Woody Durham, the Voice of the Tar Heels for the past 40 years, is going radio silent.
The man behind the microphone for more than 1,800 of the Tar Heels’ football and basketball games – including 13 Final Fours, and 23 bowls -- is retiring, the school announced Tuesday night.
"Forty years is an incredible career,'' said Eric Montross, who has sat beside Durham as the color commentator for UNC's basketball games. "For anyone to do something for so long and so well ... he will be missed, because he’s such a staple of Carolina athletics, and he’s so good at what the does."
Durham, 69, grew up in Albemarle and began his broadcasting career at age 16 there at WZKY radio. He graduated from UNC in 1963, and in 1971 became the voice behind the Tar Heels’ close losses, big wins and controversial finishes.
Known for his attention to detail, he brought a lined, handwritten, three-color-coded, detail-oriented scoring chart roughly the size of a TV tray to each game he called.
“Nobody does boards like Woody, and no one ever will,’’ Montross said. “Woody Durham is so prepared, I think he can tell you what every player ate for breakfast – and not just the home team. You can’t throw Woody a curve ball in a broadcast, because he’s going to know the answer; somewhere on the board is the answer.”
Montross also cited Durham’s passion for his alma mater, saying “no one loves Carolina more than Woody Durham.”
And it came through over the air waves. He’s became so synonymous with UNC sports that some fans lowered their TV volume while turning up the radio during broadcasts, preferring to listen to Durham than national commentators.
“Three generations of fans have listened to him throughout the years,’’ said Woody’s son, Wes, the play-by-play announcer for Georgia Tech’s football and basketball teams. “Not only has he done the games of the kids – but the games of their fathers. D.J. Johnston [a walk-on for the basketball team this season] played for Roy [Williams], but Donn (cq) Johnston, D.J.’s father, was on the floor when my dad first started doing games.
“He has not just been inspirational to me and what I do, but to a lot of fans who have listened to him over the years.”
The school has planned a 10 a.m. press conference Wednesday morning in order for Durham to reflect on his career, and explain more about his decision to retire. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday night, but Wes Durham says his dad remains in good health, and is eager to spend some time on the golf course.
The news release announcing Durham’s choice did not say who would replace Durham in the Carolina radio booth. Montross currently serves as the Tar Heels Sports Network’s color analyst for basketball games, while UNC associate athletic director Rick Steinbacher serves the same role for football broadcasts.
Asked if he might be interested in taking over his dad’s job, Wes Durham said the emphasis now should be on his father, not what comes next.
“There was a basketball coach who lost to Syracuse a few years back, and he was asked a similar question,” Wes Durham said, referring to Roy Williams’ exchange with Bonnie Bernstein when he was still coaching at Kansas. “And I’ll answer it the same way: I respect and understand that you have to ask that question, but it’s not about me right now.”
In a news release, the school encouraged Carolina fans to email their favorite “Woody” calls and memories to: email@example.com. A selection of responses will be compiled and presented at TarHeelBlue.com.