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Adios, Mac


I am a big fan of radio sports. Starting in my callow youth, I have spent many hours listening to various radio announcers describing the successes and failures of various teams, most local ones. I very early picked up the habit of watching televised sports with the sound turned down while listening to radio descriptions. If pressed, I would name my all time favorite the late Wally Ausley, who for years was the radio voice of the NC State Wolfpack. The worst? Well, he just lost his job.

My fondness for radio sports began with the great Chuck Thompson.

Many evenings back in the Sixties I would listen to Chuck’s colorful portrayals of Baltimore Orioles baseball in between his exhortations for me to drink National Beer, which, as he never failed to point out, “Was brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.”

While I quickly determined that National was swill, I retained a taste for the Orioles, at least until Peter Angelos ran the storied franchise into the ground.

I also discovered at a fairly young age Virginia Tech radio broadcasts. I have been through a bunch of Tech announcers. The first was Charlie ‘Whisky’ Harville. Since then, I have heard Tech sports described by the confused and confusing Bud Katz, the year spent at Tech by Marty Brennaman as he killed time on his way to Cincinnati and legendary status with the Reds, Don Lloyd, Jeff Charles, right up to the current Voice of the Hokies Bill Roth.

I didn’t stop with Tech sports. My geographic location straddling the VA/NC state line means that many radio stations from the Old North State are broadcast into my home, giving me access over the years to the famous and often comical NC broadcasters Woody Durham of Carolina, Duke’s Bob Harris and the aforementioned Ausley. It has been great fun.

A guy that broadcasts for a team on the radio is preaching to the choir. Unlike television announcers, who tend to claim at least some shred of impartiality, radio guys are speaking to the true believers and tailor their descriptions as such. Most are outrageous homers, part of their charm. It would only take an alien about thirty seconds of listening to Bill Roth to determine who was signing his checks.

Once people get these radio gigs, they tend to hang onto them for decades. You have to pry the radio microphone from their cold, dead hands to get them out of the booth. Clemson’s longtime radio voice Jim Phillips came very close to dying on the air. Maryland’s Johnny Holliday must have waited impatiently for Marconi to perfect the transmission of radio signals so he could begin Terps’ broadcasts.

Both Durham and Harris have clung to their jobs long past their prime. For the most part, you can’t pry these guys out of the booth. They also seem to never get fired. At least they didn’t until Mac McDonald came along.

Mac McDonald has spent much of the last twenty-eight years as the radio Voice of the Hoos. He started back in 1980 during the Ralph Sampson years, heady times for the Hoos as they finally were winning in sports for about the first time ever. Mac later quit for some reason, turning up at Wake Forest as the voice of the Deacons.

He was replaced in Hooville by Warren Swain. When Swain was offered the Nebraska job in 1996, he blew Hooville like an algroh assistant. Mac then came back and from then until April 29th of this year has been the Voice of the Hoos.

When describing Mac’s work, the word that most pops to mind is ‘lousy.’ He was terrible. Mac’s play-by-play ranged from colorful and excited descriptions of Hoo running backs shedding tacklers and romping for what surely was an 80-yard touchdown run before Mac later informed listeners that it was Second and 9 to treating the action on the field as privileged information, staying silent for what seemed like decades in radio years. Mac did not quite have a firm comprehension of the phrase ‘dead air.’

Mac would also treat the score of Hoo games as a state secret. He most definitely did not follow the example of Red Barber, the late, great voice of the Dodgers, who kept a two-minute hourglass on hand; the emptying of the sand reminded Red to give the score.

Mac was indeed terrible when it came to actual play-by-play. His charm, however, came from what happened after the games. That was where Mac really shined. I loved him.

In a profession that rewards outrageous homerism, Mac could take it to the next level. His fondness for the Hoos knew no bounds. That included his man-love for algroh.

Elton John could have learned a thing or two about praising David Furnish from listening to Mac’s declarations of love for the Great NFL Legend.

No matter how badly algroh might have screwed up during a Hoo loss, Mac was still there for him. Hoo postgame shows would find Mac praising algroh in terms that made Michelangelo’s paens to Cavalieri seem like frosty disapproval.

Woe would be unto any caller who would voice criticism of the Great NFL Legend on the postgame Hoo Bitch Line. Clyde from Forest, not exactly algroh’s biggest fan, would receive short shrift from Mac, who would then launch into yet another impassioned defense of algroh’s coaching abilities. It was great stuff. I found it utterly hilarious and listened every time I could.

Along with his love for algroh, Mac was not shy when it came to vocalizing his contempt for Virginia Tech. He simply could not stand the Hoos losing to we mountain rednecks. Lincoln tolerated Fredericksburg with a better humor. With Mac as their spiritual guru, the Hoo loons came by it honestly.

Obviously the last decade’s worth of football results were not pleasing to Mac. Frank’s mastery of first George and then utter domination of algroh were trying times for Mac. He voiced his frustration year after year in increasingly emotional terms, finally snapping last November with his strange ‘Frank cheats and you can e-mail me for the details’ comments. That seemed to be one rant over the line.

The Hoos announced 4/30 that Mac had ‘resigned’ effective the day before. Word on Rugby Road is that Mac was given two options, with resignation being the face-saving one.

Don Corleone gave better choices when making offers that couldn’t be refused. Mac’s own comments to the Daily Hoo of “everybody thinks I was fired” seem to indicate that everybody thinks he was fired. Richard Nixon resigned, too, and it didn’t exactly occur to him out of the blue.

Mac’s ‘resignation,’ whether forced or not, ends one of the more interesting chapters in state radio. It can likely be assumed that the next Voice of the Hoos will possess a much blander style, one that in all probability will not be nearly as colorful or funny. Adios Mac. This Hokie will miss you.

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