Tar Heel Voices.....On The Air With Carolina Basketball
Recently I was contacted by David Daly who operates the Blue Heaven Basketball Museum in Chapel Hill and asked if I would agree to write a segment for a new section to be established in the museum. The section was to deal with Carolina basketball and its history on both radio and television.
My initial reaction was that I was not the best person to write the segment but upon further reflection, I decided that maybe I was one of the ones who was in a position to best write it since I had experienced most of it.
I told Mr. Daly that I would write the material only if he and I could have an agreement that he was free to edit it in any way he saw fit. The write-up had to be written within certain space limitations in order to fit into the format chosen.
I thought you might enjoy reading the final version of the write-up.
Tar Heel Voices.......On The Air With Carolina Basketball
The tremendous popularity of Carolina basketball is due, in part, to the broad coverage the games have received on both radio and television.
In the 20's, game reports were received after the fact by both telephone and telegraph. Students and fans would often gather in stores on Franklin St. to await the results and accounts of games.
Beginning in the 30's, only a few games were broadcast on radio. However, by the mid 40's, most home games were broadcast live and an increasing number of away games were broadcast live and on a delayed basis (see our transcription discs).
The first broadcast personality to emerge from this new activity was Ray Reeve of radio station WRAL in Raleigh. He announced games of all 'Big Four' schools but was particularly active with the UNC White Phantoms, as they were known at the time. Reeve's distinctive voice and appearance ( he was bald and weighed over 250 pounds ) made this transplanted Dartmouth graduate almost synonymous with Carolina Basketball. By the late 40's, when the Dixie Classic in Raleigh became the premier Holiday Tournament in the country, he would announce 4 games a day for 3 consecutive days.
With the introduction of FM radio in the 40's, frequently the first half of games would be broadcast on FM only and the second half on both FM and AM. Many anxious moments were spent by fans who did not have access to FM radio awaiting the announcement of the halftime score.
The Tobacco Sports Network eventually provided entire games to much of the state and surrounding areas, particularly the eastern part of North Carolina.
The second personality to be associated with UNC basketball was Bill Currie, who was given the moniker "Mouth of the South" by Frank Deford in an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated. For years, Currie was Ray Reeve's color man and eventually replaced Reeve as the play by play announcer when Reeve retired.
The current announcer for UNC basketball is Woody Durham whose familiar voice has described Carolina games since 1971 for those not fortunate enough to see the Tar Heels in person. The "Voice of the Tar Heels" is the only one of the three who is a UNC alumnus.
Probably the one game that catapulted Carolina Basketball to the attention of the public at large was the 1957 Final Four played in Kansas City. The match up between Wilt Chamberlain's Kansas Jayhawks and the Lenny Rosenbluth led Tar Heels was the first nationally televised NCAA Championship game. The blurry broadcast beamed back to North Carolina solidified the champion Tar Heel's popularity, and the level of interest in UNC Basketball would never be the same.
During this time, television began to hone in on radio's rite of passage to broadcast to the Tar Heel faithful. Local television broadcasts of Carolina games aired on public stations with no audio. Known as Broadvision, the production involved only one camera. If fact, a hole had to be cut in the Woollen Gym wall to make room for the huge camera. This lasted for a few years before C.D. Chesley began televising ACC games. Many older Tar Heel fans can still recite the complete words of " Sail With The Pilot ", the theme song of Pilot Life Insurance who sponsored the telecasts.
Gradually, the national television networks became interested in college basketball in general, and UNC basketball in particular. Throughout the 1980's, '90's and now the new millennium, Carolina has received more national television coverage of its basketball program than any team in the country.
Despite the visual exposure, still a common practice among many a Carolina fan is to "turn down the sound" on their television, listening to the radio play by play of the Tar Heels, just as fans once gathered around their radios in the early days of Carolina Basketball.