Down in tiny Albemarle, North Carolina, a young boy sits hunched over a plastic am radio. It’s summertime, 1952 and, if his parents are quiet and the radio is placed just right, he can barely hear a broadcast of Vin Scully doing a Brooklyn Dodgers game a world away. He tries to never miss a game.
Before long, he realizes that NC State broadcasts their football and basketball games on radio. Then he starts picking up Duke games. He enjoys Carolina fixtures such as Charlie Harville and Ray Reeve, but the Duke sportscaster, Add Penfield, particularly catches his fancy. Penfield is so articulate, yet so consumed by the game, that the boy can actually picture everything almost like he is there—maybe better. He sees the low-hanging cigarette haze in the indoor stadium, he hears the ref’s whistle, he can see the players passing, shooting and rebounding as Coach Bradley of Duke and Coach Case of NC State wave, point, and shout. Several years later, the boy spends a hard-earned $9.00 he’s saved as a curb hop at George’s Grill to buy one of the early Mantola TR4 transistor radios. Now he can bring the games with him wherever he goes.
The kid’s name was Bob Harris and he loved sports, but he saw no way to do sports for a living. When he reached college age, he decided to attend NC State and was a student for two years, working summers in the old cotton mill in Albemarle. He took a job at Goodyear, but a few years later he returned to his hometown to sell insurance. He volunteered to provide coverage of area football for WZKY, the local station that had been founded when he was a boy. Gradually this grew into the full-time job of sports announcer and sports director for the station for eight years.
In 1975 he took a sales job for a Durham radio station, WDNC, and moved his family into the area. Determined not to leave sports behind, he soon was hosting a sports talk show. In time he began getting the opportunity to interview some big names in sports.
Gradually, he began to draw attention as a talented sports guy, and Duke Sports Information Director, Richard Gianinni, allowed him to do the color commentary on four football games, and all of the basketball games. He loved working with the great Penfield and tried his best to impress. Then one day the unbelievable happened. Penfield was ill and at the last minute Harris was tapped to be the announcer. Then several weeks later he did a Duke-Maryland game on the road. He finished that season for Penfield. In 1976 Penfield retired and, starting in the fall, Harris had the job as play-by-play commentator that would eventually make him known as the Voice of the Blue Devils.
Harris has now been broadcasting Duke football and basketball for over 38 years. He reels off the patter of the basketball games from high above, in a catwalk above the crowds he’s nicknamed the “Crow’s nest.” He knows he’s darn lucky. How many people get to do what they love for decades? He modestly claims he’s only a fan with a microphone, but he’s received many awards. In 2006 he was voted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and he was named the North Carolina Sportscaster of the year in 1988, 2001, and 2011.
Nationally, Harris is best known for his play-by-play of Christian Laettner’s last second shot in Duke’s 104-103 victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional of the NCAA Basketball Tourney. ESPN still considers this the “greatest college basketball game ever played.” Harris’ description of “the Shot” from the radio broadcast is most often featured with the archival video footage, replacing that of the original television commentators.
“They throw it the length of the floor… Laettner catches, comes down, dribbles… shoots. Scoooooores! … Christian Laettner has hit the bucket at the buzzer! The Blue Devils win it 104 to 103. Look out Minneapolis! Look out Minneapolis. Here come the Blue Devils!”
But reading those words without hearing Harris is like seeing a thin streak of lightning minus the thunder. Especially in close games, Harris’ voice crackles with surging electricity as he shoots out vivid word pictures larger than life. You can almost see the sparks tumbling from between his lips and smoke wisping up from his ears. You’re listening to one of the best sportscasters around. How sweet it is!