was the one time of the year that no matter which ACC school you pledged allegiance to you would have the privilege of having Woody call your team's game.
The reason that he connected so well with the fans was he was not only a Tar Heel (class of '63) but also at heart a fan. His excitement when Carolina had success was evident in the tone of his calls. All you have to do is listen to a few of his memorable moments to hear that at heart he's not just a broadcaster but a fan.
But I will always treasure the brief period of time when I got to work with him. I was a part time announcer and sports report at WCHL in Chapel Hill while I was at Carolina. I was fortunate enough to work with the Tar Heel Sports Network my senior year including conducting locker room interviews following home games during the 1987-88 season. I was able to sit in the booth and watch a master at work.
If I learned anything from working with Woody it was the importance of getting details right. For example, he was a stickler about getting players' names right. He hated mispronounced names. He also encouraged me to make sure to get the details right because they were important.
As a listener, Woody made it sound like he had a really easy job. But the fact of the matter is that he put an immense amount of preparation into each broadcast. It showed with the immense amount of information he managed to convey during a broadcast. Plus he was able to paint a word picture of the action like few other broadcasters have been able to since.
I would venture to say there are probably only a handful of announcers who have been able to make the personal connection with their fans they way that Woody Durham did. He was definitely one of kind. And Tar Heel nation will miss him greatly.