The origin for Clemson football radio broadcasts is a space at Memorial Stadium about the size of a walk-in closet. Crammed into the 8-foot-by-10-foot space, with its 40-yard-line view, are play-by-play announcer Pete Yanity, color analyst Will Merritt, spotter Sack Bagley and statistician Sanford Rogers, bringing the Tigers’ games to those who can’t attend or, rarely these days, aren’t watching on TV.
Each fall Saturday, there’s another presence in the booth, too. On the concrete wall behind producer Kevin Smith hangs a twice-life-sized picture of the late Jim Phillips, who for 36 years was “The Voice of the Tigers,” in a way modern radio broadcasters are not. Especially during big games such as last week’s Clemson-Georgia showdown, it’s almost as if Phillips is still there, looking over Smith’s shoulder to make sure the job gets done right.
Ten years ago Monday, Phillips, then 69, died of an aortic aneurysm, and Clemson fans felt his loss in a way today’s faithful perhaps can’t appreciate. Before wall-to-wall TV coverage and social media, generations of the school’s “subway alumni” — many of whom never set foot on Clemson’s campus — counted on Phillips to be their eyes and ears.
During Saturday’s game vs. S.C. State, Clemson acknowledged his place in its sports history, naming the booth for the Mineral Ridge, Ohio, native during a ceremony at the end of the first quarter. Son Jeff, a Columbia minister, daughter Terri of Greenville and other family members basked in the crowd’s cheers. A plaque will be displayed outside the booth in the near future, sports information director Tim Bourret said.
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Had Phillips graduated from college — “he went a semester to Ashland College before going into radio; that’s how it was back then,” his son said — his name likely would be included on the school’s Ring of Honor displayed on the upper deck facing. But then, naming the booth for him is more fitting, Jeff Phillips said.
Hired “blind” in 1964 by legendary coach and athletics director Frank Howard after submitting, of all things, a tape of a basketball broadcast, Jim Phillips was no one-trick pony. At Clemson, he called not just football and men’s basketball, but also women’s basketball and baseball, his favorite sport, and did them all with equal skill and fervor. He announced 401 football games — his last, Clemson-Furman in 2003, came two days before he died — and covered nine head football coaches.
Rogers, 44, knows the impact of “The Voice.” Growing up near Mullins as a lifelong Tigers fan, he vividly recalls listening to Phillips’ call of Clemson’s 16-10 win at Notre Dame. “(Phillips said) ‘There’s a lot of orange in South Bend today, and all of them are on their feet,’ ” said Rogers, who was 10 at the time.
“Those guys — Jim, (North Carolina’s) Woody Durham, (USC’s) Bob Fulton — that was radio,” he said. “It’s a different era now.”