Sports: Gallagher chasing a different dream

Published 12:05 am Saturday, September 2, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — The small things in life can turn into very big things.

Jeter’s Deli in Salisbury was neutral ground and always provided the meeting place for young Duke fan Mackie Gallagher and the late, great Howard Platt, sports radio legend and an unsurpassed supporter of the Tar Heels’ athletic efforts.

Mackie had aligned himself with the Blue Devils because his older brother, Jack, had chosen the UNC Tar Heels. Little brothers are compelled to do things like that.

“Every Duke-Carolina basketball game, if Duke won, Howard would hand me the crispest dollar bill you’ve ever seen,” Mackie said. “If UNC won, I’d hand over to Howard the ugliest, grungiest pile of a hundred pennies that I could put together.”

A lot of breakfasts were consumed at Jeter’s Deli. The bets were tiny, but the friendship was huge. It would help determine the direction of young Gallagher’s life.


Mackie isn’t a kid anymore. He’s 26 now, bold and brash, kind but confident, funny but respectful. The kindness and respect are things his parents instilled in him.

His gift is public speaking. He not only has the voice to go places, he has the personality, the dedication and the work ethic to make it at a high level. He could get to the big leagues as a public address announcer, a color man or even a play-by-play broadcaster.

“I want to be able to make a living doing something in sports — that means everything to me,” said Gallagher who graduated from West Rowan in 2015 and from Appalachian State in 2019. “A sports career would honor my mom (Joan Gallagher was a field hockey star in high school and at Catawba College) as well as my dad.”

Mackie’s father was Ronnie “The Ronz” Gallagher, a sports-obsessed guy who penned volumes of entertaining copy for a number of newspapers, including the Salisbury Post, where he was sports editor from 1997 until his death in 2013.

Mackie’s father died on a football Friday in 2013. It was a sudden death that left Mackie, who had just started his junior year at West Rowan, dazed and confused.

His support system included his mother, brother and his extended family of West Rowan students and parents.

“It’s March 2014 and I’m sitting in the stands at a West baseball game, sitting with the parents — Poteats, Pinkstons, Simpsons — of my friends who are playing,” Gallagher said. “They asked me to announce the starting lineups, so I could be a part of what was going on. I didn’t want to do it. I had no confidence in myself. I was self-conscious like most teenagers are. They kept trying. Finally, I said, ‘OK, fine, I will do one game.’ I announced the lineups, just read the lineup card, with no special voice or anything. But looking back, that’s where it started.”

It wasn’t long before he’d found “his voice” in that tiny broadcasting box on the third-base side at the West baseball field.

“I kind of got in a groove, got cool with it,” he said. “I started announcing. That first game turned into another one and then another one. A lot of people were complimenting me about how well I was doing. I thought they were just being nice because they were friends, but then complete strangers — the parents of the guys on the opposing team — were telling me that I was good and had added something to the game. And I’m starting to think, ”Well, OK, I like this.'”

It wasn’t long before Jimmy Greene and the softball team wanted Gallagher to be the announcer for all of their games. Softball was still played in daylight then, and Gallagher would look forward to those 4 p.m. starts.

By his senior year, he was doing some football and basketball, as well as softball and baseball. “Stay classy, West Rowan” became his signature sign-off after Falcon victories, and there were plenty of them.

“Quite a few people took a step back to let me have some time at the mic, to work on things and find myself,” Gallagher said. “I’m grateful to all of them. And our principal, Jamie Durant, told me I could say anything, as long as there were no dirty words.”

There was a fateful West playoff baseball game at home his senior year, the spring of 2015.

Platt and Buddy Poole were there handling the game for WSAT radio, and Poole remarked on the air what a great voice West’s young public address announcer had. Platt informed Poole that was Ronnie Gallagher’s son, Mackie, and Platt immediately launched into the story of their hilarious Duke-Carolina hoops bets and those laugh-filled exchanges of a dollar at Jeter’s. Poole loved the Blue Devils. He had signed up Mackie by the end of the night.

“West Rowan baseball went on the road to Marvin Ridge for an exciting fourth-round playoff game the next week, and I had the job of being Howard’s color man,” Gallagher said. “That was a big step for me.”

A friendship with Poole developed. There would be work at Rowan County American Legion games for several summers at Newman Park. Legion manager Mark Cauble gave him opportunities to talk to an audience and to learn the ropes.

Legion P.A. man Jeff Vail became another important mentor. Vail gave Gallagher the best advice he ever received.

“You don’t get paid to talk; you get paid to prepare,” he told Gallagher.

Those have been words to live by as Gallagher’s career has progressed. He studies rosters and notes for hours before a game, makes doubly sure of every pronunciation before he steps into a booth.

After graduating from West, Gallagher headed to Appalachian State with thoughts of a criminal justice career, but it didn’t take long for him to switch his planned major to communications and electronic media broadcasting.

Appalachian State’s WASU FM, 90.5, the radio station for the High Country, provides opportunities for App State students, and the station became Gallagher’s new home away from home.

His first announcing opportunities with the Mountaineers came in sports such as volleyball and field hockey. He took every assignment he could get, made mistakes, but learned from all of them.

“I got experience,” Gallagher said. “No regrets about anything. I loved doing those field hockey games because I knew my mom would love that.”

By his junior year, he was involved with football, setting up the pregame shows, listening and learning from experienced men such as App State play-by-play man Adam Witten.

By his senior year, Gallagher was assistant sports director at WASU. He would host a weekly sports show and a non-sports show that might lead anywhere — from Big Foot sightings in Mocksville to the perils of beekeeping.

He progressed to doing play-by-play and color on higher-profile sports such as baseball. The first football game he worked on the air was a Louisiana-App State game.

There were Friday nights when he drove to Wilkes Central High and broadcast games for $25. Anything to get live experience.

Gallagher and partner Gray Salter won an award for their broadcasts of the High Country Grizzlies, an arena football team.

“I learned those players have dreams just like I do, met their families that told us how grateful they were for us broadcasting those games, Gallagher said. “There was a website that gave out awards for things like best announcers in that arena league. They were giving it, so we were glad to get it. We weren’t going to turn it down.”

Gallagher’s travels since college took him back to Salisbury during some tough COVID times when everything was put on a hold for a while, but then brighter days and more opportunities in Wilmington, and now Charlotte.

“I’ve done a lot of dishes, sold a lot of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, have folded a lot of pizza boxes and have delivered a lot of pizzas, he said with a laugh. “I’ve always worked day jobs, so I could keep my nights open for announcing opportunities.”

Mick Mixon, now retired but once at the pinnacle of the broadcasting profession with UNC and the Carolina Panthers, has become an important mentor for Gallagher.

“We’ve had conversations, he’ll answer my texts, and he’s given me some great advice,” Gallagher said. “He’s taught me a lot about how necessary it is to be professional and look professional at all times. You never know who might be watching.”

Living in Charlotte has provided a multitude of broadcasting opportunities for Gallagher.

He’s got regular gigs on Mondays and Tuesday as the host for live trivia contests at Charlotte bars.

“Not everyone can stand in front of a group of strangers and help them have a great time,” Gallagher said. “I enjoy it and I get more comfortable every time. We have regulars, so I’m doing something right.”

He is the primary backup guy and has done quite a bit of announcing for the Charlotte Knights, a Triple-A baseball team, one step from the big leagues. He has been called upon as the announcer for big-time college baseball games in Charlotte, such as UNC-South Carolina.

“I’ve gotten to announce a few Vance Honeycutt home runs for the Tar Heels,” Gallagher said.

Not long ago, he was the announcer for the “Keep Pounding Classic,” the first high school game ever to be played at Bank of America Stadium. Rock Hill’s Northwestern High and Charlotte’s Providence Day staged an exciting 42-35 shootout.

His jobs over the summer included a regular stint as the announcer for all of the home games for the Queen City Corn Dogs, a college wood bat team. Part of that assignment involved dropping the mic once every night and racing youngsters around the bases as part of the between innings entertainment.

“They asked me if I’d mind wearing a corn dog suit and racing the kids,” Gallagher said. “I told them I’d worn a cow suit for Chick-fil-A, so a corn dog suit was no big deal. I never won one of those races, unfortunately, because there was always one fast kid. But if I had a chance to stretch for a few minutes, I’d beat most of them.”

He had a blast doing it. He enjoyed watching the youngsters laugh and grin.

Gallagher owns the finest and deepest and longest Carolina Panthers growl ever recorded, and that famous growl helped him get a role with the Panthers.

“They contacted me about the growl, and I made sure to let them know I was an announcer and not just some nutty fan,” Gallagher said. “That growl helped me get my foot in the door with the Panthers. I’m confident it’s going to lead to some good things.”

It helps to know Mixon and he’s become friends with the current Panthers broadcast crew. He’s on the call list if someone is sick or on vacation. He had a chance to announce a preseason Panthers game, and he’s a regular part of the Black and Blue Crew that interacts with fans and adds to their enjoyment during all the home games.

“We carry the flag and lead the team out on to the field, cool things like that,” Gallagher said.

He was a finalist for football jobs for major colleges and landed one for this season.

He will be the announcer for all of the Charlotte 49ers football games. His first one was on Saturday.

He has his foot in the door with Charlotte Hornets, as well. No live broadcasts yet, but he’s handled the announcing for halftime contests and promotions during timeouts.

“I’ve announced just about everything so far, including dance recitals,” Gallagher said. “I get announcing work mostly through word of mouth. A lot of people have said good things about me, and I’ve got a lot of friends who let me know when there’s an opportunity.”

Gallagher’s first chance to announce for the Panthers came about a week before his father was inducted into the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame, 10 years after his death.

Gallagher is the speaker in the family, and he gave a seven-minute speech that had people crying their eyes out. A few minutes later, they were rolling in the aisles with laughter.

He can handle an audience and a mic, and he’s got a dream of the big time.

He’s in no rush to get there and is confident he can handle whatever comes his way. He’s making a living, and he’s doing what he loves.

“Everyone who has ever said one kind thing about me has fueled my dream and help me to keep going,” Gallagher said. “I’m still in my 20s and I’m in Charlotte with my best friends, and this is where I want to be right now. I don’t have any timetable to make it to the pros. I’m just going to keep working every day to be the best that I can be.”