There are voices. And then there was Woody Durham’s voice.
Deep. Authoritative. Yet, friendly and at times, even a bit folksy. For literally generations of UNC fans – and most of its rivals – Durham was their portal to Carolina basketball and football.
And Durham, who started calling Tar Heel games in 1971, felt a great responsibility to those fans.
“I have fun with this job, but it’s something I take very seriously,” Durham said in 2005 when he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. “When people listen to our broadcasts, we’re sort of the connection between the people of the state with Carolina.”
Durham spent 40 years connecting with those fans, too.
During that time, he called more than 1,800 football and basketball games – and that includes 23 bowl games and six NCAA championship games. He worked with six different football and four different basketball coaches during his time at the microphone.
Known for his outstanding preparation as well as his overwhelming passion, Durham, who retired on April 20, 2011, is the NCSHOF’s Member of the Month.
Durham was born in Mebane, North Carolina, and grew up in Albemarle where one of his friends was another future NCSHOF member, Bob Harris, the long-time voice of the Duke Blue Devils. Radio was Durham’s first love – he started working at WZKY when he was a junior in high school, spinning tunes and doing color commentary for high school basketball games.
Durham went college at UNC, where he earned a degree in radio, television and motion pictures in 1963. In October of that year, he started working at WFMY-TV in Greensboro and remained there until August 1977. Interestingly, while at WFMY, Durham did color commentary for football games at Wake Forest as well as at Guilford College.
In 1971, Durham became the voice of the Tar Heels, taking over from Bill Currie, who held the nickname of “the Mouth of the South.” He went to work for WRDU-TV (now known as WPTF) in 1977 and spent four years there as director of sports and sports development.
But Durham found his calling in Chapel Hill, talking about the exploits and telling the backstories of players like Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor, Tyler Hansbrough and Julius Peppers.
Sadly, after he retired, Durham was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which is a neurocognitive disease and eventually cost him the ability to speak. He died of complications from the disease on March 7, 2018 as the second round of the ACC basketball tournament was under way.
“It’s a very sad day for everyone who loves the University of North Carolina because we have lost someone who spent nearly 50 years as one of its greatest champions and ambassadors,” UNC basketball coach Roy Williams said at the time.
“... It’s ironic that Woody would pass away at the start of the postseason in college basketball because this was such a joyous time for him. He created so many lasting memories for Carolina fans during this time of year.
“It’s equally ironic that he dealt with a disorder for the final years of his life that robbed him of his ability to communicate as effectively as he did in perfecting his craft.”
Durham’s awards and honors were numerous.
He won the North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year award 13 times and is a member of five Halls of Fame. He was given both the 2018 Bob Bradley Spirit and Courage Award and the 2002 Marvin "Skeeter" Francis Award recognizing his service and coverage of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The National Football Foundation gave Durham its Chris Schenkel Award in 2011, and he received the All-American Football Foundation’s 2005 Lindsey Nelson Outstanding Sportscaster Award. Durham also received the first Vince Lombardi Excellence in College Broadcasting Award in 2012 as well as the Curt Gowdy Media Award in 2015.