Inside the booth with David Shumate, the play-by-play voice behind Duke men's basketball's iconic calls

<p>David Shumate (left) checks his notes in the broadcast booth during Duke's home game against Clemson.</p>

David Shumate (left) checks his notes in the broadcast booth during Duke's home game against Clemson.

"It’s a Duke blue kinda night in Chapel Hill.”

The Tobacco Road rivals have had some impeccable and consequential games recently, but perhaps none was more memorable for the Blue Devil faithful than the Feb. 8, 2020, contest. Duke had not one, but two buzzer-beaters to defeat North Carolina 98-96 at the Dean E. Smith Center in an overtime thriller.

Wendell Moore Jr. tipped in a missed jumper by Tre Jones in overtime to cap the Blue Devils’ improbable comeback. From the booth, radio play-by-play voice David Shumate’s electric call ended with that fitting phrase above, encapsulating the wild finish in Chapel Hill. 

“To have two true buzzer-beaters in an era where everyone’s going to the monitor to put a tenth of a second or two tenths of a second back on [the clock] ... to have one at the end of regulation and another in overtime is crazy,” Shumate told The Chronicle. 

According to Shumate, that game should have been over a number of times for the Blue Devils. Instead, it became emblematic of the beauty of the rivalry — where expecting the unexpected is a must. 

Many Duke fans experience the spectacle of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry through the voice of Shumate, Duke athletics’ director of broadcasting and radio announcer since June 2017. His voice airs on the Blue Devil IMG Sports Network as well as WDNC-FM 96.5 in Durham and WCMC-FM 99.3 in Raleigh.

Shumate uses his captivating voice to entice Blue Devil fans into feeling like they are at the game, and he does the same for Duke football. 

“I always loved sports, and I also love storytelling,” Shumate said. “So it was always kind of a passion of mine to get into that in some way, shape or form.”

Shumate’s path to the announcer’s chair was not linear, and he emphasizes that the journey has shaped who he is. He worked in the restaurant industry and even briefly went to law school before chasing his dream of broadcasting. 

“Like a lot of people who get into broadcasting, I was cocky and thought I was good to go … and got out and didn’t get a job,” Shumate said. “A lot of people see where you end up, and they think that there was a straight line to get there. And it wasn’t.”

Shumate worked in management and the corporate side of broadcasting before moving up and getting the opportunity to call games. Eventually, a spot opened at Duke to fill in occasionally for play-by-play voice Bob Harris. 

Harris, who held the position for more than 40 years, is known among many as the “voice of the Blue Devils.” The North Carolina Sports Hall-of-Famer has called some iconic moments, including “The Shot” by Christian Laettner to send Duke through against Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight. 

Shumate respected and listened to Harris just like many fans across the country, so felt he had a tough task in replacing somebody whose name and voice were synonymous with Blue Devil athletics.

“When [Harris] retired, I was super excited about the opportunity,” Shumate said. “He will always be — at least in my mind — the voice of Duke. He actually really helped when I first got hired … one of the first things he said is ‘don’t try to be me, do your own thing.’”

The son of an army veteran, Shumate moved around a lot, but was born and went to high school in North Carolina. He never leaned any way as a child, preferring professional sports, but he was certainly aware of the magnitude of the rivalry. 

“It was always cool to see [Duke-North Carolina] games, to listen to those games and to hear Bob,” Shumate said. “You never dreamed that you’re gonna have a chance to call those games and be a part of those memories.”

The play-by-play voice is a complicated job. The difficulty is in describing the game without the listener seeing the score when they first tune in, a skill Shumate has honed after calling hundreds of games.

What are some of Shumate’s keys to the job? One is relying on the atmosphere to help contextualize the moment. For games including the Tobacco Road Rivalry, the environment speaks for itself, and the announcers are able to lean into that noise. 

“A big part of capturing the atmosphere is letting the crowd tell the story to some extent, particularly when you’re at Cameron, as deafening as it can be,” Shumate said. 

Shumate knows that he is telling Duke’s side of the story and deliberately identifies his target audience and caters his broadcasting style to fit their needs. He’s unapologetic about that.

“Anyone who’s ever heard me call a game knows I’m a homer,” Shumate said. “I tell Duke’s story. But that to me is way more fun than being neutral and just kind of toeing the line down the middle.”

“I speak to a very specific audience on the radio broadcast side of things,” he added. “These are Duke fans who are listening … they want to have the context of what this means for this team for this season.”

The flip side to that is understanding the important balance between showing emotion for the team and communicating what is happening in a game.

“In the moment, you have a job to do,” Shumate said. “So you’re not totally caught up in cheerleading or anything like that. You’re describing what happens, and you’re trying to build the energy throughout the play.”

This edition of the rivalry is shaping up to be a good one, and as Shumate knows better than anyone, anything can happen. 

“On paper, it looks like maybe more defensive flavor than people might expect, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all whatever happens in this game because this game is always crazy,” Shumate said. “It does feel like for the Blue Devils they seem to have some of their best moments in this rivalry over at the Dean Smith Center.” 

No matter the result, Shumate’s voice will ring loud and clear from the booth and create lasting memories for Duke listeners all across the world. 

Editor’s note: This piece is one of many in The Chronicle’s 2023-24 Duke men’s basketball rivalry edition. To read more, click here.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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