“The Voice” Behind the Microphone
Jeff Charles Continues Passion
for Broadcasting ECU Sports

by Eric Gilmore

He’s known simply as “the Voice.” But Jeff Charles’ most important sense may be his eyes, which serve as a filter between the live event and those hopeful fans scattered across the nation relying on his story.
Charles is an artist who has to paint his canvas with words. His inflection, tone and vocabulary have to create a mental image for the fans unable to attend. Because of Charles’ talents, Pirate fans have come to trust his account as an unbiased viewpoint. For the younger Pirate generation, the 53 year-old veteran’s on-air presence has been the only “Voice of the Pirates.”
Getting started and Sportscenter serve as a grazing pasture for sports fans ready to consume every updated analysis and fact. But a generation ago, the common medium was radio. Charles remembers huddling around his transistor in Piqua, Ohio as a kid listening intently to professional teams.

“We all grew up listening to radio guys and those guys were our heroes especially major league baseball guys,” said Charles.

Charles cited the longtime Cleveland Cavalier play-by-play announcer Joe Tate and ex-Chicago Bear and current Purdue broadcaster Joe McConnell as childhood influences. Charles also included Dom Valentino of the defunct Cincinnati Royals, which are now the Sacramento Kings.

As is the case with most broadcasters, Charles learned at an early age that visions of the playing in the NBA or NFL were slim.

“You learn at an age that you don’t really have it,” Charles said about his athletic career. “I mean I played sports in high school. I really decided to [pursue broadcasting] when I was a junior in high school and when you first start in this business…you have to do a little bit of everything. I started hanging around my hometown radio station…doing everything from taking out the trash to whatever, just get some experience.”

Charles learned more by attending a broadcasting school in Columbus, Ohio. Charles then graduated from Goshen College, located 25 miles northwest of South Bend, Ind. While attending Goshen, Charles worked for the local station doing 60-70 high school games per year.

"Well, I think it’s part the voice but I think it’s part the knack,” Charles said about developing his voice for the business. “I think you just have to have a natural feel, ability, a natural knack to be able to do this.”
The early years

Charles propelled his college experience into calling the University of Illinois football games for two years. At age 28, Charles sent off a demo tape to WSB-AM, a 50,000 watt Clear Channel station in Atlanta. Six weeks later, Charles was hired by WSB-AM legend Elmo Ellis, who spent 42 years at the station. Fourteen months after taking his dream job hosting a sports talk show heard in 38 states, Charles was found unemployed when management cleaned house.

“At [28] you’re a bit little naïve still, I felt like I’d be [in Atlanta] forever or just go on from there someplace else,” Charles said about getting fired for the first time. “It was a wake up call to how the corporate world works. It was nothing that I did wrong or did bad, I just got caught up in a transition period.”

Charles quickly latched on at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. calling football games in 1982. Current Furman head coach Bobby Lamb was a freshman quarterback for Dick Sheridan, who would later become the opposing head coach during one of Charles’ most memorable calls. It was at Furman when Charles developed the “paint it purple” slogan that he’s so closely associated with.

“I think it came up on the spur of the moment one time,” Charles said. “It just came out and I can’t even remember the first game it came out.”

Charles recalls using the moniker during Furman’s upset win 28-23 over South Carolina, but isn’t sure it was the first time he used it.

After the 1982 season, Charles landed a similar job at Virginia Tech. While thoroughly enjoying his five year stint, Charles found himself surrounded by state politics.

“It was a great learning experience,” Charles said about his play-by-play job and host of the coaches’ show. “I had never been exposed to the politics of college athletics. I got a real awakening.”
The Pirate pride

Then-ECU athletic director Dave Hart, Jr., hired Charles in 1988. Hart, Jr. had contacted Charles in 1986 so when Hart, Jr. came calling again in 1988, the 38 year-old broadcasting veteran felt obligated.

Nearly 18 years later, Charles has worked with five chancellors, athletic directors, football and men’s basketball coaches. A fixture on the second floor of the Ward Sports Medicine Building, Charles recalls when the building was still a field.

“The facilities have changed so much and with that the school has gotten bigger,” Charles said about watching upgrades at every revenue sport. “With that, has come more challenges in a lot of ways. When I came here in 1988, it was almost like a small family atmosphere. It wasn’t the big business that it is today.”

Charles has teamed with ECU Hall of Famer Carlester Crumpler in the booth since arriving in Greenville. Charles’s job involves hosting a radio call-in coach’s show and a television coach’s show. He also hosts a local sports talk radio show, which he’s been doing for two years.    

Aside his play-by-play duty, Charles is the director of electronic media. In 1992, he founded the Pirate Sports Television Network to complement the Pirate Sports Radio Network. Prior to a Jan. 17 announcement that ECU has teamed with ISP Sports, a marketing firm based in Winston-Salem, Charles was the lone salesman to obtain sponsors for the broadcasts. For years, the moment that basketball season ended in March until football started in early August; Charles was on the road selling advertisements while locking in radio and TV stations.

“It’s taken a big load off my shoulders,” Charles said about the ISP announcement. “Instead of having one person do everything, you have five or six people doing what I’ve been doing. Anytime you have more people selling, it’s going to be a benefit.”

But Charles still remains a play-by-play voice at heart. He’s called more than 180 football games and over 620 men’s basketball games at ECU. Among the most memorable are ECU’s 37-34 come-from-behind win over N.C. State (coached by Sheridan) in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1992. During the same 11-1 season, Charles fondly remembers Jeff Blake’s two-point conversion to upset Pittsburg 24-23 inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

In 2000, Charles was the recipient of the N.C. Sportscaster of the Year Award beating out names like Woody Durham, Bob Harris, Bill Rosinski and Steve Martin.

“I tried to share it with everybody at ECU and eastern N.C. because no one had ever won it from here,” Charles said choosing to deflect the limelight towards the region. “And I thought it was neat that somebody finally did and got recognition for what [ECU] was doing in broadcasting.”

Charles’ talents brought him a job offer from the Charlotte Hornets back in 1991. But untimely circumstances kept Charles in Greenville. In 2005 when the Carolina Panthers decided to not renew Rosinski’s contract, Charles immediately became a serious candidate. However, as the process dragged on for nearly three months, Charles decided not to pursue the opening. For ECU, it reassured that Charles will remain an ECU employee.

“I really don’t know,” Charles said about retiring from the microphone. “I can definitely see myself doing this another six or years. After that, I’m not really sure…I’ll know when its time. I don’t see myself doing this forever and dying in the press box.”
State of the business

Recently when both former football coach John Thompson and men’s basketball coach Bill Herrion resigned, they both credited Charles’ professionalism.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Jeff because he is a true professional,” said Si Seymour, who has worked as the color analyst with Charles during men’s basketball for the past eight seasons. “I’ve learned a lot just by working with him. He’s going to be accurate in everything he does. Throughout the years, he’s maintained his spark and his enthusiasm and that’s really special.”

 Despite criticism, Charles sticks to what has worked for 25 years as an announcer. 

“I am objective,” Charles said. “If [an opposing player] dunks one, taking off from the free throw line, I’m going to get really excited. I appreciate great talent. That’s part of the game.”

With the proliferation of technology involving both cable and the internet, Charles says that radio play-by-play announcers are a dying breed.

“The role, quite honestly, of the radio play-by-play guy is less than that it used to be,” Charles said citing jobs that aren’t even on-air. “Now there are some many names on television that we basically have to keep reinventing ourselves. We have to keep selling the sizzle a little bit.”

Editor’s Note:  For more Jeff Charles, tune into Pirate Radio 1250 & 930 Wednesday’s nights at 6pm for: “From the Booth” with Jeff Charles, The Voice of the Pirates!

Eric Gilmore