My heroes have always been Radio-boys

Published 10:15 am Monday, March 20, 2017

I don’t know how far Duke will advance in the NCAA Basketball Tournament this year, but when the Blue Devils’ championship run ceases, one of the last heroes of my early days – particularly, the radio era of sports media – will also be done.

I wasn’t always a Bob Harris fan. Truth, I’m a Carolina guy; so listening to a ‘Dookie’, rooting for a ‘Dookie’, sometimes just being in the presence of a ‘Dookie’, is not an experience I’ll ever cherish.

But hearing Harris make his calls of Duke Basketball is a real treasure that will be no more when the final horn sounds on the Devils’ current season, because Harris is riding off into the sunset of a well-deserved – and earned – retirement.

Every summer, the Atlantic Coast Conference sponsors a media confab to kick-off its football season. These used to be held in Pinehurst, and back in the 1970’s and 80’s when I attended these regularly, I got to spend a lot of time around some of the great Southeastern sports media talent of the day.

In addition to hearing tales of great sports moments from writing legends like the late Dick Herbert of the Raleigh News & Observer, Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Constitution, Smith Barrier of the Greensboro Daily News, and even Ms. Mary Garber of the Winston-Salem Journal, there were also the golden-throated men of the Big Four, who were more famously known to their fans as “the Voice of … ”.

On the radio side it was Woody Durham of my beloved Tar Heels, Wally Ausley of NC State (no comment!), Gene Overby of Wake Forest, and Bob Harris of Duke.

Harris has been calling Duke football and basketball games since 1976, the year after Add Penfield – another legend of the air-waves – retired. Like Bill Curry, when he called UNC games, Penfield was slightly ahead of my time, but those other four gentlemen – they knew how to bring out the drama of the playing field.

In the four decades since, Harris has enjoyed one of the best vantage points in college basketball – the crow’s nest at historic Cameron Indoor Stadium. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe his first game was at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville against Tennessee; a game Duke – under Elizabeth City’s own Mike McGee – actually won, 21-18.

Another little known factoid: Harris has been at Duke for all five basketball national championships and for all 14 ACC championships won by coach Mike Krzyzewski, bringing each title to life on the radio and Internet. In fact, Harris has been a part of 16 ACC championships by broadcasting two titles the Blue Devils won before Coach K’s arrived from Army.

Harris says his greatest call over the airwaves was Christian Laettner’s miracle shot at the buzzer that beat Kentucky in the East Regional final at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in 1992. It was years later before I ever heard a replay of Harris’ radio call: someone used it as the soundtrack of the TV broadcast, and Harris is the one who calls out player Thomas Hill’s moment of disbelief, with Hill’s hands on his head, screaming over and over, “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!”

After announcing back last July that he was retiring, Harris took a sort ‘victory lap’ around the league, honored at all the Big Four gyms one last time. The three-time NC Sportscaster of the Year won’t stray too far from Cameron Indoor or Wallace Wade stadiums. He and his wife Phyllis will remain in Durham where I’m sure he’ll have more time at Duke Golf Course to work on that handicap.

Good luck, Bob, and thanks for a great radio ride.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.