Scientists tell us that a voice is the result of vocal cord length and thickness, muscle structure, exposure to environmental irritants, the shape of the ribcage, facial bone structure and dozens of other variables. They are wrong. A voice is made of something different. I don’t know precisely what it is, but I know that a voice is much more than merely pitch and tone. I know because Larry Munson taught me.
In broadcasting, as in football, balance is wildly overrated. Larry Munson realized this long before Mike Leach. He abandoned all pretense of objectivity, and we loved him for it. In today’s world of glossy, made-for-television broadcasters he’d probably have trouble getting a job. More than once since his departure from the booth I’ve heard the remark "they just don’t make them like Larry anymore." This is incorrect. Thems like Larry are still made, they’re just not employed. Because they don’t have non-regional diction, and they use "we" to refer to the home team, and they don’t ask the head coach tough questions with an eye toward getting a slot on that new ESPN college football show where Jesse Palmer and Kesha trade style tips while Desmond Howard and Mark May rattle off the product of somebody else’s research in the background. Larry Munson never, to my knowledge, wore too much hair gel and a $3000 custom-tailored suit. I’m not saying that made him a better radio man, but I am pretty damned sure it didn’t hurt.
Larry was a radio man, something completely different from Howard Stern and Mike Greenberg. Those are men who happen to be on the radio. "Radio men" are known by their names and remembered by their voices. Or at least they were when there were radio men still out there roaming the wild. Still, the voice was the thing. That’s why Larry Munson was introduced as "The Legendary Voice" not "The Legendary Jawline" or "The Legendary Foil To Craig James."
If that voice were a wine, we’d swirl it around, look at the legs, take a sip and note urbanely that it resonated with a a heady mixture of praire grass, Lucky Strikes, and foreboding. As with a fine wine, "the Legendary Voice" was a matter of taste. In his case, as with certain vintages, it just so happened that you’d have to be a damned fool not to recognize the unique quality of the thing when you were confronted with it. It didn’t have to be your favorite, but failing to at least concede that Larry was a singular property marked you as a clod unable to appreciate the finer things. Larry Munson was certainly not the only legendary sports broadcaster of his generation. Not even in college football. But he had a unique palate suitable for all sorts of occasions, though best enjoyed in his native environment. Just as the chianti simply tastes different in Italy while looking out on the vineyard at sunset, hearing Larry Munson on a handheld radio while sitting in Sanford Stadium was a singular sensory experience. I weep for the generations of Bulldog fans who won’t have that.
Much has been made of Larry’s trademark pessimism. I like to think Larry wasn’t so much pessimistic as he was realistic. It’s easy to forget that Munson watched an awful lot of subpar to average football from his perch. He watched slipups to Southern Miss, cataclysms against Kentucky, vanishings versus Vanderbilt, and even old-fashioned upsets against Ole Miss. Many of you watched it with him, and likely remember that many of those famous moments of unbridled joy were a direct reflection of a Bulldog Nation which, for a few giddy moments, had broken through the gloom.
It’s always seemed peculiar to me that we don’t remember all the times Larry was forced to sit through the waning moments of another loss to Spurrier’s Gators or Phil Fulmer’s Tennessee teams. There were years at a stretch when it appeared that we’d never again beat either. I entered college in the fall of 1996 and graduated in the spring of 2000. So those years are pretty keen in my memory. Yet Larry was always there, never really any more cynical than he had been the year before, though also never any more optimistic. His was a well-polished stoicism, a midwestern worldview that fit perfectly for a southern football fanbase accustomed to having it good, but not great. To winning a good bit, but only rarely winning it all. Thus when it all came together the man in the booth was justifiably excited. Some moments are worth breaking a metal chair over. And when they come along you have to savor them.
Even during the waning days of the Goff regime, when it appeared that the head football coach didn’t even want to be in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, I always got the distinct impression that there was no other place on God’s green growing earth that Larry Munson would rather have been than Sanford Stadium. I still feel the same way, at least to some extent because of him. And I’ll always owe him that.
Larry Munson said what we were thinking on countless occasions, several of which are well-known, but most of which have been lost to the sands of time. He was a plain-spoken poet, plying his craft in front of Bulldog Nation’s big campfire. We didn’t love Larry Munson because he was Pavoratti. We loved Larry Munson and will continue to love Larry Munson because he slid seamlessly into the two part harmony of our collective psyche, with a voice more like a beaten up Rickenbacker guitar with a slightly crooked neck and replacement pickups than a Stradivarius.
There are times when Brahms is the way to go, and times when everybody in the room just wants to hear some Skynyrd, and Larry Munson had a way of knowing which tune to call before anyone in the audience shouted. His call in Jacksonville in 1980 was far closer to the guitar solo from Freebird than it was to Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Still, as on so many other fall Saturdays, the Legendary Voice was pitch perfect. Until later . . .