For 40 years, fans of the North Carolina Tar Heels muted their televisions and turned on the radio during football and basketball games. It was commonplace to glance across Kenan Memorial Stadium, Carmichael Auditorium, or the Dean E. Smith Center and see dozens of fans with headsets on while watching the Tar Heels in person.
These were the preferred methods of following the action because Woody Durham, the Voice of the Tar Heels, provided fans with a smooth, Southern narration to the action on the field or on the court. He created pictures with words, and with polished execution he provided fans with historical knowledge, statistical analysis, and detailed backgrounds of the competing student-athletes.
Woody Durham, Voice of the Tar Heels, passed away early this morning at the age of 76.
Of course, Tar Heel fans favored listening to their team’s play-by-play man rather than whoever was assigned to that telecast. But Woody’s preparation and professionalism transcended the Carolina fanbase. During this time of year, other ACC fans were blessed to have ACC Tournament coverage provided by our Priceless Gem. He put forth the same effort for those Thursday and Friday ACC Tournament games as he did for the Tar Heels.
In his book, Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice, Durham spoke of traveling from Albemarle to games at Kenan as a child. He was especially fond of Carolina great Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice. Looking back, it appeared the native North Carolinian was destined to be in Chapel Hill, and he carried that childhood passion for the Tar Heels throughout his broadcast career.
From his teen years, Durham worked hard to achieve his dream of being a broadcaster, gaining experience at the local radio station in Albemarle. He graduated from UNC in 1963 and went on the journey of a lifetime in radio and television. Prior to the start of his tenure as radio play-by-play for UNC in 1971, Durham worked at UNC-TV in Chapel Hill, sports director at WFMY-TV in Greensboro, color commentary for Wake Forest football, and play-by-play at Guilford College. He retired as play-by-play commentator for UNC in 2011 after 40 years behind the mic.
His excellent work through the years did not go unnoticed. During and after his time with UNC, he received many honors and awards, including the Curt Gowdy Media Award for contributions to basketball from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the William R. Davie Award from the UNC Board of Trustees, along with induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Broadcasters Hall of Fame. This June, he will be inducted into the National Sports Media Association’s Hall of Fame.
Durham provided the commentary for some of the best (and most heartbreaking) moments in Carolina athletic history. UNC fans can hear Woody’s voice when discussing The Comeback in 1974, The Shot in 1982, The Timeout and Technical Foul in 1993, or The Kick in 2004. The list goes on and on.
For me, Woody always played a vital role on game day. My father was a classmate of Woody, both graduating from UNC in 1963. Yes, we listened to the pregame show in the house or in the parking lot in Chapel Hill, and yes, we carried the Walkman radio and headphones in Kenan, and yes, we muted the television, and yes, we listened to the postgame show.
If we were driving down the road during a broadcast, and it was close in the waning minutes or final possession of the game, my father instructed me to “put your hand on the radio” and use the powers that be to transmit to Woody some special mojo that pushed the Heels to victory. And back then, boy, it sure seemed like putting your hand on the radio worked. Especially when Coach Smith was on the sidelines, it seemed that much more often than not we received the passionate proclamation from Woody that Carolina had indeed scored and sealed the victory.
Woody reminded us to “go where you go and do what you do.” You can see how our family did what we did. But it was more than just moving to the chair you were sitting in the last time the Heels won, or throwing on your lucky jersey that was unwashed since the last UNC loss.
It was about the radio connecting you to your team, your university, your community, and your state. It was about sharing moments and creating a lifetime of memories with the ones you love the most while cheering on the team you love the most.
And Woody Durham was the soundtrack to those cherished memories.
In an irony as cruel as Dean Smith’s battle with dementia, Durham was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a disease that takes away the ability to speak. After a two-year fight with the disease, the longtime radio play-by-play announcer passed away peacefully at his home.
Via UNC Athletics:
Carolina fans are encouraged to share their favorite memories of Woody via Twitter @GoHeels using the hashtag #HeyWoody.
He is survived by his wife, Jean, to whom he was married for 54 years; their two sons, Wes and Taylor; and two grandchildren, Emily and Will. Wes is the radio voice of the Atlanta Falcons and broadcasts college football and basketball for Raycom Sports and Fox. Taylor is the play-by-play announcer for Elon University.
A celebration of Woody’s life is planned for Sunday, April 8th, at Carmichael Arena on the UNC campus.
Memorial gifts may be made to the following:
Medical Foundation of NC
For Woody Durham Fund
PO Box 1050
Chapel Hill NC 27514
287 East Street, Suite 221
Pittsboro NC 27312
The staff at Tar Heel blog extend our deepest condolences to the Durham family. Please share your memories of Woody Durham in the comments below.