Two voices blend into singular soundtrack

Published 10:00 am Monday, April 16, 2018

Like many folks last Sunday, I watched Patrick Reed play and win at Bobby Jones’ famed Georgia golf course at Reed’s native Augusta in ‘a tradition unlike any other’.

But elsewhere, people were remembering, and they did so for very good reasons.

In Chapel Hill they were remembering the late ‘Voice of the Tar Heels’ Woody Durham in a public memorial at UNC’s Carmichael Auditorium.

And in Charlotte, Steve Martin was reviewing his game notes for the final time he would be doing the radio play-by-play of a Hornets NBA game in Spectrum Arena.

Two voices.

The memorial for Durham, who died last month, featured everyone from former Tar Heel quarterback and current ACC Commissioner John Swofford to former Tar Heel Morehead Scholar and current NC Gov. Roy Cooper.  Durham called a lot of games when Swofford played at Kenan Stadium (I know, because I listened to some of them! … Swofford’s senior year was Durham’s first as the team’s broadcaster). However, I doubt he was ever behind the microphone when the future governor was playing pick-up basketball in a sweaty grey tank-top and short-shorts in Woolen Gym. Cooper was probably also among the throng of student fans back in those days who always shouted ‘Wood-ee, Wood-ee!’ whenever the famed announcer would enter the building before broadcasts.

“Fans trusted his every word,” said Swofford. “If Woody said it, it was true.”

Swofford recalled how Durham wasn’t one for flashy catchphrases, or gimmicks. But if he had a trademark saying, it was: “go where you go, and do what you do.” He often repeated that during stressful moments of close games, and listeners took it to mean, among other things, they should practice their most trusted superstition in hopes of turning UNC’s fortunes on the court.

Cooper swears to this day, he’s sure the Tar Heels won that 1993 NCAA basketball championship because Durham’s words inspired a good-luck charm.

“He was not only the voice of the Tar Heels,” Cooper said, “he was our voice.”

Durham connected with his audience not just through the games because he didn’t just call North Carolina games, but by hailing from Albemarle in Stanly County, he sounded like North Carolina, too.

This particular Sunday also held significance because for years Durham watched the final round of the Masters with his son, Taylor. And on this Sunday, that’s what current Tar Heel basketball coach Roy Williams now suggested the crowd do.

“Go home and watch the Masters,” Williams encouraged. “But this time, you’ll be watching it with Woody.”

They were watching something else 150 miles away in the Queen City where the ‘Voice of the Charlotte Hornets’ was honored at halftime. Steve Martin, play-by-play announcer for the team, is retiring after 30 years behind the ‘mic’.

The Maine native, who came south nearly 40 years ago, received his own Hornets jersey – emblazoned with the same number of years he’d made calls for the team. The token was presented to him by radio partner and father of NBA superstar Stephon Curry, Dell Curry.  The elder Curry and Martin had been off-and-on together on the airwaves since 1988 when the Carolinas first got an NBA franchise.

Martin and I worked together during that span covering the ACC Football Media tour every August; he for a Charlotte station, and I for one in Wilmington.  We were often each other’s cameraman on those trips, switching back-and-forth and saving our employers time and money.

From Muggsey Bogues to Kemba Walker, ‘Grand-MaMa’ Larry Johnson to Dwight Howard, Steve’s seen a little of everything on and off the court in those 30 years; from Michael Jordan the player to Michael Jordan the owner.

Two voices, one calling college hoops, the other pro. And when they blend together, they become the basketball soundtrack of a North Carolina lifetime.

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