The decision will not help gain a single yard, point, or first down for Virginia Tech’s football team this fall.
But when you turn on the radio for the Hokies’ September 2nd game in Norfolk against ODU and hear “From the blue waters of the Chesapeake to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air,” you’ll realize it made football season just a little bit better.
Bill Roth is back.
He will be the radio voice of the Hokies for football only, but he and Mike Burnop will now be back together to call every moment of white lines and green grass at Lane Stadium and beyond.
David Teel broke the news in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning, and I have to say, it may be the best news regarding Virginia Tech I’ll hear all month. Roth has been like that favorite, well-worn sweatshirt you wear on game days that just makes you feel comfortable. He was the radio voice in lean times, the radio voice in great times, and over several decades, became part of the family to many older Hokies.
He is also one of the most impressive people I think you’ll ever meet. In life, you get to come across people who are just genuinely good, and Bill is one. Poll 50 people who have had interactions with him, and odds are you’ll get 50 stories about what a good guy he is. He embraced the Hokies and all that Virginia Tech stood for from the very beginning, and has been an incredible ambassador for the school.
Younger Hokies who may not understand all this fervor for a radio guy need to look back to the 1980s. Hokie football was wandering in the wilderness and was not exactly a prime location. The previous guy left for a better situation…at East Carolina. Roth was a young buck from Syracuse, and I think it would be fair to say both sides were taking a chance when he agreed to become the voice of the Hokies in 1988.
This was also back at a time when everything wasn’t on television. Heck, you had to be in the top 25 to even have your scores mentioned on sports highlights show. Unless you went to the games, your best shot at seeing any footage of the Hokies was getting up Sunday morning and trying to find a 30-minute highlight show, where Roth narrated over some video and told you what happened. The rest you learned listening to the radio, if you were lucky enough to have a station in your area carrying the game.
As the Hokies got better, they appeared on television more, but those games drew bottom of the barrel announcers who didn’t seem to know much about Virginia Tech, so the sound went down on the TV and the radio was turned up. Bill’s voice always betrayed any attempt to hide his emotions, and you felt his pain when the team lost 50-49 to Rutgers in 1992, the shrill excitement of Jim Druckenmiller hitting Jermaine Holmes to beat UVA in 1995, to Shayne Graham hitting the winning FG in the “Miracle at Morgantown” as well as the utter amazement of all the things Michael Vick accomplished during the run to the National Championship game.
Along the way Bill became “one of us.” Syracuse was his “starter” education. He was a Hokie through and through.
In 2015, Hollywood came calling, as he took the job at UCLA. I remember thinking UCLA was lucky to get Bill, but worried he was too nice a guy and had firmly established roots in Virginia that would eventually pull him back East. A year later that happened, and with the radio job now occupied with someone else, Bill took a job teaching at the University, founding Tech’s sports media and analytics concentration in the Department of Communications.
If you thought his radio work was impressive, his teaching accomplishments overshadow them. My old friend Tim Hogan and I have Communications degrees from the 70s at Tech, worked at the campus radio station and even called Virginia Tech baseball games on radio. If you only knew how many times we’ve told each other we were born 40 years too soon when we see all the amazing things Hokie students are now getting to do, you’d understand.
He has built a program we one day dreamed our kids would get a chance to experience.
As I mentioned earlier, if you asked 50 people who had an interaction with Roth, you’d get 50 stories about what a good guy he is, and I even have one. Back in 1995, my wife and I were driving to Blacksburg to see the Miami game. We were in the process of adopting our daughter, and during the drive, we got a call saying everything was processed, and on Monday morning, our new child would be joining our home. VT won 13-7 on an afternoon I knew would be my last before becoming a Dad.
Eighteen years later, my daughter – a freshman at VT – came home for Thanksgiving. Do you know who Bill Roth is, I asked. Yes, she said, because on game days the radio was blaring all over the dorm with Bill and Mike calling the game. The previous week Bill had posted on his web page audio of his 10 best games, and it included audio of the 1995 Miami game.
My daughter and I listened to it together as I explained to her what it was like that day. She thought it was cool. I thought it was cool too, so I emailed Bill to thank him for posting the audio and what a special moment it was.
He answered with his cellphone number and other contact information, understanding that having a daughter 300 miles away as a freshman can cause a Dad to worry. He said to give my daughter the info and if she ever ran into any trouble, call him. A few minutes later, Burnop – after Bill had forwarded him the email – did the same thing.
That, my friends, is the very definition of Ut Prosim. And something I will never, ever forget.
So now I’m really looking forward to football season. Brent Pry looks like a great coach who is going to do great things, and in some ways reminds me of Frank Beamer.
Am also looking forward to muting the television, turning on the radio and hearing about the blue waters of the Chesapeake.
All while thinking “welcome home, old friend.“