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Broadcast team Durham, Heavner and HolHday on the air with Tar Heel sports
of the Tar EI eels
Play-by-play artist gains his own variety of fame
By NORMAN CANNADA
In the world of sports announcers, Woody
Durham is a unique breed.
Fans listen to the radio play-by-play of Carolina
football and basketball games by Durham, Bob
Holliday and Jim Heavner even while watching
the game on TV. He is stopped constantly by
youngsters for autographs just as if he himself
were a famous athlete. Indeed, Woody Durham is
more than a sportscaster; he's a celebrity.
"I was reared a Tar Heel fan' said Durham, a
UNC graduate. "I had always hoped that someday
I'd be doing the broadcast for the Carolina
Durham's dream of becoming the voice of the
Tar Heels finally came true in the fall of 1971 when
his predecessor, Bill Curry, left for a job in
"I had been working with Jim Thacker at CD.
Chesley (television network that follows ACC
sports) and had gotten to know many of the ACC
coaches through that job. When it (the Carolina
job) came open, Dean Smith and Bill Dooley
(former UNC football coach) both recommended
Now in his ninth season as Carolina's play-byplay
announcer, Durham, 38, has become one of
the most popular men in his business.
"I've had kids ask me to autograph their
programs, and, when I look down at it, there are
the signatures of all the players," he said. "It's
really flattering that they think of me in the same
sense as the players."
Durham, however, is not above being
criticized, especially by fans from other schools
who think he is too biased toward Carolina. He
doesn't let the criticism bother him, though.
"We have a unique situation here with Duke,
State, Wake and Carolina so close together, and
it's easy for a person from a rival school to think
I'm biased," he said. "I think that most people
respect the job I do, though. I have never, to my
knowledge, been turned down for an interview
because of my association with Carolina."
Durham's most memorable games as a Tar Heel
sportcaster all involve arch-rival Duke. He
mentioned one 1974 basketball contest in
particular, in which the Heels rallied from an
eight-point deficit in the final 17 seconds to tie the
game on a last-second shot by Walter Davis. UNC
went on to win the game in overtime.
"I remember when Walter released the shot, I
thought it was going to bounce off the back of the
rim and go out," Durham recalled. "I was all ready
to report that Carolina had lost, and, when it went
in, the only thing that I could get to come out of
my mouth was 'Unbelieveablel' For weeks after
that, people would walk up to me and just say,
Durham said Davis, now a star with the NBA's
Phoenix Suns, and UNC senior running back
Doug Paschal were two of his favorite players.
"Walter was a great basketball player, but he
was a nice guy, too. I think Doug Paschal is a prime
of example of everything you would want in a
Another athlete who impressed Durham was
Phil Ford, now a guard for the Kansas City Kings.
'It's really flattering that they
think of me in the same sense as
"Phil taught me a lot," Durham said. "He was a
uniaue person in the way that he handled
stardom. Anytime he was invited to a function, he
would usually show up some of them were
events most players wouldn't even think of
In his nine years as voice of the Tar Heels,
Durham feels the contributions of freshmen in
basketball and the 30-scholarship limit in football
have been the greatest forces of change in the
. "When I first came here, freshmen weren't
allowed to play varsity, but even when that rule
changed, there weren't many who came in and
contributed right away," he said. "Later Phil
(Ford) and Mike (O'Koren) started as freshmen
and now it seems that everybody in the league is
getting great contributions from freshmen."
Durham said the scholarship rule, which limited
the number of scholarships a school could
award each year has improved ACC football.
"I think it is one of the best rules the NCAA has
adopted in recent years. The schools have to be
more selective now, and it's made the quality of
athletes in the conference better."
Durham' family includes his wife of 16 years,
Jean, and two sons, Wes, 14, and Taylor, 6, all of
whom he says are UNC fans. Each of them, with
the exception of Taylor, has accompanied
Durham on trips with the Tar Heels, and Wes has
attended Dean Smith's basketball camp for the
past four summers.
"My wife has always liked sports and both of my
sons do, too," he said. She (Jean) usually goes with
me on big trips like Hawaii and Europe but not on
the short weekend trips."
Traveling is a big part of Durham's job since
Carolina plays much of its football and basketball
away from Chapel Hill. During his years as the
UNC sportscaster, he has traveled to 20 different
states and to two foreign countries. While on
these trips, the team sometimes will run into
former players or play in the hometown of a
current player and visit with his family during their
"This year we went to Macon (Ga.) for a game
. with Mercer, and after the game all of the player's
went to see Al Wood's family," Durham said.
"There were probably 75 people there and the
players had a ball. Now they're all saying that they
can't wait to play Rutgers (in New York City) so
that they can visit with Mike O'Koren's mother."
In addition to his job as the voice of the Tar
Heels, Durham also hosts the Carolina football
and basketball shows each season and serves as
sports director for WPTF-TV in Durham. Durham
took the latter job two years ago after he left
WFMY-TV in Greensboro, where he had worked
for 14 years.
"To be honest, I felt I had accomplished
everything I possibly could," Durham said. "There
wasn't a newscast when I came here (to WPTF-TV)
so we had to start from the grass roots. It was a real
Norman Cannada is a staff writer for The Daily Tar