I still enjoy fond memories from my years of broadcasting sports in the Newton, N.C. area, and now I want to share some of those with the readers.
In the mid-50s, I was asked by Earl Holder of Radio Station WNNC to do the play-by-play for the Newton-Conover Red Devils football team. Spartan by any standard, our press box consisted of a few boards nailed up between the light poles at the old ball park in South Newton. Hanging about twenty feet off the ground at the 30-yard line of the home team, it also housed the public address system, where a usually “half-snockered” announcer always waited until I had announced to my radio audience “third and three” to then give the fans on hand a closer look at “third and two”, and making us both look like jerks. With an antiquated lighting system, trying to tell our listeners just what was going on was a real problem, probably closer to a “Chinese fire drill.” With the locals gridders falling into a cycle of undermanned teams, fans were leaving after the halftime performance of our championship band, and Holder found it impossible to sell sponsors for the broadcasts, calling a halt to play-by-play for a number of years.
In the 60s our football fortunes started to improve and a number of advertisers came on board putting us back in business. Now enjoying a new press box and beautiful Gurley Stadium, Friday nights found fans crowding into the stands or listening on the radio. Unfortunately, our away games still left something to be desired. At Taylorsville, for instance, the press box was perched on a few pine saplings and, filled with announcers, spotters, scouts and time keepers, began swaying if anyone moved a little, causing me to sit very still during the broadcast, listening to and obeying the orders, “Everyone to the back” or “ Everybody please stand still." At Gamewell-Colletsville, doing a Maiden broadcast, we were wired into the middle of the home team's grandstand, and, at the half, a high school girl asked me to play a record for her boy friend. At Valdese, my color man Bob Campbell got into a “cuss fight” with a lady sitting in front of the press box window and my friendship with a local policeman, Gary Owens, kept us from shutting down the operation and adjourning to the local “hoosegow” for the night, room and board furnished.
At Morganton, where we usually broadcast from atop a concession stand on the visitor's side, we gamely called the first half in a cold downpour, only to find out at the half that the local principal had taken pity on us and had us wired into his press box before the game and we had offered our questionable talents into a dead mike for about an hour. Earl had to refund the sponsor's money, but he did pay me my ten bucks.
At Avery County in the North Carolina mountains, we were high and outside on the 10 yard line of a frozen and mush- ice covered field. I went to my car at halftime to see if I could get my body heat back or just call 911, when I discovered a small bottle of “old bust head” under the front seat. When I made my way back to the press box at the start of the second half, I realized I was in no condition to either climb to our windy aerie or to describe the game, so I yelled up to our spotter, Rick Strunk, to take over and on a moments notice, he joined the ranks of WNNC play-by-play men, and I went back to the car and took a nap.
When the Newton Lions club staged a game at Gurley Stadium between the East Carolina freshmen and the Davidson freshmen, I was asked to handle the PA system. Not realizing that there is a difference in the mechanics of the two media, I accepted, only to find out that in play-by-play you can correct yourself and then give the correct version of the play. On a public address system, you are more or less stuck with what you announced, and live with it accordingly.
I was asked to draw a winning ticket for a television set to be given away at the half, read out the number and invite the winner to the press box. No problem. I drew the number, called it out over the microphone, and announced, “Will the 'LICKY TUCKET' holder please come to the press box?”
As everyone seated in the section fronting the press box stood up to hoot and howl at me, I took my red ears out into the crowd to face the music. I walked down to visit with Coach Stassavich of East Carolina when he brought his team back to the sidelines for the second half and we found time to chat awhile about old times in Hickory. As time expired in the halftime period, we shook hands and I started to make my way back through the stands to the press box for the second half. Before huddling with his team, Stas walked over to the stands and brought the fans down on me one more time, by yelling, “By the way, Tate, don't give up your day job! That was my first and last attempt at working the public address system. Now we have the best in Dave Harris.
My broadcasting continued into the early seventies. It was almost always impossible to read the programs when one was furnished and a spotter was never available so I used my time at afternoon practice sessions to learn the local players by sight and sometimes called all the opposing players “Smith” and “Jones.” When my sons finished playing and I quit going to practice, I decided to watch the games from the stands. All in all, a great experience.