Staff writer Madi Kirkman caught up with Jones Angell, the play-by-play radio announcer for UNC's football and men's basketball teams, to discuss what it's like to be a commentator in a pandemic, the changes that COVID-19 has brought to his work, the future of fan attendance and more. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Daily Tar Heel: So how does it feel to be the voice of the Tar Heels in the middle of a pandemic?
Jones Angell: Just the position itself is something that I really cherish, and I'm excited every day to get the opportunity to do it. There have certainly been challenges with the pandemic and the situation that we're all going through. I felt like so much of the work for the first game was trying to figure out how to do things that are pretty normal in our day-to-day life that weren't easy to do anymore. We had to figure out different ways to do things and make sure that we were fulfilling our obligations to our fans. It has been a challenge, just like it has been for so many people, but I've been really excited that we continue to find new ways, different ways, unique ways to get stuff done.
DTH: How is your current day-to-day work impacted by COVID-19?
JA: It has certainly changed the way we do a podcast, and it's changed the way we do interviews. For the most part, we tried to do a large majority of our interviews in person and that, for the moment, has slowed way down. We went almost exclusively either on the phone, Skype interviews or Zoom interviews. We have tried to do a lot of different stuff, maybe in a different way than we've done in the past. For example, we have a news desk kind of set up in our studio, so if we want to do something sitting at a desk with a nice background, we can do that. Well, we can't have multiple people at that desk anymore.
DTH: So how is the pandemic affecting your role as such a strong voice in the North Carolina sports community?
JA: We try to make sure that we're doing the right thing, setting the right example, that we're doing everything as smartly and safely as we can and it's not just lip service. It's the way we're actually doing things, and so I do think that's important. The only time that we don't do mask-wearing is, I do not wear one when I'm on the air, but everybody else in the booth does have one on. So we try to make sure that we follow all those guidelines and make sure we're as safe as possible.
DTH: How have you seen all these restrictions due to COVID-19, especially no fans, impacting the game-day environment?
JA: I think you just lose that festive atmosphere around the game. When you go to the game itself, you kind of fall into the game, and so you're paying attention to what's happening on the field, and that's still pretty traditional. Of course, there are some differences. The way the Tar Heels are spread out on the sidelines, the coaches wearing masks. There is crowd noise in the stadium, they do have a PA announcer and they do play music, so some of those things feel like game day, but there's no doubt that you're missing the 51,000 people that should be in there with you. I'm glad we’re able to play in some form or fashion, and I give a lot of credit to the ACC and to the individual teams that are doing this as safely as possible, but gosh, it'll be great to have some form of fans and hopefully before the season's over, we can at least have some small percentage joining us in the stadium.
DTH: You're responsible for conveying the game day atmosphere to your listeners, so how will you continue to do this despite all the restrictions?
JA: I think number one is you tell the truth. I mean you have to one, give the facts of what is happening. This is why nobody's here, these are the regulations, this is what the team is doing differently as far as the different protocols that we have to follow. In addition to telling the truth and going through the protocols and making sure people understand everything that's happening. Then I think you absolutely have to give your personal touch on it, your personal opinion on it, because we're one of the few people who are there.
DTH: How are you using your voice to spread positivity during this difficult and unprecedented time?
JA: Yeah, I think you do try to stay positive, and there's a lot of things to be positive about. I mean, the fact that we're even getting to play I think is a positive. The fact that the players, the staff, the coaches, the people around the program are all taking such individual ownership of not only their health but the health of their teammates and in turn allowing Carolina the opportunity to play. I think that's positive on a lot of different levels, both on the individual level and the accountability and the discipline that they're showing, and on a teamwide level to be able to try and do this.
DTH: Looking to the future when fans are finally allowed to attend games again, how do you think the games will be different, and how do you plan to express that to your listeners?
JA: Well, I don't think we're going to have to express it, necessarily. They'll be able to hear it. I mean, I think there is an inherent noise that comes with people being at the game, and that will come across in the broadcast, that will come across in the energy that you feel in the game. I hope that we still bring that same energy to our broadcast even if there's zero people in the stands. We want to still have that same level of excitement and energy for what's happening. But I think it's just human nature, it's natural to feel that a little bit more when 50,000 people go crazy when you catch a touchdown in the last minute of the game to go ahead.
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