Life in the booth
By Bill Fields
Feature Photo caption: Christine Morgan, Bill Fields and Janet Caldwell
When the PGA Tour turned up in the Sandhills during the early 1970s for the first time in two decades, it was a big deal for a sports-loving kid.
I was excited to attend the U.S. Professional Match Play Championship not only because my golf heroes were going to be in town, but because, on pro-am day at least, so were some of my sports television heroes who were teeing it up as celebrities.
At that point in my life, it probably was a toss-up whether I wanted to be Julius Boros, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus when I grew up; or Don Shea, Charlie Harville or Woody Durham.
Shea was the sports anchor at WTVD in Durham. Harville delivered the sports for WGWP in High Point. Durham handled sports for WFMY in Greensboro and in 1971 became the “Voice of the Tar Heels” on radio, a role he would have for 40 years.
During the 6 o’clock local news — depending on the preference of my parents and/or the trustiness of the antenna on our roof in Southern Pines — one of those sportscasters came into the house.
I wanted to be them. What could be better than talking sports, and getting paid to do so?
Sooner rather than later, I got to find out — about the “talking” part, at least. During senior year of high school, I hosted a weekly radio show on 990 WEEB, “Pinecrest Sports Spotlight.” One Saturday morning a record might have been set for most interview subjects in one room as most of the state champion girls’ basketball team and coach James Moore crammed into the studio.
Thanks to being in a television production class at Pinecrest that utilized the school’s closed-circuit television system, I was a TV sports anchor myself. The scripts were handwritten on carbon paper. I sat between Christine Morgan (news) and Janet Caldwell (weather). A high school with a broadcasting class was novel in the 1970s, prompting a reporter from The Sanford Herald to visit one morning.
I mentioned Woody Durham in one of my quotes to the reporter, but what I said was overshadowed by what I was wearing during the show in a photograph run by the Sanford newspaper: garish plaid sport coat paired with perhaps the widest collar ever manufactured showing outside my jacket, wings ready for takeoff. The best I can say about that image now is that I had a nice full head of dark hair.
Although I was in the broadcast sequence of journalism school at UNC, almost all of my experience during college was in print, not on the air. After graduating, there were jobs in newspapers followed by writing and editing positions on magazines.
My TV experiences were limited to occasionally appearing as a golf expert offering perspective on the sport’s history or hot topic of the day. (Over the last couple of decades, that’s usually been Tiger Woods.) But in 2017, I was asked to work as a researcher/statistician for NBC Golf Channel’s golf broadcasts. I’ve worked about a dozen tournaments annually since I first filled in as a replacement for someone who had left the position.
My microphone only allows me to talk to a colleague in the graphics department, but I’m just feet away from the pros who are talking to viewers. It has been quite an education for an ink-stained scribe to be a part of live television in a supporting role as I provide information and otherwise be as helpful as possible to the hosts.
I work most often with Dan Hicks but occasionally other broadcasters such as Terry Gannon, Mike Tirico and Steve Sands. They are as good at their jobs as the athletes they are covering. Without hesitation, I can say the teenager in the loud jacket could not have made his way up the on-air broadcasting ladder regardless of how much effort he put into it. I gravitated toward the media lane I should have been in.
To young dreamers out there who watch today’s top-notch announcers do their thing and imagine being in their headsets one day, work hard. Then work harder. And dress better than I did. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.