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THE MOUTH OF THE SOUTH
Frank Deford
January 29, 1968
Spouting Scripture instead of statistics, mixing Milton with backwoods banter, Bill Currie—a man sporting an omniscient memory and an omnipresent Piedmont drawl—inundates Carolina with play-by-plays on the air and everything from sermons to bawdy ballads off it
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January 29, 1968

The Mouth Of The South

Spouting Scripture instead of statistics, mixing Milton with backwoods banter, Bill Currie—a man sporting an omniscient memory and an omnipresent Piedmont drawl—inundates Carolina with play-by-plays on the air and everything from sermons to bawdy ballads off it

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"Sports announcers nowadays are about as colorless as a glass of gin," Currie says. "They are so immersed in themselves, so determined to pontificate about what really is nothing more than a game that they have forgotten that sports are supposed to be fun.

"Most of them are like a bunch of barbers cutting each other's hair. They emulate each other and fawn over each other on the air, and the same dull, successful ones show up everywhere. It is just as Matthew wrote: 'Unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.' The broken-down old ballplayers are the worst, but almost all are equally appalling. Do you notice how they always say thank you to each other every time? You know, like: 'What do you think of that, Fred?'

" 'Thank you, Jim. He's one of the hardest runners we've seen in this great game of football in a long time.'

" 'Thank you, Fred.' That's what they call an analysis. I was watching some golf tournament the other day, and one of those guys, Beard or someone, sinks a putt. He sank a putt. But on television now such an earthshaking event veritably beggars analysis, so they sent it right down to Cary Middlecoff. I'll never forget it. He says: 'Thank you, Jim. Yes, that was a real pressure putt. A key one. And, Jim, he's one of the grandest guys on the tour. Back to you.' If this is really what is wanted, I guess there is just no hope at all for a bull artist like myself."

He leans back and easily talks of himself, as candidly and critically as he would of some strange foreign object. The public happy-go-lucky image is as severely juxtaposed to the private man as his country drawl is to his fluid command of the classics. Currie's ulcerated stomach has hemorrhaged four times, the last one being almost fatal. He is separated from his wife. Unduly fearful of hoodlums, he carries a loaded pistol most of the time. His office is dominated by a huge, macabre 5-foot-by-4-foot picture of himself lying flat out in a splendid half-closed coffin. He is winking. (The picture so frightens the janitors that they will not enter his office to clean it up.) "Bill is on about 90% of the time," says his close friend Jack Callaghan, the station's program director. "You have to be prepared when suddenly he isn't." Yet, despite some dark thoughts, Currie—who has undergone extensive psychiatric treatment—always is fully in command of himself. He possesses great self perspective. He is very contented.

"I really can't announce," he says, "I just try to project warmth and folksiness as a defense mechanism against trying to do it the right way and failing. I am not really this easygoing, you know. The first time I spoke in public I had to absolutely force myself. It was just the high school debating team, but to me the audience looked about 50,000 and all of them Popes. I wasn't any better when they first put me on the radio in High Point, but they gave me $10 a game, and it was root hog or go hungry. Basically I am timid and shy, so every time I am in public it is unnatural for me."

Currie possesses almost total recall—if he likes something. And, indeed, once he memorizes something it never leaves his mind but just falls into a deep recess, where it lies dormant among the other miscellaneous information there until a cue in conversation or a ball game suddenly makes it surface, intact. His most stirring and most requested renditions are of Casey at the Bat, Dangerous Dan McGrew (legitimate and blue versions), If, Thantopsis and various Biblical and Shakespearean passages; but his full repertoire includes ditties, homilies, nonsense rhymes, aphorisms—homely and wise—slogans and more than 1,000 songs. He figures he can sing almost any song that has been high on the Hit Parade since 1935.

Currie assimilated many of the poesies from his parents, both of whom were given to such expression. His father, William Hay Currie Sr., was a traveling salesman specializing in soap, pianos and zithers. His favorite adage was: "Don't get mad, get even." He bought a circus once, but tired of it, strolled away from it somewhere in Arkansas and came to High Point, where he settled down to sell insurance and marry Margaret Billings of Durham.

Bill was an only child, a good student, but a better journalist. At 13 he was on the staff of the High Point daily, The Enterprise. At 14 he was making up the paper, and at 16 he was able to earn a full scholarship to nearby Catawba College as the school's sports publicity director.

The war interrupted, and he never did come back to Catawba. Anyway, because of his close identification with Carolina, most people perfunctorily assume that Currie went to Chapel Hill. Unless pressed, he avoids the subject so as not to discourage the assumption. After the war (he was a commissioned bombardier who never left the States) Currie came home to be a police reporter on The Enterprise. As far as the police were concerned this meant keeping a reciprocal eye on Currie. "I have a habit of getting mad when I sit down at a typewriter," he says.

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