Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Career Prologue


Goals have been important across my career. Always aspirational (and occasionally an anvil) from annual operating plans to SMART goals to the ultimate BHAG.  

Finally, I have arrived at a singular objective. My major life goal is full retirement next year. I chose February of 2022 for the round numbers - my 70th birthday and my 40th year with Capitol Broadcasting Co., including a twenty-five year association with the Durham Bulls.

This month, however, is a career milestone that I almost missed until I came across an old resume several weeks ago. I landed my first radio job fifty years ago this month. It was the beginning of my media/sports journey.

That was in September of 1972, at WTVR am/fm in Richmond. I was nineteen, beginning my second year at Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in Mass Communications. My sister was instrumental. She babysat for the station General Manager, and he persuaded his Program Director to take me on. (Indeed, I have had the benefit of “privilege.”) It was an entry level job as a studio technician known in the biz as a “board op”…

  • When the disc jockeys were on remote broadcast (typically sitting in the showroom window at a car dealership) I played their records and commercials back at the studio. 
  • And I played commercials during sports broadcasts. We aired Richmond Robbins hockey, Virginia Squires basketball and University of Richmond football. (Regarding the latter I was privileged to work with legendary Richmond broadcaster Frank Soden.)
  • On Sundays I worked a split shift, 6a-noon and 6p-midnight, playing tapes of church services ranging from Richmond’s First Baptist Church to fundamentalist Richmond Baptist Temple. I was exposed to the full spectrum of faith over those twelve hours each Sunday from Mormons to mainline Christianity to Holy Rollers. 
  • Occasionally, I got to do my own DJ show on a Saturday or Sunday. Big fun!

The station format was Top 40, but soon after I started it began experimenting with county music in the evenings. That’s where my appreciation for country was kindled. Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Charlie Pride, Tanya Tucker and Merle Haggard were at the top of Billboard’s country chart. Eventually, WTVR went all-in as “1380 Country/Request Radio.”

Richmond transit ad, circa 1973

I loved the job…loved radio! I eventually gave up my other better paying, union scale grocery clerk job at Safeway to work full-time as the station’s news announcer. That was aligned with my broadcast journalism track at VCU. And it was another split shift, 6-9a, 3-7p. Labor regs were pretty loose back then.  

Fifty years. Wow! I have been blessed. It began with full dose of Jesus and country music - a pretty good foundation.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Making of a Miracle

I’ve done a good many construction updates on Twitter about the Durham Miracle League field, but I want to detail this odyssey that began way, way back in 2016.

The Durham Bulls Miracle League Park is nearing completion. It’s a worthy but very challenging project that’s been percolating for six years. From its inception, the Bulls and parent company Capitol Broadcasting have championed the ballpark for special needs kids.

Background/Double vision. Miracle League of the Triangle is well established in Wake County, but their board’s vision is to serve all of RDU. That meant a field in Durham. They approached Capitol for support.

And then came double vision! Capitol’s VP Michael Goodmon was determined that the field should be in downtown Durham - with proximity to the DBAP, American Tobacco Campus and the American Tobacco Trail - on a vacant lot at the corner of Blackwell Street and Morehead Ave. He envisioned a mini-DBAP with brick and steel flourishes, canopied bleachers, a replica Blue Monster and snorting bull.

The need. State of NC stats indicate that ten thousand children with physical or mental disabilities live within a fifteen minute drive of downtown Durham. The Miracle League field will provide a first class recreation option for participating families.

Great idea. Even greater challenges. There has been delay upon delay, over ancient utilities beneath the site and a complex lease process with the federal government. Then came pandemic delays. The final body blow: our contractor unexpectedly passed away and the company shut down.

Help is on the way. We did receive funding from the City of Durham for the utility work, the Durham Housing Authority threaded the needle with HUD for a lease on that vacant lot, and now a new general contractor, Bobbitt, is at the helm. Also, Miracle League of the Triangle secured a grant from the NC General Assembly, and about $2.3 million has been raised from generous corporate, foundation and individual donors.

Uphill battle. Despite the progress noted above, construction costs have skyrocketed - a 44% hike. So, we still have a funding gap. It’s like we are being held at third base when we could be sprinting to home plate. (If you are reading this, maybe you can help us slide into home? Let’s talk…  ghabel@durhambulls.com)

Lessons learned. Despite the setbacks, this project sits upon multiple pillars of inspiration: SERVICE to the Miracle League players and families. The VISION that started it. The GENEROSITY that followed. And PERSEVERANCE, something Miracle League families live out every day. 

In that spirit we carry on and aim for a fall opening of the Durham Bulls Miracle League Park.

These guys are an inspiration! Miracle League’s leadership visits the site. Left to right: Founder Tony Withers, Board member Paul Carr, Founder Robin Rose, Executive Director Benjy Capps. It’s an honor to be in their company…dedicated to the cause…passionate about Miracle League!

Construction progress, July 29, 2022, 
drone shot from Scott Strickland

Monday, June 20, 2022


My six-year tenure on the Durham Sports Commission just ended. The “Commissioners” gathered for a Bulls game on June 15th...and I said farewell.

While serving on the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce Board, I was among the founders back in 2015-16. Despite the preeminence of Duke athletics, NCCU and the Bulls, we felt strongly that Durham needed to do more to attract and promote sporting events. 

They are an economic engine for our hotels, restaurants, shopping and other attractions. The Sports Commission’s job is to pump fuel into that engine. We also promote youth sports in Durham and encourage local event organizers. The Commission is a funder, marketer and cheer leader.

The pandemic was a setback, but this year the DSC is on pace to support 19 events with an economic impact of $13 million.

Of course, this is sports, so there’s competition aplenty. Raleigh/Wake County has a prepared meals tax that funds sports facilities. The Town of Cary has a parks and rec system designed to host events. To the west, Greensboro has a world class aquatics center. To the east, Rocky Mount has an impressive baseball/softball/soccer facility and an events center with 8 basketball courts and auditorium seating for 4,000. 

What could Durham build? And where? We need a facility for both community recreation and a best-in-class sports center to host national tournaments. The DSC is crafting that vision with the very capable leadership of Executive Director Marcus Manning and our new Chairwoman Ingrid Wicker McCree.

Sports-related travel and tourism is a gigantic $40 billion pie in the US. Durham wants a bigger slice of that pie!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

COVID Time Capsule

May 16, 2022

Just when I think COVID is in the rear view mirror, I’m confronted by its annoying persistence - a surging variant or a jarring stat. (For comparison, heart disease claims 700K lives in the US each year. For cancer it’s 600K.) COVID’s impact on public health, child development, the economy and our national psyche is sustained and severe. 

But allow me to take this post in a more benign direction with this question:

What would you put in a time capsule from the pandemic? 

My initial response: a mask and my vaccination card. 

On second thought, there’s so much more: A photo of our granddaughter Jubilee, born in January 2020, a child of the pandemic (who will hopefully have no memory of it!) A Durham Bulls 2020 schedule card - the season lost to COVID. My phone with those vital apps Instacart and zoom, Amazon prime, all my take-out apps. What could represent on-line church, badly needed hair cuts…and all of the time I’ve spent with my wife? We’ve been married for forty-three years, but our “we time” is record setting! Throw in a rapid COVID test.

(This time capsule exercise was from last year for an evaluation of Durham’s Recovery and Renewal Task Force. The group met regularly during 2020-21, a worthy example of former Mayor Steve Schewel’s leadership.)

Time capsules are usually buried, and I wish we could bury COVID! That’s elusive, but we do have vaccines and boosters (and those freakin’ masks) to protect us. The 2022 baseball season is underway…with no delays, no restrictions. Play ball!

My Granddaughter at the DBAP May 14th.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Five-star General (of general contractors)

Our company lost a good and loyal friend last month. 

Mike Higgins

August 7, 1963 - December 19, 2021

While Mike Higgins wasn’t a CBC employee per se, he was definitely on the team, and it was a rare collaboration of close to thirty years. He was our general contractor for construction of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (1995), then the American Tobacco Campus (2004), and our current project, the Miracle League field adjacent to the DBAP.

For twenty-nine years, Mike, aka Higgins, was with Lend Lease and its predecessors McDevitt Street Bovis and Bovis Lend Lease. He built the DBAP, did its 1998 expansion for Triple-A and the Diamond View I office building. Next came the American Tobacco Campus renovation which was the largest historic renovation in the nation in the early 2000s. Two more Diamond View office buildings went up, and there was a major renovation of the DBAP in 2014.

Capitol’s CEO Jim Goodmon provided the vision, VP Mike Hill led the charge and Higgins turned vision into reality. Along the way Michael Goodmon, Mike Birling and I joined the collaboration.

Higgins brought a big and positive personality to the work. He had a big brain, too, always quick with a solution, a real problem solver. And compared to many contractors, he was pretty good with deadlines. Most of our ballpark projects were accomplished in the off-season. It was always down to the wire but the gates always opened for Opening Day.

He formed his own construction company in 2015 - Atlantic Corporate Contracting. A member of the family, his new offices were in the DBAP’s basement level. ACC built the new clubhouse for Duke University Baseball in right field, and his company is presently working on the Miracle League project.

Speaking of family, the Higgins were loyal Bulls fans. Janet, his wife, is an accomplished baker, and we enjoyed her confections and presence at the ballpark. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Janet and the family…and I offer a tip of the ball cap to our favorite hard hat, Michael Wayne Higgins.

Higgins' canvas: American Tobacco | Diamond View I, II, III
Durham Bulls Athletic Park

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Remembering Sam Huff


Washington Post | Obituary

Another throwback post, inspired by the passing of NFL great Sam Huff on November 13th at 87. He played - famously - for the NY Giants and Washington Redskins in the 1950s and 60s. 


Long before the Panthers, the Washington Football Team (formerly the Washington Redskins) was this region’s favorite team, especially in the northern tier of NC.


And rightfully so. From 1982 to 1991, under legendary head coach Joe Gibbs, a NC native, Washington appeared in the postseason seven times, captured four conference titles and played in four Super Bowls, wining three of them. 


The team’s renowned radio crew of “Sonny, Sam & Frank” - Sonny Jurgensen (from Wilmington and Duke), Sam Huff and Frank Herzog called the games.


Capitol Radio Networks had built a regional satellite network in the 1980s and we provided that service for the Redskins broadcasts in the late 80s/early 90s, working originally with DC flagship station WMAL and later with WTEM. We grew the network to over 100 stations in the mid-Atlantic states. 


The football broadcasts connected us to Sam Huff, but we got to know him through his avocation, horse racing and breeding. Sam and his partner Carol Holden operated Sporting Life Stables in northern Virginia, and Capitol assisted them with the launch of a weekly radio show called Trackside. It aired for 28 years until 2016.


Sam’s day job was VP with Marriott. He was a celebrity rainmaker, persuading sports teams to use their hotels. He was a great salesman - disarmingly intense!


I recall a dinner at the Angus Barn where I asked him to do a commercial for an advertiser. He readily agreed…for $2500. That was major money in the early 90’s. My jaw dropped. Sam smiled and simply tapped his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring. Message delivered. Value established. (Like I said, disarmingly intense.)

~  ~  ~ 

Read about Sam’s equestrian pursuits and his inspiring life that began in the WVA coal fields, a football career that included a Time magazine cover, and his later years that unfortunately ended with dementia.

Before the Panthers 1995 premier,
the Redskins had a huge following in NC

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Celebrating Our Braves Legacy

My Myrtle Beach Pelicans 

Championship rings, 1999 & 2000. 

Thank you, Brian Snitker!!!

The Sun News looks back.

The Durham Bulls have been affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays since 1998, and over two decades the Rays have won my love and loyalty. I must confess, however, to flirting with an old flame during the 2021 World Series - the Atlanta Braves. I was smitten with memories of Durham’s Single-A Braves’ affiliation in the Carolina League and Atlanta’s most glorious decade that began thirty years ago.

Capitol Broadcasting purchased the Bulls in 1991, and the parent club played in World Series that fall (losing to the Twins.) During the 90’s the Braves, under legendary skipper Bobby Cox, played in a total of five World Series. The Fall Classic in 1995 was their singular triumph.

The Bulls and Durham had an eighteen year marriage with Atlanta. Capitol was the local operator for the last seven years, then engineered the move to Triple-A in the International League with the Rays’ affiliation.

For Capitol the Braves connection didn’t end in 1997. With the blessing of the very gracious Braves’ GM John Schuerholz, we retained the Single-A franchise and moved the team to Myrtle Beach. They became the Pelicans playing in a brand new ballpark adjacent to the landmark shopping/entertainment complex Broadway at the Beach. 

Forgotten tidbits…

  • While Coastal Federal Field was under construction in 1998, Danville VA hosted the Single-A team for one season. It was named the Danville 97s, commemorating a legendary train collision. Indeed, the year in Danville was somewhat of a train wreck, but we were focused on the Pelicans’ SC premiere in the spring of 1999.
  • We originally intended to name the team Myrtle Beach Braves. I have one of the promotional caps! The logo incorporated the traditional Braves script surrounded by waves. In consultation with Atlanta we decided it would be better to develop a unique, hometown brand for the team. It was the right thing to do, but some diehard Braves fans in Myrtle Beach were (temporarily) disappointed.
  • Capitol sold the Pelicans in 2006. Affiliations have since changed; in 2011 to the Texas Rangers; in 2015 to the Chicago Cubs.

I have buried my lede in nostalgia. The motivation for this post was to celebrate Braves’ Manager Brian Snitker. I so wanted this week’s Series win for him. It was a Hollywood ending! Brian, a lifer in the Braves organization, played for the Bulls, then managed both the Bulls and Pelicans. This AP piece by Charles Odum is a story well told…with some help from Twitter:

Hearty congratulations to Brian Snitker and the Atlanta Braves!