After 37 inextricable years, the ACC and Raycom part company following this week’s conference tournament. Raycom which was bought earlier this year by Gray Television, will be delving into new businesses including motor racing. In August, the new ACC Network launches under the aegis of ESPN.
For Tim Brando, whose long broadcast career has spanned parts of five decades, the thread that connects much of his play-by-play coverage is ACC basketball. With the ACC no longer in Raycom’s future, the 2019 ACC Tournament will be Brando’s last. If only the walls can talk. Brando started with the league in the 1980s.
The merged name Raycom was produced through years of synergistic arrangements with Jefferson Pilot and other corporate entities, Yet for most of us, certainly in recent years, it’s known simply as Raycom; a name interchangeable with the ACC and its decades of growth.
Tim Brando, one of America’s best play-by-play announcers, shares with our readers what the ACC has meant to him since the 1980s; how it’s defined his career.
From Tim Brando:
I’ll miss the ACC Tournament in ways I don’t miss the NCAA’s. That says a lot, I know, but it’s true. I love college basketball no matter where it’s played, but there will never be a conference tournament that has the history and the currency of the ACC, and there will never be a network more emotionally tied to that tournament than Raycom. For fans, watching games on Raycom will never be forgotten; those memories have passed down through generations.
In the early 80’s, college basketball, you might say, was the fast-break of my career. Without hoops then, my life in broadcasting might not be the same today.
Flash back to Baton Rouge in 1979. It was early in my career and Coach Dale Brown was shepherding LSU to its first conference title in a quarter century. At the time, I hosted the market’s first ever daily radio sports talk show. Brown’s success stimulated lots of basketball discussion in the community and on the station. And once Dale and I met, we hit it off immediately.
Coach Brown championed me to many in lofty positions locally and beyond. By 1981, LSU’s Final Four year, I hosted Brown’s weekly show. In 1982, when the conceptually pioneering TigerVison was born, I was named its lead play-by-play announcer. The audition tapes that I later sent out to virtually every national and regional network came from TigerVision; so, I’ll always be grateful to those who kept it going there for many years.
Regional and national opportunities did come my way, thanks to Jefferson Pilot’s Jimmy Rayburn and Raycom’s Don McGuire. The old Metro, Southwest and Big 8 Conferences, along with the SEC and ACC, were leagues that had deals then with Rayburn and McGuire. Later, Peter Rolfe replaced McGuire at Raycom when Don went to Turner Sports.
Occasionally I got treasured phone calls from these gentlemen to do their games.
At the time, a little outfit called Entertainment and Sports Programming Network slowly emerged. To get live events on its network, ESPN paid syndicated companies like Jefferson Pilot and Raycom for programming, thereby giving its national cable audience an opportunity to watch regional games. The arrangement made me visible to the big brass at ESPN. On January 5, 1985 my first ESPN broadcast was in fact an ACC Basketball game in Charlottesville with Duke playing the Cavaliers. Man, was I fired up!
That ESPN production team consisted of Dick Vitale, me and an ESPN producer who occupied a small corner in the Jefferson Pilot truck. ESPN used JP’s video and supplemented it with our separate audio. It’s what the business calls a simulcast.
Our ESPN producer begged the Jefferson Pilot truck to transmit to Bristol an on-camera shot of Dick and me during a commercial break. It’s how people would actually see us. Otherwise we would never have been on camera. That’s how it worked back then. The contacts, cooperation and love of the game shared by Jefferson Pilot, Raycom, and ESPN gave this 28 year old a huge career jolt!
After a couple of years, ESPN began calling me regularly. Suddenly I was away from Baton Rouge where our family lived more than I was at home. Later in 1985, I called the ACC Tournament as part of ESPN’s team. I’d be working the daytime session with former UK great and SEC broadcaster, Larry Conley. A real thrill. It was the year that Bobby Cremins’ Georgia Tech team won the tourney in the Omni.
Yeah, my first ACC Tournament games were technically on ESPN, but we were all in this together, or so it seemed to a young up and comer like me. From 1983 to this very day, my career almost invariably included work with Jimmy Rayburn’s company which eventually became Raycom.
In 1990 I signed a new contract at ESPN, but not as a staff employee. It permitted me to freelance for Jimmy, primarily in the SEC, but also in the ACC. While ESPN kept me really busy, I certainly wanted to work for Jimmy Rayburn as much as I could. If that’s a different level of loyalty so be it. I’m not alone among network broadcasters who want to continue an association with Raycom Sports.
In the mid 90s, I moved from ESPN to Turner Sports. It enabled me to cover more ACC basketball as well as the SEC for Raycom. Even as I moved to CBS in 1996, I continued doing tons of games in the ACC and SEC.
Since 2009, I’ve had ten straight years of ACC Tournament work and took over for Tim Brant calling the finals.
The Friday quarterfinals day session in 2017 may be the best ever. Brooklyn was off the charts that year. The rubber match between Duke and UNC, which Mike Gminski and I had was like a national championship atmosphere. Duke beat number one seeded Carolina, 93-83.
Thanks Raycom Sports. You’ve meant a lot to yours truly.