We take it for granted now. Turn on the TV nearly any night of the week and you can watch an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball game. And sometimes two or three.
In the 1950s, though, that wasn’t the case. College basketball along Tobacco Road was almost exclusively a radio product -- that is, until a visionary named Castleman D. Chesley came along.
Chesley had been producing tape-delayed broadcasts of Notre Dame football games on Sundays. But with Frank McGuire taking an undefeated UNC basketball team to the NCAA Final Four in 1957, Chesley saw a golden opportunity.
So he put together a five-station network to televise UNC’s final two games, both of which went into triple overtime. The Tar Heels beat Michigan State in the semifinals and won the title in a thriller by topping Kansas – led by the legendary Wilt Chamberlain -- 54-53.
Suffice it to say, ACC basketball was never the same.
A year later, Chesley was televising a regional ACC game every Saturday, produced out of an old Trailways bus. A decade later those broadcasts had increased to twice a week, and thanks in large part to that exposure, many of the game’s top high school players clamored to play in the league.
In 1973 Chesley went national with a makeshift TV network that broadcast the first-ever Super Bowl Sunday game, this one between No. 2 Maryland and N.C. State, which was ranked third. The Wolfpack won the thriller 87-84 on a last-second tip-in by David Thompson.
The public’s appetite for ACC basketball continued to grow, and by the 1979-80 season, Chesley was broadcasting 42 games a year. While Chesley wondered if that appetite was getting sated, the ACC was attracting interest from other companies that were willing to pony up big bucks.
Chesley, who also helped launch the Liberty Bowl and televise what was then known as the Greater Greensboro Open, continued to broadcast ACC games until 1981. He died two years later at the age of 69, just a few weeks after N.C. State’s improbable run to the NCAA title.
In celebration of his vision, Chesley is the NCSHOF’s December Member of the Month. He was inducted in 1987 and is one of 14 contributors in the Hall.
Click here to read more about Chesley: http://www.ncshof.org/castlemanchesley