Media Musings: Tourney Time for ACC Baseball Broadcasts


by R.L Bynum

Many times, college baseball broadcasts solo shows

Unlike the three-announcer crews common for football and men’s basketball radio broadcasts, many times college baseball broadcasts — much like the minor leagues — are solo shows.

Their coverage begins when basketball is the focus of most fans, with little attention and much smaller audiences than the revenue sports. That changes significantly this week when the ACC baseball tournament returns Tuesday through Sunday to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

There are pool-play games at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with the semifinals at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and the championship game at noon Sunday. The full schedule can be seen here.

It’s a particularly exciting time for the Triangle’s broadcasters, with all three ACC programs in the top 10 in the polls in recent weeks and each the top seed in their respective ACC tournament pools. North Carolina is expected to be one of 16 NCAA tournament regional hosts, with N.C. State and Duke also possible regional hosts.

“I’ve not noticed a huge change in fan interest since Carolina returned to the top 10,” Dave Nathan who calls UNC baseball games said via email, noting that a lot of that evidence comes from Twitter.

Nathan and Chris Edwards at Duke each are in their sixth seasons on radio calls for their respective baseball teams. Gary Hahn, the 29-year voice of the Wolfpack, has called some baseball games since the early 2000s, and shares duties with Tony Haynes, the analyst for football and men’s basketball radio broadcasts since 1998, and Andrew Sanders.

As with every Duke broadcast this season, Edwards will call games by himself, with 11 a.m. pool games Thursday against Wake Forest and Friday against Louisville. He recently finished his second season handling play-by-play duties for Blue Devils’ women’s basketball, and he also is the only announcer on those broadcasts.

“I do work alone, which I have found has a lot of perks,” Edwards said via email. “Certainly, during some of the long games that feature a lot of pitching changes or a lot of runs, it would be nice to have someone to chat with. But honestly, I don’t mind being alone — I have found that it’s easier to take the broadcast in the direction that you want it to go, or if you want to work something in, it is really up to you.”

Shortly before his first season at Duke, Coach Chris Pollard hired Edwards to call the Blue Devils games.

For nearly every Duke regular-season home game, his broadcast provided the audio for the ACC Network Extra telecasts. WDNC (620 The Ticket) normally airs Edwards’ broadcast, but they only will be available on during the ACC tournament.

 UNC produces the only team broadcasts that consistently uses two announcers. Kyle Straub, who has done play-by-play for ACCNE telecasts of several UNC sports, works with Nathan but Nathan still goes solo for many road games.

“The biggest challenge is making sure you have enough fresh material to discuss for each game,” said Nathan, who is pregame, halftime and postgame host on the Tar Heel Sports Network for football and men’s basketball and host for the syndicated radio program “Primetime in the ACC” at 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

He also calls UNC men’s basketball when there is a conflict with UNC football games. Nathan took over baseball play-by-play duties from Jones Angell, who now calls football and men’s basketball, in 2013. He also hosts the weekly “Mike Fox Show” with the UNC coach on the radio during the season (the photo below is from one of the shows, with Fox on the left and Nathan on the right) at 7 p.m. Mondays.

“Over the course of a three-game series, I don’t want to repeat the same stories. I try to have a good amount of info on each player and some broad storylines to discuss that are related to the ACC or college baseball,” Nathan said. “If I don’t have an analyst with me, I’m not able to ask someone about their opinion (that’s what the analyst is there for). I tend to fall back on my experience in talk radio to get through the games I work solo. It’s not too different from hosting a 3-hour radio show by yourself.

The audio from UNC radio, which can be heard on WCHL (The Hill, 1360 AM and 97.9 FM), isn’t used for ACCNE broadcasts of home Tar Heels games. For those, the call is provided by a group including Chris Hooks, Daron Vaught and Dean Linke. Linke worked with former UNC and MLB pitcher Paul Shuey in UNC’s regular-season-ending win Saturday against Virginia Tech that clinched the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament.

Carolina pool-play games for Nathan and Straub will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Pittsburgh and 3 p.m. Friday against Georgia Tech.

“Baseball, in my opinion is a perfect marriage on the radio and to be able to tell the story of a baseball game on radio is a tremendous honor,” Nathan said. “One thing that has helped is the incorporation of social media and email on the broadcasts — it’s like having a bunch of friends doing color with you and I am hopeful that having people email or tweet the broadcast, they feel like they’re sitting there watching or listening to the game with a friend.”

 Until NCAA tournament play, Wolfpack baseball radio broadcasts include only one announcer. It was Sanders until basketball season ended, with Hahn and Haynes (shown in the above tweet from the 2013 College World Series) rotating from week-to-week since then. Haynes is scheduled to broadcast this week’s ACC tournament games, with the Pack’s pool games at 3 p.m. Thursday against Virginia and 7 p.m. Friday against Florida State.

“They say if you can broadcast baseball on the radio by yourself you can broadcast anything. I think that’s true,” Sanders said via email. “You have to be focused on every pitch and fill up to four hours sometimes. With a doubleheader and extra innings plus pre/postgame shows, my record for airtime in one day is 9.5 hours.

“Outside of giving the basic information you need to be able to tell a story, get interrupted by a ball put in play, describe the action, and then pick right back up on your story. It’s challenging, but that’s what makes it so fun,” said Sanders, who has called ACCNE games during the second half of the season. He also hosts football pregame shows for the Wolfpack Sports Network and does ACCNE play-by-play for soccer, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, gymnastics and softball.

It was not until Coach Elliott Avent pushed for it that all N.C. State games were broadcast by the Wolfpack Sports Network, heard in the Triangle on WKNC (88.1 FM). Previously, the network only broadcast postseason games. Once NCAA action begins this season, Hahn and Haynes are expected to both be on the broadcasts.

Hahn is one of the few ACC announcers who calls football, men’s basketball and baseball, including Don Munson at Clemson and Joe Zagacki at Miami.

“Baseball’s challenge is keeping the broadcast interesting when a batter fouls off 10 straight pitches or a pitcher can’t get the ball over the plate or both teams combine for 12 pitchers and three replay appeals,” Hahn said via email. “However, some things remain constant. The sponsors deserve a broadcast that keeps people listening for as long as possible. The listeners deserve a professional, descriptive, accurate broadcast they can trust that informs and hopefully entertains.”

With 12 school radio crews descending on the DBAP this week, that also presents challenges considering that there are only two booths usually reserved for radio: one usually for the Durham Bulls broadcasters and one for the crew working the broadcast for the Bulls’ opponent.

“There are 3 games per day,” Nathan said. “That’s 6 different radio announcing crews. And there are usually only 2 booths. John Brockwell does a fantastic job coordinating the logistics of getting the crews on the air, in and out of pregame, postgame and getting the next crew set up. I don’t know how he does it, but John is extremely important and he’s a big reason why things run so smoothly for all of the announcers.”

Preparation is the big challenge for the broadcasters heading into the tournament.

“Because of the size of the conference, we don’t see all the teams and I know this year there will be a handful of clubs that we did not play in the regular season,” Edwards said. “It speeds up the process for your prep, at least it does for me.”

Friday will be the first time this season that Duke has played Louisville, but Edwards will get a chance to see the Cardinals earlier in the week.

CBC will broadcast ACC games on radio

Like in the previous seasons when the ACC tournament has been played at the DBAP, two of Capitol Broadcasting Company’s sports radio stations — either WCMC (99.9 The Fan) or WDNC (620 The Ticket) — will broadcast select games.

There will be at least two announcers for each game CBC airs, with the announcers assigned from a group of five: WCMC afternoon drive-time co-host Adam Gold (who has worked a few ACCNE telecasts this season), Campbell University broadcaster Evan Budrovich, Baseball America writer Michael Lananna, Edwards and Nathan. Obviously, Edwards will only be on a CBC broadcast when Duke isn’t playing and Nathan only when UNC isn’t playing.

After doing no games Tuesday, one game Wednesday (UNC vs. Pittsburgh at 7 p.m., Edwards and Lannanna), and two games Thursday (Duke vs. Wake Forest at 11 a.m., Nathan and Lannanna, and N.C. State vs. Virginia at 3 p.m., Edwards and Lananna), CBC will air every game from Friday until the conclusion of the tournament.

The Wednesday and Thursday broadcasts, the championship game and the Friday day games will air on WDNC. The Friday night game and the semifinals will air on WCMC.

All but championship game on Fox Sports South

Starting with the first 11 a.m. Pittsburgh-Georgia Tech game Tuesday through both semifinal games on Saturday, every game will be televised on regional sports networks. In the Triangle, that is Fox Sports South.

The play-by-play announcers for that coverage will be Tom Werme (who also called the ACC softball tournament) and Wes Durham (the radio voice of the Atlanta Falcons in addition to his ACC TV duties).

The analysts will be Nick Green (former MLB player who appears on the Atlanta Braves’ postgame TV show) and Jeff Francoeur (former MLB player who is an analyst for select Atlanta Braves games). The sideline reporter will be Lyndsay Rowley, who is the pregame and postgame host for Nashville Predators TV broadcasts.

For Sunday’s championship game on ESPN2, Clay Matvick will be on the play-by-play call with Mike Rooney as the analyst.

Bulls no longer on WDNC but Duke athletics staying

When CBC shuffled stations earlier this month, years of Durham Bulls game broadcasts airing on WDNC (620 AM, now branded 620 The Ticket) ended.

Before the shuffle, Bulls games could be heard on 620 AM, 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM and 99.9HD2. Much like The Buzz programming that shifted, including the local morning-drive show, The Sports Shop with Reese and KMac, the only way to listen to Bulls games now is on the radio is through those FM frequencies.

WDNC has a long history of also airing Duke athletics and that won’t change. Duke games will be available on The Ticket (WDNC, 620 AM) as well as The Buzz (96.5 FM, 99.3 FM and 99.9HD2.)

Streaming of all of CBC’s sports radio programming is also available via TuneIn and the TuneIn app, and the WRALSportsFan app.

N&O writers tweet customized URLs seeking subscribers

If you follow many News & Observer writers on Twitter, you’ve may have seen tweets from some of them making their personal case for people to subscribe.

Accompanying these tweets, which also have come from news reporters, is a link to a page where readers can subscribe. The URLs all end with the writer’s first name, followed by the first initial of their last name.

“The customized URLs are a test we’re trying out with a handful of reporters,” Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of The N&O and The Herald-Sun, said via email. “There’s no goal or anything. We’re just trying to track the results so we can see what happens when our journalists tell their own story.”

She said that reporters’ pay doesn’t change based on how many people subscribe using their customized URL.

Writers still have page-view goals, with reporters getting credit for page views for stories appearing on any website in The McClatchy Company’s chain.

“Our strategy is evolving,” she said. “We need to focus much more intensely on engaging loyal readers and on asking them to invest in our work — sometimes directly.”

Years ago, it might have seemed odd for a reporter to publicly urge people to subscribe, since that was left to the circulation or marketing departments. But it’s different in these difficult financial times for the industry.

“Most of our journalists want to get involved in helping us find a path to long-term sustainability and to a business model that supports their work,” she said. “This is a small way they can contribute to that effort.”

Tomlin says they are also starting email newsletter lists.

“Different staff members will write an email each month or so,” she said. “One will go to our loyal subscribers. We’ll tell them a little more about what goes on behind the scenes here, and we’ll thank them for subscribing. Another version goes to those who engage with us but aren’t yet subscribing. And we’ll ask them to think about the value of our work in the life of the community — and to invest in that work.”

North Carolina-related sports stories of note

Analytics are becoming more popular in Major League Baseball and North Carolina is catching that wave, thanks to a young UNC student who is heavily into analytics, writes Lananna in Baseball America in the cover story the “Tech Issue” of BA’s print edition. The Tar Heels have made it work, thanks to the willingness of Coach Mike Fox to try something new. Many other veteran coaches might not have been as willing. On a lighter note, Lananna also compiled the top 50 names in college baseball this season.

In the editorial section of the News & Record of Greensboro, Steven Doyle wrote that the greatest basketball player of all time is no longer Michael Jordan. He says that it’s now LeBron James.

On the FRS Baseball Network, Jon Heyman contends that the trade of former UNC pitcher Matt Harvey from the New York Mets to the Cincinnati Reds should be good for him, eliminating many of the distractions of New York and, hopefully, getting his attention. Heyman compares this situation to another Reds reclamation project: Raleigh’s Josh Hamilton.

In The Fieldhouse, The Athletic’s college basketball site, C.L. Brown takes a look at Joe Dooley’s second stint as East Carolina coach. There are better facilities this time around, and Dooley has a better sense of what he needs to do to be successful.

Also in the Fieldhouse, Dana O’Neil looked at two Jeff Capel missions: The one he just completed in which he recovered from being fired at Oklahoma, learning lessons next to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and the other one to come, which is to resuscitate the Pittsburgh program.

With the Supreme Court decision last week seemingly paving the way to more legalized sports gambling in the U.S., the Winston-Salem Journal’s Ed Hardin wonders if this is a good things for sports and its fans.