Wes Durham ’88 talks broadcasting industry, career during campus visit
The Elon University alumnus and respected broadcaster discussed an array of topics during a stop Feb. 12 in the School of Communications.
The morning after announcing the Miami-Wake Forest men’s college basketball game on television, Wes Durham ’88 had a significantly smaller audience – 15 Communications majors – in a classroom in the McEwen Communications Building. That doesn’t mean the Elon University alumnus and longtime broadcaster was any less captivating during his Feb. 12 visit.
Durham was on campus to lecture to Assistant Professor Gerald Gibson’s “Television Production” course, followed by an afternoon talk with Associate Professor Glenn Scott’s “Sports and Media” class. In between, the 2013 School of Communications Distinguished Alumni Award honoree enjoyed lunch with two students.
A Mass Communication major, Durham spoke honestly about his years on campus, his professional career, the broadcasting industry, and his decision to transition from radio to television in 2013.
Durham admitted he wasn’t much of a student when he arrived at Elon. The son of legendary Tar Heel announcer Woody Durham knew by then, however, that broadcasting was not just in his blood, but in his future as well. “I wanted to be tied to radio and television somehow,” he recalled thinking as a teenager.
He touched on his undergraduate career, recalling he broadcasted nearly 150 football and basketball games in four years, which resulted in an accumulation of “a lot of bad tape,” he quipped. He explained there were some good highlights in his reel as well, the product of working at his craft again and again.
“This is the best program in the country,” he said. “You should take pride in where you’re going to school. This university and this program is a really great place to be.”
Durham emphasized that passion is essential for a career in broadcasting. “In order to be successful in this business you have to not just like it, but love it,” he said. “You’re going to miss most of the holidays or miss your best friend’s wedding or dinner with friends. This is a great business. The reward is you get to do something new and different every day. You get to be creative; you are a writer, a producer, a storyteller. You get to travel and meet people, really interesting people.”
He also talked extensively about personal branding, networking, embracing immerging technologies, the business of broadcasting, and challenging yourself. The last topic Durham discussed in detail, recalling his recent decision to move away from radio and jump into television work.
For 18 seasons, Durham served as the voice of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, bringing to life the institution’s football, basketball and baseball teams on the radio. In 2013, after 25 total years in the radio booth, he left Georgia Tech to pursue play-by-play work in television. (He has remained the radio voice of the Atlanta Falcons, a job he has held since 2004.)
“What you do here at Elon today is the first step. But you never stop growing and changing. You always press to be better at what you do,” he said. “At 47, I decided that I didn’t want to be 65 and have regrets, so I left a successful career in radio to take a chance on doing television sports play-by-play. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew I needed to try. I didn’t do it for the money, but for the challenge.”
Durham concluded both of his classroom visits taking questions from students, and he recalled amusing anecdotes from his career. His stories included Michael Jordan playfully ribbing him during an early interview, as well as 30-minute, off-camera conversation with Peyton Manning about college football and golf – in a Tokyo hotel of all places. The latter is a favorite memory for the announcer.
In the “Media and Sports” course, Durham’s one answer veered away from the business of broadcasting, sharing his personal thoughts about the impact of sports.
“The great thing about sports is it gets America talking,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your income is, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, or where you live. We are fans. We get together and watch games and cheer for our teams, and it connects us.”
Assistant Professor Gerald Gibson contributed to this release.