Wiedmer: Wes Durham, Mike Keith gush mutural admiration

Wiedmer: Wes Durham, Mike Keith gush mutural admiration

August 25th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

NASHVILLE - Mike Keith, the longtime radio voice of the Tennessee Titans, will be in Minnesota on Thursday night broadcasting the Titans-Vikings exhibition game. He's expected to return to his suburban Nashville home around 3 Friday morning.

Late that afternoon he'll arrive at Battle Ground Academy to handle public-address duties for the Wildcats' game against Father Ryan, mostly because his son Matthew is a freshman center on the BGA varsity.

Then it's on to Knoxville on Saturday, Keith teaming with former University of Tennessee and NFL quarterback Pat Ryan on pay-per-view television for the Vols' season opener against Austin Peay.

"I'm going to experience for three days," a grinning Keith said Saturday, "what Wes does all the time."

Wes Durham is the radio voice of the Atlanta Falcons, who faced Keith's Titans on Saturday night at LP Field.

And if there's a busier man in broadcasting these days than Durham, Keith is yet to hear of him.

"What Wes does -- talk shows, college football on Saturdays, the NFL on Sundays, then college basketball all winter -- is amazing," said Keith, who became friends with Durham 20 years ago, when Keith was still working on the UT network and Durham was announcing Vanderbilt games.

"He's one of the best in our business anywhere. His Dad (Woody, the longtime voice of North Carolina) is a legend, so Wes clearly learned at the feet of one of the best."

Almost instantly returning the compliment, Durham -- who gave up his Georgia Tech gig in June to do Atlantic Coast Conference football and basketball for Fox Sports South -- said of Keith: "When I get a chance, I love listening to Mike and Frank [Wycheck]. I love his energy. In a lot of ways, we're both old-school announcers."

In their cases, they refined their skills listening to old-school broadcasting geniuses.

"We both grew up listening to guys like [UT great] John Ward, [Kentucky legend] Cawood Ledford, [Georgia giant] Larry Munson and my dad," Durham said. "I like to say we're old school crafted by new-school technology."

Ah, radio. Both Keith and Durham wonder what will happen to it in the future, now that cell phones can beam television into the palms of their owners' hands.

"What will this industry be like in five to 10 years?" Keith said. "We just don't know."

What he and Durham believe they know is that their respective NFL teams should be be improved this season, despite both franchises entering Saturday's contest with 0-2 records in the exhibition season.

"On offense, we have an identity, a rhythm this year," Keith said of the Titans, who haven't made the playoffs since 2008. "I don't know that we had that last year. We're going to run the ball. We're going to get in and out of the huddle quicker. We're going to take advantage of what [quarterback] Jake Locker does best."

Countered Durham of a Falcons team many believe capable of reaching the Super Bowl: "Chemistry and continuity, that's what I like about us. Plus, athleticism and experience. I really like our experience on offense."

Not too many teams in this league could overcome the loss of the right tackle (Mike Johnson, who broke is leg early in trainning camp) and keep going. But this one can."

Durham and Keith, both in their mid-40s, intend to keep going for a long time. They've both been named Broadcaster of the Year in their respective states numerous times. Sports Illustrated chose Keith's call of the "Music City Miracle" 1999 playoff win over Buffalo as one of the 30 greatest radio calls in American sports history.

Praised Keith of Durham's comforting style: "There's an incredible attention to detail. He has great stories, but he never comes across as a know-it-all. He's just very enjoyable to listen to."

Here's detail: Durham is slated to work Saturday's Florida International-Maryland football game for Fox Sports South. Asked about that contest as he scanned Falcons-Titans notes, he said, "I'm already excited about seeing [FIU quarterback] Jake Medlock (13 TDs and two interceptions in 2012) and [Maryland wide receiver] Stefon Diggs. I've been playing golf all summer. I'm more than ready for football to start."

If many of their listeners would be more than willing to trade places with them, Durham couldn't blame them.

"Oh, we're the luckiest guys in the world," he said. "We usually get the best seats in the house, the parking's usually pretty good and they actually pay us to do this. I can't think of a better way to make a living."

Said Keith: "I just know that when I grow up, I want to be Wes Durham."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com