Woody Durham Feature and Tennis and the Mennonites

A while back, when this music magazine was actually supposed to go somewhere, I wrote an album review for a local Chapel Hill band called Tennis and the Mennonites. (I tried to find a link for it but apparently I never put it online. Oops.) I wasn't real nice to the album, but I thought it showed a lot of promise. I was reading it today and decided to give the album another listen. It's surprising how much my music taste has changed in just the last year. The first song, which I thought was recorded terribly when I first heard it, seemed to me this time around to be an endearing lo-fi ballad. I really like the album a lot more and was able to get past the production value that bothered me the first time and get to the talent that's really there. Anyway, I feel like it's worth a listen if you have the time. The album is called Quilt Noise and you can find it on Ruckus.com.

Also, here's the long awaited (haha...) interview feature I wrote about Woody Durham. I think it's pretty well done, and I hope it's halfway tolerable for you.


The Biggest Tar Heel Fan
By Corey Inscoe

“It’s a great time to be a Tar Heel, and it’s going to get better.”

Looking at the legendary “Voice of the Tar Heels” lounging comfortably in his chair, wearing a pink shirt and tie with a big, flashy 2001 Peach Bowl Championship ring on his right hand, you might think he felt obligated to say that.

After listening to UNC’s radio play-by-play announcer, Woody Durham, talk excitedly about Carolina football, basketball and baseball to a group of journalism students for an hour, you know that it’s from the heart. He’s not just the voice of the Tar Heels on the field; he’s the voice of every Tar Heel fan.

Durham grew up an avid sports fan in Albemarle, N.C., where he was a “165-pound pulling guard” on the high school football team, and the Friday night match-up was the highlight of the week. The whole town, it seemed, would show up to the games, packing the tiny stadium. Despite his love for playing, he knew he wasn’t “big enough or good enough to play on the next level.”

He was also a born and bred Tar Heel. After returning home from World War II, his father would take him to UNC football games. It is hard to miss the longing in his voice when he talks about those Saturday afternoons spent with his father in Chapel Hill: “When I was a little guy coming here with my dad, we used to park down on what is Navy field, where the football team practices, or we parked on the intramural fields. People parked on the sidewalks. Nobody had a problem with that.”

So it was only natural that when he graduated high school he spent his next four years at UNC-Chapel Hill earning his AB degree in radio television and motion pictures. But Durham never really thought of being the radio play-by-play guy for his alma mater. “Doing Carolina games on the radio was never on my radar. My goal was to be in television. I wanted to be the voice of ACC football and ACC basketball.”

But right now it’s hard to get him to talk about his personal life. He wants to talk football. If it were February or March, basketball would likely be the focus of the conversation, but right now he cares about first year football coach Butch Davis and this young team.

As the conversation moves to the upcoming home football game against the University of Miami, the intense and detailed research and planning that Durham does before each game becomes obvious.

“For the Miami game, we’ll go on the air at 11:00, so I’ll be in the stadium by 9 or 9:15 because I like to be in my comfort zone” noted Durham, “and if I’m late getting there, then I’m hurrying to set everything up, all my spotters boards and everything like that, and you never really feel like you’re in control: you’re out of sync.”

This is just the conclusion of a hectic seven-day work week that involves multiple radio shows, meetings with the coaches, visiting practice, and a full day spent “preparing stat cards, depth charts, everything like that.”

Maybe this is what prompts fans to “turn down the sound” on the television and listen to Durham’s radio broadcast while watching the game: “A lot of Carolina fans treat this like it’s their confession of loyalty to Carolina. I can’t tell you the number of people that come up to me and say, ‘Woody, I just want to tell you that whenever the Tar Heels are on television I turn the sound down and listen to the radio.’”

He spends more time with the players and coaches and develops a personal relationship with them over the season, giving him, and the listeners, an inside look at how the program is run and allowing him more access to the team than the television broadcasters.

“The television guys, they have no way of knowing a lot of the personal anecdotes or personal information about the players or the coaches,” said Durham. “That’s what [the fans] like to get from us.”

Durham says that he also adds that personal touch by imagining “a person driving down the road in a car by himself or herself listening to the game, and I’m doing the game for that person.”

“That person has no ability to see a TV monitor,” explained Durham. “So I ask our guys in the booth, if they’re showing a replay on the monitor, to talk about the play, but don’t tell anybody that you’re watching the play on a monitor. Talk about it as if ‘this is what I saw.’”

This method seems to be working. Former UNC basketball star Phil Ford once said that “if you listen to Woody Durham, he makes you think you’re actually seeing the game. You can see the game through the radio.”

It helps that Durham always had a natural gift for talking on the radio. “It was a comfortable feeling doing the broadcasting…during the audition, the first commercial…I immediately felt comfortable when I read it,” he said about his high school broadcasting audition. “I mean, it was so natural.”

It does not take long to understand how Durham has made his living by talking. Each question posed in the interview is met with a verbose explanation, usually full of anecdotes and spontaneous tangents. Being on the other side of the interview does not seem to bother him either. As he slouches in the chair at the front of the room, he seems perfectly comfortable talking about himself and whatever else the assembled students ask him about, even antagonizing the quieter students: “How about somebody over here? Nobody over here on this row has had a single question.”

Regardless of what question is asked, the conversation trickles back to football or basketball, and it’s easy to see why. He is as excited about the “Butch Davis era” as all the students and fans. He is looking forward to the possible upset of Miami on Saturday. He is really just a huge fan, and he was lucky enough to turn his love for Carolina athletics into a career.

Inevitably, the conversation turns to Durham’s retirement. What will he do when he is done with the radio? The answer seems too obvious.

“I want to stay in Chapel Hill. I want to go to the games. I want to second-guess the coaches, berate the officials, stuff like that. Be a fan. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to tailgate. I’d like to do that again.”



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