NCSHOF MEMBER (Class of 1997)
By HELEN ROSS
For generations of North Carolinians, Charlie Harville was “the” voice of sports, both on radio and television, where he always ended his broadcasts with his signature sign-off: “That’s the best in sports today.”
But he was much more than a pioneering sports broadcaster.
According to his 2002 obituary in the News & Record, the 83-year-old Harville was also a published poet, western movie fan, collector of pulp magazines, music afficionado, voracious reader and bird watcher – not to mention the father of nine, grandfather of 18 and great-grandfather of two.
Harville’s broadcast career spanned six decades and for nearly 30 of those years, he was firmly entrenched in Greensboro, helping first to launch WFMY – where he is believed to have anchored the first local TV sports broadcast in the state in 1949. Some 14 years later, he moved to WGHP in High Point, where he was born, and did the same before returning to WFMY in 1977 where he stayed until he retired in 1988.
Early on, at both stations, Harville sometimes reported the news and did the weather, as well as his sports broadcasts. He once told the News & Record that moving to TV was something of a gamble.
“I practiced by pretending I was looking at a camera during my radio broadcasts,” Harville said. “I had no doubt I’d succeed at it, but I didn’t know it would go over with the public. I was surprised at the speed and breadth of its acceptance.”
While at WFMY and WGHP, Harville was a mentor to young broadcasters like the late Jim Prichett, who anchored several sports talk radio shows in the Piedmont Triad and was an advocate for local sports on the airwaves.
“Radio was different in those days because broadcasts would give a much broader picture of what was going on,” Prichett told the News & Record when Harville died. “And Charlie could paint a picture with the best of them.”
The late Woody Durham, who is also in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, followed Harville as the sports anchor at WFMY. He told the News & Record that he remembered “how tough it was to move in and try to establish my own identity because Charlie has become a legendary name across the state.
“Even though we were competitors, I had a great deal of respect and admiration for Charlie. He was always very helpful to me as a young broadcaster,” Durham said, adding that Harville was “one of those guys who never really retired because (broadcasting) was so much a part of who he was.”
Harville started his career while still a student at High Point College, where he played football but didn’t make the baseball team, which was his first love. He was hired by WFMR radio on April 29, 1938, the day after he auditioned to do play-by-play for the Thomasville Tommies minor league baseball team, and his life’s work began.
Harville went on to work at radio stations in Martinsville, Virginia; Goldsboro, North Carolina and LaSalle, Illinois, before launching his TV career. At various times over the course of three decades, he also was the football play-by-play announcer for the radio networks of Florida State, Virginia Tech, East Carolina and Appalachian State.
He also spent 15 years working on the Atlantic Coast Conference TV network broadcasts of football and basketball. Harville was among NASCAR’s early adopters – for a decade doing a “Racing Roundup” that was syndicated in 10 states — and was a long-time announcer of professional wrestling.
“(Charlie) was one of the first ones in our part of the country who liked racing enough to start putting it on the program,” Richard Petty told WFMY at Harville’s funeral. “… This is the biggest market for racing in the whole country, so Charlie was the one, I think, that really helped get it started up.”
Harville, who was also regarded as an expert on baseball history, remained active in broadcasting stock car racing and baseball until 2001, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer that November.
TV GREATS WELL REPRESENTED IN NCSHOF
Although television is a relatively young form of media compared to others like print or radio, it is still very well represented in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Several legendary television personalities have been inducted into the NCSHOF, and it is interesting to note that some have a similar career arc to the great Charlie Harville, and many spent a good deal of time in radio before moving to TV.
The first broadcaster inducted into the NCSHOF was the legendary Ray Reeve, joining the Hall in 1967. This pioneering media representative had a career spanning five decades, from 1939 through 1973. He began in radio and then became the voice of the North Carolina State Wolfpack in basketball and football.
But when WRAL-TV signed on in Raleigh in 1956, Reeve became its first sports director and sports anchor and maintained that position until 1973. And during those early years at WRAL-TV, Reeve was the host of some wildly popular wrestling shows, starting with All-Star Wrestling which later became Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.
The most recent inductee to the NCSHOF from television is Tom Suiter, who was inducted earlier this year. The Rocky Mount native was also a WRAL mainstay, arriving there in 1971. He became the sports anchor 10 years later and had a remarkable 45-year run there, well known for his innovations such as Football Friday coverage of high school games and the Extra Effort Award, which now bears Tom’s name.
Two other NCSHOF members had stints as the radio voice of a university as well as considerable time on television. Woody Durham, a 2005 inductee, has deep North Carolina roots, born in Mebane and growing up in Albemarle. He was the long time “voice of the Tar Heels” at the University of North Carolina, but he also spent 14 years as the sports director at WFMY-TV in Greensboro.
Gene Overby spent 17 years broadcasting Wake Forest football and basketball, but the Reidsville native was also a strong TV presence. From 1968 to ‘78, he was the sports director at WSJS/WXII-TV in Winston-Salem.
Debbie Antonelli is another TV announcer who joined the Hall in 2021, but she never has worked full-time at a particular station. The Cary High School and N.C. State grad has had a storied career over more than three decades covering basketball for ESPN.
So there are some true stars from television who made indelible marks in sports in our state and are now members of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.