Ricker College student Dale Duff was preparing to broadcast his first Houlton High School baseball game for the local radio station, WHOU, alongside friend Mark Fitzpatrick.
“We broadcast the game from the back of my father’s pickup truck beyond the fence,” Duff recalled with a smile. “The only problem was there was no headset microphone. We had a mic stand and the wind was so bad, we had to surround the microphone with a cardboard box to cut down the wind.
“Someone took a picture of us from the side and it just looked like we were talking into a cardboard box,” Duff said with a chuckle.
The 59-year-old Duff has compiled an impressive resume during 42-plus years of broadcasting. His career began working the board at WHOU for Saturday night’s “Country Jamboree” radio show.
“I used to try to sneak in songs that were quasi-country like ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ by the Eagles or some Gordon Lightfoot songs,” Duff said. “I was in high school. I really didn’t want to play country songs at that stage.”
Duff loved sports growing up, but he realized at an early age that he would never be a varsity player.
“One of my friends, Andy Mooers, was spinning records at WHOU, and he knew I was into sports. He told me I should talk to people at the station about helping out with basketball games,” Duff said.
He began keeping statistics for play-by-play man Bob Blanchette, and he would flash player stats to Blanchette during broadcasts. Blanchette finally put the microphone in front of him and let him relay the information to the listeners.
“I would also do pregame interviews and anything I could to get on the air,” said Duff, who was one of six children raised by the late Carl and Mildred Duff.
He is grateful to Blanchette and WHOU for enabling him to hobnob with broadcasting veterans from other stations, such as Dewey Dewitt, Eddie Owen and Don Clark.
Duff eventually enrolled at Ricker College in Houlton as a communications major, and he said he sunk his teeth into broadcasting after realizing that’s what he wanted to do for a living.
“I was a much better college student than a high school student,” said Duff, who benefitted from the energy and progressive vision of professor John Kohler, who had heard a lot about Duff and promptly sent him to Presque Isle to cover Maine Sen. William Cohen, a Republican.
Ricker used a cable access network to do a half-hour newscast four days a week. Students took turns doing news, sports and weather.
They also broadcast Ricker athletic contests.
“It was great for me,” said Duff, who graduated in only three years, at 19, and landed a summer job with WLBZ-TV in Bangor as a news reporter.
He became a news anchor and eventually the sports director. He replaced Bill Green as the sports anchor after Green was promoted to sister station WCSH-TV in Portland.
“He is a really hardworking guy who knows his facts,” Green, the host of ‘Bill Green’s Maine’ on Channels 2 and 6, said of Duff. “The volume of sports he has done is tremendous. I had my doubts about him coming over to sports from the news side but he took the bull by the horns. They didn’t miss me at all [at Channel 2].”
Duff covered myriad events from plane crashes to the University of Maine’s 1992-1993 national championship hockey season.
He handled play-by-play chores for a variety of sports at WLBZ from 1978-1993, including UMaine hockey, the first ever televised state championship Little League broadcast, which was his idea, and the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
He became increasingly intrigued by radio talk shows and WFAN in New York became the nation’s first sports talk radio station in 1987.
Six years later, best-selling author Stephen King announced plans to make WZON-AM in Bangor Maine’s first 24-hour sports talk radio station. Duff became the program director, and he was one of the hosts of a local early-morning segment.
“I was always kind of a morning person. I decided to give it a go,” Duff said. “A lot of people thought I was crazy to give up TV.
“It was a terrific challenge to start it up as the first sports station in Maine but through all the trials and tribulations, we got it done and did some pretty good stuff along the way, too,” Duff said.
He is a six-time Maine Sportscaster of the Year, a 13-time recipient of the Associated Press’s best radio sportscast and a nine-time recipient of the best radio play-by-play award.
Duff, who has been an adjunct professor at the New England School of Communications in Bangor since 1988, co-hosted a longtime sports talk show with Clem LaBree on WZON before they were fired by King in May 2012 because the station was losing money.
Duff was disappointed by the firing and the way it was handled, but he said “I didn’t waste much time thinking about it.”
The resilient Duff landed on his feet, becoming a brand manager for Townsquare Media where he is the jack-of-all-trades for sports radio 92.9 FM The Ticket and still hosts a morning sports talk show, “the Morning Pitch,” with Bryan Stackpole weekdays from 6 a.m.-8 a.m.
He still is doing play-by-play.
“That’s my favorite part of the job. Play-by-play is the most fun because you never know what’s going to happen. I like being out at games or out at practices talking to sports people,” said Duff, who prefers that to “cutting a promo or writing a script.”
His career highlights including doing the play-by-play for Maine Central Institute’s 20-14 overtime win over Lisbon in the Class D football state final in November; Joe Campbell’s putback at the buzzer to give Bangor High a 57-56 victory over heavily-favored Deering in the Class A basketball state final in 2001; the Washburn girls’ fifth straight Class D basketball state title in 2015; and covering the 1993 UMaine hockey championship although ESPN did the play-by-play for the Frozen Four.
Duff, who has five children with wife Nora (Woodcock), also has been the president of Bangor East Side Little League for over a dozen years. He said his late father taught him the value of being involved in the community.
“He gives a huge amount of time to Little League,” said Toby Nelson, who was a student of Duff’s at NESCOM and who worked under Duff at WZON.
Nelson’s son, Joseph, plays in the Bangor East Side program.
Nelson calls Duff a “local legend.
“He is somebody to look up to. You can learn so much from him, his preparation, his knowledge and his understanding of the community. He cares about what he does,” Nelson said. “He knows a ton of people and hasn’t really slowed down. He has done it all.”
“Dale is one of the good guys. He got me started in broadcasting over 20 years ago,” Sports Ticket colleague Jim Churchill, the play-by-play voice of the UMaine baseball team, said.