The many ways to enjoy a Beef Master Frank… and other memories of Woody Durham

Like many Tar Heels, I am far too young to know anyone other than Woody Durham as the radio voice of the Heels.  He is an inherent fixture of Carolina basketball, a part of the institution who cannot not be entirely replaced because too many of his calls resound in highlight reels and in our memories for us to easily adjust to a new voice. If you haven’t already done so, every Carolina fan should visit the collection of Woody’s most famous calls that TarHeelBlue.com put together after the announcement of his retirement. Some of them I had never heard myself, having watched the games on television, but many of course I had heard a thousand times. It comes a little late, but below is my small contribution to the massive endeavor of the past few days to capture the meaning of Woody Durham in words.

Any veteran of the Tar Heel Radio Network eventually realizes that Beef Master Franks are one of the its biggest advertisers, and then comes to laugh at the frequency with which they are mentioned in the course of a game. Depending on your perspective, Woody is either the master of the on-air radio advertisement or the producer of comically awkward transitions into mentioning his favorite product. Regardless, I will always remember marveling at the great variety of circumstances that, according to Woody, were ideal for perfect enjoyment of a Beef Master.

I imagine that many Carolina fans remember where they were listening to Woody for the 2004 football game against N.C. State, which was not televised. If you did not yet feel like you knew Woody as a trustworthy friend, you came to in the final chaotic seconds of that game, in which State’s T.A. McClendon may or may not have scored (he didn’t), may or may not have fumbled (he did), and we were completely reliant on Woody to picture what had just transpired. Woody was a meaningful link to games that otherwise felt distant, and I have a collection of isolated memories of relying on him – leaving places to go sit in a parked car, for instance – when circumstances kept me from a game.

Three times this season I was caught on the road between North Carolina and Washington during games. When this inevitably happens again next year, I will again be reduced to cycling through stations in rural southern Virginia and northern North Carolina, hoping to find the nearest random affiliate of the Tar Heel Radio Network. Enough about the broadcast will be similar – the jingles, the players’ names, the Beef Master Franks – for this to remain effective, but it will be odd searching for a different voice coming through the airwaves. In a strange way I think we underestimate the familiarity and pervasiveness of Woody in our minds, even though he is one of our program’s most revered figures. When I play highlights in my head of Carolina basketball, some that have happened and some that I still hope to happen, without realizing it sometimes I play them in Woody’s voice. The man whose name is literally synonymous with the word radio in the context of Carolina sports is also the official sound effect of the narrative of Carolina basketball history, and in this way will we most noticeably miss his presence.

We take for granted that, with a few very notable exceptions, it is always the same voice behind most of our legendary highlights. But he will forever own several of the phrases that will always sound like Woody when heard during a basketball game, such as “UN-BE-lievable!” and “Jumper from out on the left.. GOOD!”

If Carolina cuts down the nets in New Orleans next spring, Woody, unlike in 1982, 1993, 2005, and 2009, will not be on the call. But picturing the moment now, a year before someone else begins their career with one of their first memorable lines, it is still Woody’s famous words of 30 years ago that echo in the background:

In Woody’s half-hoarse, almost-out-of-breath shout : “The Tar Heels… are going to win… the National Championship!”

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