NSSA Weekend: N.C. State's Gary Hahn is state winner
SALISBURY — Gary Hahn would probably joke with you that he’ll roll the state sportscaster award now that Woody Durham is retired.
But Hahn would be ultimately modest in doing so. The 1974 graduate of Butler and voice of N.C. State sports for the last 21 years will accept his first N.C. Sportscaster of the Year award Monday night. He paid tribute to Durham, a common face at the NSSA most years, at a recent golf tournament.
“I asked Woody, ‘How many of these NSSA awards have you won,’ ” said Hahn Saturday from the NSSA welcome reception at the Holiday Inn. “He said it was in double figures. I said, ‘Well, there you go folks.’ He’s won all of these awards in 40 years, I’m just getting my first.”
Although you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a devout passion for the Pittsburgh Pirates now, Hahn says his listening to the Buccos with Bob Prince and Jim Woods while growing up in western Pennsylvania sparked his interest for radio. The passion for the airwaves apexed with the Pirates’ broadcasts, which were heard all over the eastern seaboard via KDKA. Prince and Woods would be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame as well as inspiring another voice in the wings in Hahn.
“Listening to these guys, I thought these guys were having so much fun, this has got to be the greatest job in the world. I loved baseball and I loved the Pirates and I thought it would be pretty cool if someday I could be the next Bob Prince.”
Although Hahn isn’t likely to call any action at PNC Park anytime soon, he’s settled in nicely in Raleigh after merging around from radio sports networks at Louisville, Ohio State and Alabama.
After giving the University of Maryland a look, Butler tempted Hahn away with the promise of letting him on the air on the college station his freshman year.
“I could have gone to Maryland and saved my parents a lot of money,” Hahn quipped. “You couldn’t get on the air there until you were a junior or senior and, to me, that was all wasted time.”
“The only way I’m going to be good is if I go on someplace and make a bunch of mistakes and find out if I stink or not.”
After over two decades behind the mike, it’s safe to conclude he doesn’t. If Monday night’s award wasn’t enough proof, Hahn battled surgery for prostate cancer in 2009, only missing one football game, at Virginia Tech.
Hahn and color man Johnny Evans will call a revised version of the Wolfpack next year with the revenue sports in a state of transition after Debbie Yow became athletic director in 2010. Sidney Lowe’s unceremonious five-year run at head men’s basketball coach ended when State hired Mark Gottfried last month. Hahn spoke highly of Gottfried’s recruiting capabilities, which are of paramount importance with Duke and North Carolina in the Pack’s backyard.
“The program needs championship-caliber players,” Hahn said. “The only way you’re going to get them is to go out, sign them, bring them here and coach them up.”
State missed the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year under Lowe, ultimately leading to his resignation.
“I think everybody had such high hopes that maybe the talent was a little bit overrated,” said Hahn of the 2010-2011 squad. “Sidney Lowe was a tremendous person and great guy to work with but in this day in age, they’re not going to cut you too much slack if you can’t win consistently.”
On the gridiron, beloved quarterback Russel Wilson will not return for his senior year after asking for his release from the team last month. Wilson led the ACC last year with 274.1 yards passing per game.
“I understand Russell Wilson’s side of it and I understand Tom O’ Brien’s side of it too,” Hahn said. “[O’ Brien] wants a quarterback that’s there full-time. You’ve got to get the synergy between the quarterbacks and the wide receivers and it starts during summer workouts. That’s when you get a lot of the bonding that you need.”
The Pack was in line to play for the ACC Championship before falling to Maryland in the last week of the regular season. A win against West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl equaled a 9-win season, the highest since 2002.
Hahn says it all started with Yow, who moved from Maryland within the conference.
“She wants N.C. State to regain the glory it had in the past,” Hahn said. “I like that about her.”
For the time being, Hahn will continue to enjoy the view from press row calling the action for a passionate fanbase. His winning the award is almost Susan Lucci-like, after many nominations throughout the years.
“That’s another reason I came for the whole weekend,” Hahn said.
For one weekend, Salisbury is his paradise.