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When they were through introducing just about everybody there in the Moose Lodge in Monroe, N.C.—the Door Closer Capital of the World—and were finally down to Joe Ross and Spud Smith, who were co-chairmen of the festivities, Bill Benton, the M.C., brought forward the man they really were all waiting to hear. "And now, ladies and gentlemen," Bill Benton said, "the Mouth of the South." Bill Currie rose and, following the sound of his voice, found his way to the microphone.
Lord, but that old boy can talk. He makes 125 speeches a year, sometimes three a day. They can be folksy and amusing, like the one here in Monroe for Industrial Appreciation Night. They can be inspirational and uplifting, if the audience is, say, for the high school lettermen. Currie can make the boys cry and the parents, too, and sometimes the teachers. And for a few more dollars the Mouth of the South will cry himself. "I can cry as good as old William Jennings Bryan himself," he says. His speeches before stag assemblages are steeped in vulgarity and keep the boys guffawing to each other in the men's rooms for the rest of the week.
If a preacher asks Bill to come over and address a church group, Currie is just as liable to come over and preach. He gives hell to the Episcopalians and hell and brimstone to the Baptists. "The hand of God is upon this man," the Baptist minister cried out after Currie had let his congregation have it. Currie agreed. The hand was, in fact, oppressive. Currie was still hung over from the night before.
He does all this speaking on the side. For a steady job Currie handles two sports shows a day on WSOC-TV Charlotte, interview shows with various North Carolina coaches and a dozen or so play-by-play football games a year. Last season he did 74 college basketball games. Mostly he works alone, without a color announcer. "A color announcer," Currie says, 'is a guy who is paid to talk when everyone goes to the bathroom."
He undoubtedly is the most controversial and popular (or unpopular) sportscaster in the South since the late Clure Mosher and probably the most famous college announcer in the whole country. WSOC pushes him like he was the hottest thing since Hadacol. There are 109 billboards with Currie's face on them in the Charlotte area, which is about one Bill Currie billboard for every 3,000 people. His picture is on most of the packs of matches in town as well as on restaurant sugar-cube wrappers, making him, he says, "the Charlotte area's last line of defense against LSD." Next they are planning to put his face on catsup envelopes, and an entrepreneur wants to use Currie's name for a new restaurant.
While the face is all over Charlotte, the mouth is all over North Carolina. Currie's games are broadcast on the Tar Heel network, which is the largest state college network in the nation and which includes as many as 62 stations. Currie's voice wafts into every membrane of the Tar Heel State, from those shiny coastal resorts through the amber waves of tobacco and pines of the Piedmont into the crevasses and moonshine hollows of the Blue Ridge.
Currie's Tar Heel network is, theoretically, a vehicle of the University of North Carolina, but that turns out to be only a point of wireless embarkation. After he is through blocking out the Tar Heel schedule Currie scouts around and fills up every free night with any other game he can unearth. Duke, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Davidson, even into South Carolina for Clemson or Furman—it doesn't make any difference. The Mouth of the South broadcasts them all.
The rest of the time he is speaking in person. The night after the Moose Lodge in Monroe it was Gastonia, and then Greensboro. He's knocked 'em dead in Kannapolis, Shelby, Paw Creek, Spring Hope, Scotland Neck and Haw River. The Fourth of July he was the star in the parade at Faith. He even has his own agent now and once he even dared follow Norman Vincent Peale's act. Most places, of course, they know him well before he gets to town. They knew him in Monroe, for instance, because there is a group of 30 or 40 basketball nuts who gather regularly to hear every single Tar Heel game. Someone keeps the pictures of the Atlantic Coast Conference players and the statistics of the game on the blackboard, but the rule is that cathedral silence must be maintained when Currie is doing the play-by-play. For one thing, he is so unpredictable no one wants to miss anything. The other thing is the game.
It is the same way at banquets. Here one minute in Monroe he is spewing folksy old stories about cows and country stores and commodes. He says "tater" and "down the road a piece" and "from tooth to toenail" and "more money than a show dog can jump over" and things like that, but just as quickly he might start quoting Shakespeare and Spinoza and poet laureates of the state and not only quoting Milton, but citing where the quote came from in Milton, as he had done the night before in Charlotte. The words suddenly pour out as if they came from a thesaurus. "What are you doing to me?" one distracted listener wrote Currie. "One minute you're saying, 'He done turned it over,' and the next minute you are describing a man's look as 'imploring' or 'woebegone.' "
And Currie regularly uses even better words than that. Yes, indeed he does. In fact, realizing that it will be impossible for him to keep up this broadcasting pace for too many more years, Currie eventually wants to retire to the academic cloisters. Unfortunately, before he can become a professor he will need to return to college for another semester or so to gain a bachelor's degree.