COLUMBIA -- Voices. Charlie McAlexander has been hearing lots of them lately.
Sopranos. BARITONES. Southern drawls. Noo Yawk guffaws. It's all part of an educational undertaking for McAlexander, the Voice of South Carolina Gamecock athletics. The class is Journalism 463, and "Charlie Mac," as he is popularly known, presides as professor.
On this particular day, he's administering final exams from a familiar perch in the press box high atop Williams-Brice Stadium. Overlooking more than 80,000 empty seats and, to the left, the city of Columbia, 77 students put the finishing touches on the three-week course by slipping on headsets and taping an introduction to a sporting event.
"I never would have imagined this," said Clara Thomas, a public relations major from Beaufort, S.C., who took the course as an elective. "Here I am, in Charlie Mac's seat, right where it all happens. I'm usually sitting on the dirty bleachers about a mile down there.
"I wish more classes were like this."
But they're not, and that alone goes a long way in explaining the course's overwhelming appeal. The enrollment this summer almost doubled that of last, the course's inaugural campaign.
Many were drawn out of curiosity and the chance to rub elbows with celebrities. Guest speakers for the course included prominent sports broadcasters such as Larry Conley and Steve Martin, voice of the Charlotte Hornets, and Gamecocks basketball coach Eddie Fogler.
"These people are famous and have good connections," said Noelle Orr, a 21-year-old print journalism major from Charleston, S.C. "It's a good way to network your talents and meet people. They'll remember your face."
For the past four years, McAlexander's bubbling voice has guided loyal Gamecock fans through the perilous roller-coaster ride that is Gamecock football.
In this venture, his duty is to provide his students with a behind-the-scenes glimpse at broadcast journalism, a far from glamorous one.
"It's a straightforward look at the business," said McAlexander, a 28-year veteran of broadcasting Southeastern Conference sports. "It's a highly competitive business, and it's very, very hard work. That's the message we're trying to give to them."
"A lot of people don't realize how the business interferes with personal life," Orr said. "If you want to make it to the top, you either have to have a spouse who is really understanding, or don't plan on having a family."
McAlexander said only a handful of students have what's needed to fashion a broadcasting career. Even they, with few exceptions, will have to begin their forays in a small market for low pay.
"If you find somebody who's got a natural talent for this and who will work hard and be creative, then you've got something special," he said. "But you're only going to find a couple of those, maybe."
Courtney Leavitt is one. The senior kicker for South Carolina's football team took the course because it "sounded interesting," but his clear, composed voice incurred the praise of his professor.
Aside from his on-air rapport, Leavitt said he also gained an appreciation for ethical concerns confronting the media.
"I learned that it's important to report certain things that I might have been against reporting before," Leavitt said. "If a player gets caught doing drugs or something like that, and you know that it's true, the public needs to know that."
McAlexander's students refer to him in reverential tones. It might not be terribly difficult to broadcast in the manner of a professional; providing the same effect is another issue altogether.
"I always thought sports broadcasting was a really easy thing, but I have a new respect for those people," Thomas said. "There's just so much work to do, more than just sitting there, watching the game and talking about it."
There hasn't been much for McAlexander to talk about on the gridiron in his four years at the microphone in Columbia.
Promise was in the air in 1995 when he replaced local icon Bob Fulton in the booth. Three losing seasons and a fired coach later, the promise somehow remains for the perennially troubled program. As much as things seem to have changed, others are forever the same.
"These fans are absolutely unique," McAlexander said. "They've been faithful all these years and they've been wounded. They deserve a winner."
As for Journalism 463, McAlexander said it will be around for a while.
"It really jacks me up to be around young people and to see them working hard," he said. "College students really get you going, especially when they're motivated and they enjoy it."
Larry Williams can be reached at (706)823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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