A Conversation with Bill Currie
Thoughts shared by Bill Currie with RamFanatic
I think I should explain that what follows is my attempt to rewrite the first three reports I made in the original article which appeared on Tar Heel Talk When I attempted to transfer the complete six reports posted there, I discovered that an error in the program designed to transfer items from the "current" postings to "archives" had not been totally successful. Only three of the reports were affected, but Dave Chen informed me the first three reports were lost forever. Therefore, the only way for someone to read the article in its entirety who did not read it on THT is for me to rewrite the first three reports.
I had noticed that, from time to time, the name of Bill Currie had come up on THT. Any long time follower of the Tar Heels recognizes the name immediately and I also noticed that viewers spoke of BC with affection. I asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of the "Mouth of the South" and no one did. At that point, I notified the viewers of THT that I was hereby devoting my life to locating BC, and guaranteeing them that if BC was still alive, I would find him.
I checked with the UNC Sports Information Office, but they hadn't heard from him in about 5 years and did not know his current whereabouts. I then checked with Mick Mixon who does the color on the Woody broadcasts and he said they had tried to find BC for some sort of special activity they held several years ago, but they were unable to locate him. Finally, someone said that BC's son was a UNC grad and I decided to put the new General Alumni Association's registry to a test.
There was a Robert Currie listed who graduated from UNC in 1968 which seemed about right as far as age was concerned, so I gave this person a telephone call in Wimberley, Texas. Mr. Currie, who is a self employed documentary film maker was not in when I called, but I asked the young lady who answered the telephone if she knew whether RC was the son of BC who used to announce the UNC football and basketball games. Without hesitation, she responded in the affirmative. RC was not in at the time of my call, but she gave me RC's cell phone number and she said she would inform him that I had called.
I called the cell phone number and got a recording saying that RC would call me back later. This absolutely baffled me because I thought the purpose of cell phones was to enable instant communications. Oh well, it's not the only thing involving technology that I don't understand.
After several days and no return call from RC, I was about to assume that, for some reason, RC did not want to talk because I was sure the young lady at his place of business had told him of our conversation. But lo and behold, just as I was about ready to announce to the folks at THT that I had failed in my attempt to locate BC, I received a call from RC.
I first asked if BC was still alive and found out that he is and is currently in a nursing home in Pittsburgh, Pa. I inquired about his health and was told that he was doing "pretty good." In answer to my question as to whether he thought BC would mind if I telephoned him, RC said he thought BC would be pleased to hear from me.
My telephone conversation with BC lasted approximately 45 minutes. I introduced myself and told BC what I was doing. Within a few minutes, we were talking as though we had known each other for all our lives. I asked BC some questions I had always wanted to ask and he answered all of them without hesitation.
I asked him if there was any truth to the story I had heard that the reason Tom McMillen went to the University of Maryland rather than UNC was that Lefty Driesell sent a copy of a pornographic book that BC had written under another name with a note asking Mrs. McMillen if she wanted her son associating with people like that (Lefty told her the author was BC).
BC said the story is true. He explained that he had been trying to write a novel for sometime but just couldn't seem to break into the business. Finally, an agent suggested to him that he should try his hand at writing what BC calls a "pornie" BC says he didn't even known what a pornie was until then, but he went to a newsstand and bought one to acquaint himself with this medium. He found out how much he would get paid for authoring such a book and felt that he could write one in a couple of days. The pay was good and the amount of time required to write the book was not great, so BC wrote several of the pornie books.
BC said that while he may have been responsible for UNC losing Tom McMillen, he was responsible for UNC getting Charlie Scott and unbelievably, old Lefty was involved again. He said he learned that Charlie Scott had visited Vanderbilt after most people had assumed he was a "lock" for Lefty who was the coach at Davidson at the time. BC quickly called Dean Smith and told him he thought UNC had a good shot at Charlie Scott who at the time was attending Laurinburg Tech. in Laurinburg, N.C. DES went to Laurinburg that night and signed Charlie Scott.
So in BC's mind he lost one for the Heels and he gained one for the Heels. A good question to ask yourself is on balance which player do you think turned out to be better Most people think Scott had a better basketball career, both college and pro. I will never forget how upset I was when McMillen reneged on is decision to attend Carolina. While watching the Dean Smith television show, DES was visibly weary of talking about McMillen and said to the host, "Why is everybody so upset because we lost McMillen? We have recruited some fine players other than McMillen and we are going to be all right." The host asked who these players were and DES led off with "Bobby Jones" and I screamed to no one in particular, "Who the hell is Bobby Jones?" I later found out as many Tar Heels did and I've often thought I would like to tell that story to Mr. Jones if I ever had the opportunity and apologize also. I think most would agree that BJ's career exceeded that of Mr. McMillen.
According to BC, the relationship between he and Dean Smith has always been
"tight". It wasn't just the Charlie Scott thing, but I'm sure that
didn't hurt. DES ( I just can't bring myself to call him Dean ) discovered late
in the cycle that no one was scheduled to broadcast the Carolina games in DES's
first year as Head Coach. He called BC and asked if he could "put something
together", but BC replied that he wasn't sure he could accomplish this feat at
such a late date. Keep in mind that WRAL at that time on the Tobacco Sports
Network, did games for all of the
Big Four Schools depending upon the schedule and the interest in the games. WBT
in Charlotte did the same thing. BC was able to assemble a group of sponsors and
,in effect, "saved the day" for Carolina. DES never forgot what BC did
and the following year when WBT made a strong pitch for the UNC games, DES saw
to it that Carolina stayed with Currie. WRAL paid Carolina $10,000 for the
broadcast rights to both football and basketball that first year. WBT who, according
to Currie, really wanted the broadcast rights made a bid of #75,000 the
following year. DES's sense of loyalty was beginning to show early.
I had always assumed that BC was Ray Reeve's sidekick but I was wrong. BC was Ray Reeve's boss so the rumor I had mentioned earlier about BC having the adult beverages available for RR so he could do the broadcasts was not true. I will have more stories about RR and his drinking in a later report. It was worse than I thought.
A.J. Fletcher owned WRAL in Raleigh and his son Fred Fletcher showed on paper as being BC's boss. In actuality, BC had a very close relationship with the "old man" and considered him to be his de facto boss. Of course, Jesse Helms was in the mix and was very influential at the station.
Fred Fletcher, who was regarded by many to be a flake, approached BC one day and said that he wanted more community involvement on BC's part. To be more specific, he wanted BC to go "door to door" and sell toilet paper. At first, I thought BC was pulling my leg but he explained it was a Civitan fund raising project so I believe it was legit. BC told FF he was not going to do it but did offer to buy a case of the product. FF said he had to do it because he (FF) was his boss and he had told him to do it. At this point, BC contacted a gentleman in Wilson who was trying to put together a sports network and agreed to work for him. The next time FF approached the subject and reminded BC that as a subordinate he was required to sell the toilet paper, BC told him he no longer worked for him and that was the end of BC's association with the Tobacco Sports Network. For one year, BC and RR both did the Carolina games as competitors. I must admit, I don't remember that but it could have easily escaped my attention if I just continued to tune in the TSN. BC left the network job after a year and went to WBT Charlotte where he headed up the sports Department until he left for KDKA.
Next time, I will relay some stories about Ray Reeve and the bottle and what led to a parting of the ways between UNC and Ray Reeve.
Before I begin to relate the stories Bill Currie told me about Ray Reeve, I
feel it is necessary to give a little background.
Ray Reeve was a good sports radio announcer. In fact, he may be the best or at least one of the best I have ever heard. Oh, could he paint a word picture and he was durable. I earlier related an account of how he would do 12 games in 3 days at the old Dixie Classic. When FM radio first came in, RR would do the first half of a game on FM and then the AM audience would join him at halftime. You can't imagine the suspense involved in waiting for the halftime score to be announced before going into the second half. From all that I have ever heard, RR was an accommodating man and I have never heard anybody say anything bad about him. But RR had a problem with alcohol and you didn't have to be an insider to know this. It was common knowledge in Raleigh and probably throughout the area served by the Tobacco Sports Network.
With that being said, I approached BC on the subject of RR with some apprehension. I didn't know if BC would deny that RR had a problem with alcohol out of a sense of loyalty or if he would share some of the stories associated with the situation. Any doubts I had were erased when I asked BC about RR and the bottle when he said "Oh Lord". I knew then that I was in for an exciting ride.
As far as the "missing in action" stories I have alluded to earlier, BC added one that I had never heard before. On one occasion when he disappeared, he was found walking the streets of Roswell. New Mexico barefooted with his pant legs rolled up and "drunk as a skunk". I have to chuckle when I think about how he must have looked because RR weighed around 300 pounds and was completely bald on 90 per cent of his head. He must have been a sight coming down the street. They found his automobile in Dallas but it wasn't long before he was back on the air. RR timed his disappearances so they didn't interfere with his broadcasting duties, sorta like during the "off season". Needless to say, A.J. and Jesse must have liked him and thought he was pretty good or they wouldn't have been so forgiving.
In another instance, BC and RR were going to a broadcaster's convention in New York. It was amazing to me how BC can still remember the exact time they pulled out of the train station in Raleigh. 12:01.P.M. Both men had a sleeping unit and shortly after their departure, they each retired to their sleeping area. Upon rising the following morning, BC looked into RR's sleeping compartment but there was no RR and his bed had not been slept in. BC asked the porter if he knew where RR was and he replied that he was in the club car. BC went to the club car and lo and behold RR was there "drunk as a skunk". Since they were nearing New York, BC set out to try and sober him up so he asked the waiter to seat them for some coffee and hopefully breakfast. No one knows why but the waiter seated BC and RR at a table with two older ladies who looked like "the sisters" off the Walton's. After being seated, the first thing RR was to say in his loud and carrying voice was "Where the f--- is the coffee and the second thing he did was to puke all over the two ladies seated at their table. Needless to say, they were a little late showing up at the convention.
RR and UNC came to a parting of the ways when RR said on the air after UNC defeated Duquesne in 1969, (79-78) that it was "the biggest steal since the Louisiana Purchase". I don't remember the game because it may not have been televised, but it was the game before the one where Charlie Scott hit a last second shot to defeat Davidson 87-85 at Cole Field House. It was probably the "straw that broke the camel's back" because administration officials were bound to be aware of some of the problems with RR. RR had done a West Virginia game before the Carolina game and the engineer from the West Virginia station almost had a heart attack, fearing that some of RR's vile language during "switch aways" would be heard on the air.
The end was near and RR was eased out of the UNC announcer position. I don't know if anyone came between RR and Woody. Maybe some of our posters can help on that. RR continued on at WRAL for several years before retiring because I have a friend who was a member of a "coffee club" which met each morning at a location in Cameron Village and RR was one of the regulars before he passed away.
This is the 6th and final report on my conversation with Bill Currie. What started out as a search for BC developed into the basis for my 5 previous reports and I must say the entire experience has been both exciting and enjoyable. I assumed the initial self imposed assignment almost as a dare to myself. That is not an unusual activity for me since I am convinced this is a good way to stay young mentally.
But there is a downside. If one is going to accept the challenge, then they damn well better conquer the challenge or face the consequences. I'll admit now that it is over that I came close to quitting. At one point, it looked impossible. But I ramble. The purpose of this post is to conclude the BC series not to talk about my personal philosophy of life.
I told BC that even though I had talked with many persons who had read the article that Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated, I had never read the article myself and asked him if he knew where I could get a copy. He said "I've got a copy at home". I waited for him to say he would send me a copy but it was not forthcoming. I then reluctantly asked him if he thought there was any way he could make a copy for me, not knowing what kind of complications this would entail. He then said he would be glad to make a copy and send it to me. Then, just like a teenager who is awe struck when they meet a famous person, I asked BC if he would autograph the article for me and he said he would. When I get the article I will post it so everyone can read and/or reread the story that is the basis for BC being labeled "The Mouth of the South". Ben Sherman who operates uncbasketball.com and I are trying to locate some tapes of BC on the air and if we are successful, we will put those on the net for what will be be some very nostalgic moments for old timers. Oh, one thing I almost forgot. BC said the SI article came about when Frank Deford spent 5 days with the Carolina team gathering information for an article he was going to write about Larry Miller. So there's another article I would like to get my hands on.
It's frustrating to try and remember signature phrases used by BC and RR and come up dry. When I consider how many times I listened to both of these gentlemen, I ought to be able to come up with many but I can only recall 1 for each. RR used to broadcast the Raleigh Caps professional baseball games and whenever the bases were loaded, he would say "The ducks are on the pond". I have never heard another announcer use this phrase. When DES would empty the bench at the end of a game the Tar Heels were winning by a comfortable margin, BC would say "Dean Smith is opening the flood gates of mercy". Another truly personalized combination of words as only Bill Currie, the Mouth of the South" could deliver.