This is a purely subjective statement made without reservation – Wes Durham is the best radio play-by-play announcer in football. Period.
In short order this fall, I suspect we’ll be able to say the same about his television skills.
For the past 18 seasons, Durham has been the silky voice of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, painting informative pictures of football, basketball and baseball in pitch-perfect fashion for more than 800 games on the Flats and around the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tune in mid-broadcast and within two minutes he will tell you exactly where everything stands and what is at stake for the next play.
But last Tuesday, the 47-year-old Durham informed Georgia Tech that he was leaving his post to pursue a play-by-play job in television. However, he’ll continue to be on the radio during fall Sundays with the Atlanta Falcons, where he’s been calling games since 2004.
“As difficult as it was going to be emotionally to step away from Georgia Tech, I saw it as a professional opportunity that at my age and stage of my career if I didn’t take advantage of it I might not have that chance again,” Durham said. “I didn’t want to have any regrets in my career.”
The sports broadcasting landscape is exploding into all sorts of new outlets. It isn’t just the primary networks and ESPN anymore. Fox Sports 1 recently started as an alternative for live programming and most of the major collegiate conferences are launching their own networks to grab a bigger piece of the cable market share and the money that comes with it.
Durham felt like it was a good time to expand his skills to be ready for whatever direction sports broadcasting was heading, and TV was a challenge he had yet to master. He’s not at liberty to say who his new employer will be until they’re ready to make an official announcement, but he’ll be covering football, basketball and baseball.
“I wasn’t looking for a job. I wasn’t looking to leave Georgia Tech,” he said. “I was just looking for something to add to my career résumé. Just trying to stay in play. If there was an opportunity to do something on a little bit bigger scale, I needed to be prepared to do that. When you’re trying to round up your résumé a little bit, sometimes things happen. That’s kind of what this was.”
To say that Durham was born in 1966 to be a play-by-pay man isn’t farfetched. His father, Woody, helped launch ACC basketball into the television universe with C.D. Chesley’s telecasts. In 1971, Woody Durham became the beloved radio voice of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 40 years until he retired in 2011.
Wes joined the family business, his voice carrying for 25 years from booths at Radford, Marshall and Vanderbilt before joining the Yellow Jackets in 1995. His younger brother, Taylor, is a network affiliate manager for ISP Sports.
“I am a creature of radio,” Durham said.
Despite rumors that Wes would succeed his legendary father in Chapel Hill, N.C., he stayed in Atlanta.
“Georgia Tech was an unbelievable situation for me,” Durham said. “I wasn’t looking to leave schools and I think I answered that two years ago when my dad retired and I didn’t pursue Carolina at all. Because I had one of the great jobs in the country and didn’t need another job.”
But when a prime television opportunity suddenly came along, he made the quick decision to jump at it. Truth is, Durham is probably more suited than most college radio voices to make the leap from AM/FM to TV. Despite reporting things from a Georgia Tech perspective for 18 years, he never called a game like a homer. Larry Munson he is not.
“I know there’s somebody from every school listening,” he said. “I’m no fool. I’m in a market of nearly 7 million people. My dad always said, ‘When I do Carolina games I’m looking at it through a light blue lens.’ While I’m a Georgia Tech broadcaster people know it’s a Georgia Tech broadcast, but there’s no need to sell short (the opponent) if they’re playing well.”
Durham did his job so well that he would often hear from Georgia Bulldogs fans who admitted they’d listen to him during the annual rivalry game.
“That might be one of the highest compliments you can get,” he said.
Of course, when the late Munson was in his prime, Durham would listen to him whenever he could and appreciated his own brand of broadcasting.
“He was so unique. When he has alive and doing games, nobody on the planet could do games like Larry,” Durham said. “If anybody else tried to they’d get run out of town. I’ve probably said some ridiculous things on the air, but I wouldn’t have been able to get away with the things he did. Think about it, on the Lindsay Scott touchdown reception he basically called for destruction in a Georgia community. That’s why he was Munson and we all were play-by-play guys.”
Durham will no longer have to paint the complete picture for the listeners watching on television. It’s a medium that emphasizes the color analyst instead of the play-by-play announcer, and he’s fine with that.
“I got a phone call from (ESPN’s) Mike Tirico who said you’re going to be fantastic at this because you’ve already done the heavy lifting of radio,” Durham said. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. It’s going to be difficult and that’s part of the challenge. People might think I’m crazy, but I like something new, too. I like the opportunity to dive into this and learn how to do it at a high level.”
No doubt, he’ll do it well. And while Georgia Tech fans will miss hearing his voice every game, a wider audience than ever will get to appreciate Durham’s talents in a whole new way.