From The Pages Of The Magazine ...


Posted Apr 1, 2004


This feature story is from the April 2004 issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, CLICK HERE.

BEHIND THE SCENES
with WOODY DURHAM

Woody Durham has brought Carolina football and basketball games into the homes of Carolina fans for 33 years. You’ve heard the play-by-play on the radio, but now tag along with the “Voice of the Tar Heels” on game night to see the work that goes into each broadcast.

Inside Carolina Magazine
April, 2004
WORDS: Johnny Buck
PHOTOS: Jim Hawkins

"He takes his work so seriously. He doesn’t just show up at the game and get his headphones; by the time he gets to the arena he’s put hours upon hours of research into the game. He has so much stuff; he’s so well organized it’s amazing. I’m just honored to work with him.”

-Phil Ford

4:30 p.m. - Woody Durham walks into the vacant radio booth atop the first level of the Dean E. Smith Center, places his brown leather bag beside one of nine black office chairs and removes his knee-length trench coat.

Durham, the "Voice of the Tar Heels" for Carolina football and basketball games, has arrived precisely two and a half hours before tip-off of the showdown with NC State, but he is not running ahead of schedule.

He is right on time.

Durham sits in the armless rolling chair and briefly takes in the JV action before starting into his customary pre-game routine. Durham, who’s been officially broadcasting for the Tar Heels since 1971, always unpacks the same way.

The first item out of his leather bag is a small hand towel; he folds and centers it over the portion of desktop that will become his workspace for the evening.

“It only takes one Coke turned over, trying to wipe it up with napkins and paper towels, to know what this is for,” he explains.

Next come two official media guides – one for each team. Durham places NC State’s to the left and Carolina’s, as always, to the right. He then puts the official ACC stats of each team on top of their respective media guides. Next out is the handwritten, multi-colored scoring chart that enables Durham to track in-game stats for easy reference during radio play-by-play.

Also out of the bag is the Carolina team/individual card. This handwritten sheet shows the best and worst efforts for the team during the year, as well as individual highs for both the season and career of each varsity Tar Heel. Durham’s handmade specialties are not completed, however, until he removes the game card. This one shows each team’s record, the series record, each team’s home and road record, their win-loss record when leading, trailing or tied at the half and the next one or two games on the schedule for each squad.

Although he has already laid out the products of four to six hours of preparation, he is not quite finished.

Durham digs deep and pulls out a calculator, a multi-colored ink pen and a sturdy plastic thermos.

“Instant apple cider,” exclaims the North Carolina native, “I don’t always need it [for my voice], but it’s good to have around to sip on during timeouts and commercial breaks, just in case.”

To say that Woody Durham believes in pre-game preparation is an understatement. From the various charts covered in rainbows of ink to the precautionary cider, Durham sticks to a general rule of thumb: better to be over-prepared, than under-prepared.

“I’ve found that I only use about one-third of all the stats that I record, but the problem is that I never know which third I’m going to use.”

“He’s one of those people that’s doing the exact thing that he was put together to do. To me it seems like Ted Williams was put here to play baseball; Louis Armstrong – for him to do anything other than playing trumpet would seem somehow not right. I couldn’t imagine Woody Durham wearing any other hat than that of a broadcaster.”

- Mick Mixon

Born in Mebane, N.C. on Aug. 8, 1941, Durham has always had the gift of public speaking.

In the seventh grade he entered his first of three yearly oratorical contests sponsored by the Albemarle Optimist Club. It was here in Albemarle, where his family moved when he was 10, that Durham’s talent began to shine. Durham finished either second or third in the statewide competition in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

“Training to be a public speaker is not the same as training to be a broadcaster,” Durham noted, “but some of it is very valuable.”

The competition itself proved beneficial for Durham, because in the summer of 1957 he was hired at the local radio station as the high school sports announcer. The manager of the station had been a judge in the oratorical contests.


"I think he’s been fantastic. His enthusiasm, his love for Carolina, is something that is extremely special."

Perhaps it was in these years that Durham first learned the advantages of thorough preparation; he certainly had a full schedule and a large deal of responsibility for someone so young.

In the fall of his junior year of high school, Durham awoke early and worked an hour at the station before going to school and then headed to football practice. It was there on the gridiron, under the auspices of NCHSAA Hall of Fame coach Tony Webb, that Durham experienced the joy of playing for a well-disciplined team. Webb’s squad was the pride of Albemarle. Although the textile town had only about 12,000 inhabitants, the Bulldogs were consistently one of the best teams in the state.

“I wasn’t very good or very big as a 165-pound pulling guard in Webb’s single-wing attack, but I was able to make a contribution. However, just being a part of such a successful program was the highlight of my teenage years,” he noted.

After football season was over, Durham left school early each day and returned to the radio station, where he hosted an afternoon “DJ Show.” During the winter, he did tape-delayed broadcasts of the high school basketball team; in the spring and summer, he broadcast Little League baseball games. He also wrote a weekly Little League column for the local paper, the Stanley News and Press.

By his senior year he was the sports editor of the school newspaper. Soon it was time to graduate.

“I knew I wasn’t good enough to play football at the next level,” Durham said, “but I knew I was going to Carolina, and I decided to combine my broadcasting interest and my love for sports."

“I think my Dad understands and respects that he has been the lone voice of football and basketball for over a generation of Tar Heel fans. He doesn’t take it for granted and works as hard today as he did the first year he had the job.”

-Wes Durham
(in his ninth season as the play-by-play announcer for Georgia Tech)

4:38 - With the leather satchel unpacked, he begins to settle in.

Unlike Carolina head coach Roy Williams, Durham’s blazer is off hours before the game begins. He hangs it on the coat rack and shuffles through his pile of notes once more. Durham is smartly clad: a thin Carolina blue sweater (it got hot in the booth), grey business slacks and black leather shoes. On his left wrist is a silver-banded wristwatch with an interlocking “NC” on the gold faceplate.

As he neatly restacks his pile of stats, light reflects off of a large gold ring on his right hand: the 1993 National Championship ring. Dean Smith considered Durham so much a part of the Carolina family that he ordered him a ring along with the rest of the team. It was a gracious gesture not lost on the long-time Tar Heel fan.

“No, I don’t wear it to take out the garbage,” he says.

4:55 - Phil Ford walks through the open door of the broadcast booth. Considered by many the greatest Tar Heel basketball player of all-time, this is Ford’s third year as an in-game analyst. The two co-workers smile, shake hands and make small talk. Every so often (as it had been for the past 15 minutes) someone walks into the booth. Some are fans with security clearance that just want the chance to say “Hi.” Others are members of the press. Durham and Ford receive them all graciously and thank them for stopping by.

5:15 - Down in front of the booth the student riser section is almost full, while the rest of the lower level seating has fewer than a hundred people watching the junior varsity game. Nevertheless, students in the risers are riled up for the State game, quick to jump on an official, booing loudly and hurling insults when he makes a questionable call against the Tar Heels.

Durham understands the excitement emanating from the risers below him. After all, he had been a Carolina undergraduate from 1959-1963. During those years, he developed a love and allegiance for the Tar Heels that would one day help him land a job with the Tar Heel Sports Network. While at Carolina, Durham served as sports director of WUNC-TV for three years. His duties included sports anchor on the evening news program, as well as doing play-by-play for home football games. Back then, football games were taped on Saturdays and rebroadcast on Sunday evenings.

His years at Carolina also fostered connections in the Carolina family that would help him down the road.

“Woody took over for the network, doing the games and play-byplay, when I was a student here. I think he’s been fantastic. His enthusiasm, his love for Carolina, is something that is extremely special. He’s a hard worker and he’s always so prepared.”

-Roy Williams

5:22 - Checking his watch, Durham puts his blazer back on, finds his security escort and heads for the basement of the Smith Center. It is time to interview Roy Williams for the radio pre-game show. Once through the door, it quickly becomes apparent that the security guard doesn't have much to worry about. Everyone seems thrilled to catch a glimpse of the man behind the voice of Carolina athletics. As soon as Durham steps out of the booth people are calling his name, shaking his hand and patting his back as he walks past.

5:24 - Durham enters the main basketball office and heads down a short hallway to Williams’ office. The door is open, but Durham knocks politely anyway. The coach calls him in.

The office is spacious and plush. A large overstuffed leather couch lines the near right wall; a big screen TV is to the left. In the back of the office is a huge wooden desk; in the foreground, in front of the TV, a leather loveseat and a high-backed armchair sit juxtaposed.

Wasting no time, Durham produces a digital recorder and microphone and sits on the dark blue loveseat; the head coach of the Tar Heels sits nearby in the armchair. After receiving the nod from Williams, Durham starts the interview and delivers his unmistakable baritone into the microphone. After a few questions, he hits “stop” on the small recorder.

“Ready?” asks Durham.

“Sure.”

“Starting the second segment in three, two, one….”

Durham records the final two segments for the pre-game show like a well-run fast break. During the interview, he pushes the tempo between questions, never fumbles a word, never drops the ball.

5:32 - He finishes with the interview in only eight minutes and heads back up the stairs.

“I think in a time when TV is driving so much of college athletics, he gave me a real sense of pride about radio. I still carry that with me. People can watch on TV and turn down the sound, which is one of the great compliments you can be paid. But when they bring a radio to the game and listen, that’s pretty good.”

-Wes Durham

After college, Woody Durham worked for more than a decade doing regional TV sports coverage. Then came the day he was invited out to lunch by Homer Rice, Carolina’s athletics director at the time.

“He said, ‘I learned something interesting about you – you went to Chapel Hill,’” Durham recalled.

“I said, ‘If you didn’t know that by now I must be doing a pretty good job of being neutral.”


“If you listen to Woody Durham, he makes you think you’re actually seeing the game. You can see the game through the radio.”

Rice offered Durham the play-by-play duties that day, but before he could accept, he needed to consult with a few friends.

“I asked for the support of Dean and Bill Dooley before pursuing the job,” he said in a recent interview.

After receiving their blessings to pursue the position, Durham was hired. His first broadcast as the “Voice of the Tar Heels” was on Sept. 11, 1971 at the University of Richmond – a 48-0 Carolina win. He has since broadcast more than 1,460 Carolina football and basketball games.

“I’ve never seen a player come off the bench that Woody didn’t have the information on.”

-Mick Mixon

5:36 - Back in the booth, Mick Mixon has arrived. This is his 15th season alongside Durham as the color analyst. Durham takes his seat between Mixon and Ford. His stats, pens, lamp, calculator and apple cider are all present and accounted for.

5:59 - Durham, Mixon and Ford, with headsets now covering their ears, count red shirts in the rapidly filling lower level.

Mick: “I already see too much red in here.”

Woody (pointing): “I see one, two, three, …”

Phil: “There’s one sitting down over there, but he’s behind the State bench.”

Woody: “There’s a group of them sitting to the right of the band. I don’t know who gave them those tickets, but they should get in trouble for it!” Laughter breaks out in the booth.

6:00 - The pre-game show goes on the air. Mixon highlights what is to come in the next hour before going to the first commercial break.

6:07 - During the second commercial break, Durham still cannot believe how many Wolfpack fans have gotten lower level tickets. He starts to ask Mick about it, but sound technician John Rose abruptly ends the conversation by holding up his hand – the signal that they are about to go back on the air.

6:17 - As is customary, Durham and Ford get out of their seats to make room for the special pre-game guest. This time, it is newspaper writer Al Featherston. While Mick interviews Featherston, Durham goes over his notes and stats, again. Ford puts his mouth where his money is by eating the frequently advertised Beefmaster Frank.

6:33 - Less than 30 minutes remain before tip-off, and the small booth is now stuffy and crowded. All nine office chairs are filled (four of them by guests from corporate sponsors) while several people are standing. The Smith Center’s lower level is nearly full; the upper level is well on its way.

6:41 - It is time to broadcast the interview with the opposing coach. Mixon, live on the airwaves, asks a question into his headset microphone; soundman Rose starts and then stops Herb Sendek’s pre-recorded response, and then waits for Mixon to ask the next question. The process is repeated several times.

6:50 - Three minutes remain on the scoreboard clock. The Heels storm out of the locker room to a thundering ovation. In the booth, the cheers of the crowd drown out everything. The noise is deafening. Luckily, all three men have their headsets on. The broadcast proceeds seamlessly.

6:52 - The last section of the Williams interview plays. Durham does not seem to notice, sitting quietly in his chair, looking over game notes.

6:54 - The horn sounds, as the last verse of the Carolina fight song ends. The entire stadium fills with the words “Go to Hell State!” followed by raucous cheering. Next the color guard marches onto the court for the national anthem. Everyone in the crowded booth stands up with hands clasped behind their backs or over their hearts.

7:00 - Tip off. Durham starts the play-by-play. His words chase the ball around the court. At the top of the key, on the wing, in the low post – Durham fluidly describes the flow of the game. As he bounces with the ball from man to man, his words paint a detailed picture of the game before him.

“He has a voice that sounds like an announcer’s. His pitch and his inflection, his tone comes across as clear and strong. If you listen to Woody Durham, he makes you think you’re actually seeing the game. You can see the game through the radio.”

- Phil Ford

9:04 - Just minutes after the final buzzer sounds, marking a 68-66 Tar Heel win, Durham quickly leaves the booth and heads down the lower level stairs, across the court and toward the players’ tunnel. As he walks, people from all directions call to him. Security personnel in yellow jackets, season ticket holders, and the janitorial staff – everyone seems to know his name, and he knows many of theirs


Durham, forever painting a picture with his words, begins his commentary as soon as Williams has made his way to the speaker’s podium.

9:06 - Durham makes his way through throngs of reporters preparing for the post-game press conference. He continues forging through the crowd until he is standing by the coach’s podium at the front of the room. Donning his wireless headphones, he quietly checks in with Mixon (who is still in the booth running the post-game radio show) and then waits for the head coach.

9:08 - Durham, forever painting a picture with his words, begins his commentary as soon as Williams has made his way to the speaker’s podium. “He sits down, looks at his stat sheet as he normally does, sets down his water and here he is….”

9:16 - Williams’ press conference is over. Durham wraps it up, sends the broadcast “back up to Mick," and makes a beeline for the players’ lounge.

9:20 - Durham is crouched beside sophomore David Noel in a sea of media: five reporters, two video cameras and three microphones hover only inches away. Durham maintains his calm, comfortable tone and conducts a brief live interview with Noel despite the hectic, crowded scene. Durham again checks in with Mixon. When he learns that another player interview is unnecessary, he begins the march back to the radio booth.

9:34 - Having returned from the basement of the Smith Center, the post-game radio show is now completed. Durham packs his things as he chats with Mixon about the close win Carolina has claimed over N.C. State.

But more than five hours after arriving, Durham is not ready to go home, yet. Instead, he plans to record solo segments for the upcoming highlight show with Roy Williams, which is still a few days away.

IC
He just wants to stay prepared.


Johnny Buck is the anchorman on UNC' s Sports Xtra television program.





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