Cueing a voice-over introduction, Donal Ware bobs his head while punching computer keys and adjusting a microphone.
It takes only a second for him to slip into a high-pitched, rapid-fire radio voice where sentences pour from his mouth.
"Two more weeks before the start of the college football season," he says. "Thanks for joining me on another edition of 'From the Press Box to Press Row.'"
Ware, 35, sits in a high-back chair in a studio office in his Fuquay-Varina home. His equipment rests on a custom-made wooden bar top, a fitting place for someone whose preoccupation is talking about sports.
In Ware's case, it's black college sports. His radio program celebrates its fifth anniversary this week, a major milestone for a niche show that focuses mostly on sports news involving historically black colleges and universities.
The one-hour show airs in Raleigh every Saturday on St. Augustine's College's WAUG station and is syndicated nationally on 30 stations, airing in such major markets as Washington and San Francisco.
"I'm not saying that we've made it," Ware says, "but we've come a long way."
Ware never played college athletics and approaches his work partly from a fan's perspective. Thursday night, he wore a blue Washington Redskins jersey while recording the show. Behind him, he had tacked a Shaw jersey to the wall, along with college basketball posters from previous seasons.
Nearby sat a shelf stuffed with media guides and footballs.
But his true exuberance came out in the interview he conducted with Prairie View A&M quarterback K.J. Black. "Talk a little bit about coach [Henry] Frazier. He's one of those intense guys, a player's coach. ... [T]alk about him and your relationship."
"There's not a lot of shows that deal with black college sports," says Maurice Stanfield, host of WAUG's "The Big Mo Show." "He'll talk about the important facts about these schools thateveryone else is missing out on in the Triangle area. ... This show gives black college sports a window to our world. And it gives us our perspective."
Dad was football star
Ware's connection to black college sports dates back to his father's athletic career. Donald Ware played cornerback for Howard University in the late 1960s and was later inducted into the historically black institution's sports hall of fame.
A native of Silver Spring, Md., Donal Ware remembers a Howard-Delaware State football game he attended as a boy. The stadium was packed, as fans braved bitterly cold weather to root for their teams with fervor that could match any school's fan base, Ware recalls.
"It was electric," he says.
Ware graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in telecommunications. That led to a job in Greensboro as sports information director for N.C. A&T State University from 1999 to 2001, followed by a year with N.C. State as an assistant sports information director.
A hard sell, at first
Ware first starting thinking about a radio show in 2002, when he started working as Shaw University's sports information director.
After three years, he left Shaw to start the show.
"I thought there was a need," Ware says. "There was an absence in the market."
He talked about that need to everyone he came in contact with, often giving them the same pitch,
"It would be the only nationally syndicated call-in radio show that focused on black college sports," he says. "That was the sell."
It was a hard sell at times. Over the years, Ware estimates that he's invested $25,000 of his own money to keep the show afloat.
A risky, ambitious move
"I remember talking to him about his goal and vision," says Kyle Serba, sports information director of N.C. Central University. "It was quite ambitious. It was risky for him, with a goal of prompting institutions that are often overlooked and underrepresented. I thought it took a bit of courage."
The show first aired on WCBM in Baltimore and expanded onto six stations. St. Aug's WAUG was among that original group. The call-in format has since changed from a live show to a taped program where Ware records interviews throughout the week.
Ware also served as general manager of WAUG for two years but parted ways with the station in October.
"If it wasn't for WAUG, the show wouldn't be on the air," he says. "I'm extremely grateful to WAUG."
Ware no longer has to pay for air time. Instead, he's busy collecting sponsors and securing guests. Allstate insurance recently became the show's primary national sponsor.
While black college sports make up 75 percent of his content, Ware also talks about professional sports and has interviewed notable black sports figures such as Serena Williams, Michael Strahan, Tony Dungy, Jim Brown and Buck O'Neil.
He has broadcast shows from the Super Bowl, Major League Baseball's All-Star game and the NBA finals.
College games his love
But what gets him talking the fastest are black college events such as the CIAA basketball tournament in Charlotte or the Bayou Classic football game featuring Grambling State and Southern universities.
He says local sports fans of NCCU and St. Aug's, among others, have often restored his faith in the program with their zeal. He recalled one caller asking whether Winston-Salem State University's band played during a game with Wake Forest in 2004.
"I didn't have the answer," Ware says. "I couldn't help him, but where else would he find out?"
"It's thorough coverage, well produced. That's most important," says Jeff McLeod, associate commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the 13-team league that includes Shaw, St. Aug's and 11 other historically black colleges and universities.
Last season, Ware's program began partnering with the Black Athletes Sports Network to manage a weekly coaches poll for black colleges in the NCAA's Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Shaw football coach Darrell Asberry has fielded questions on Ware's radio program. He says the show delivers an important service to hungry alumni bases. He feels the love.
"I don't think Donal looks at his role as a job," he says. "He has a passion for it, a burn for it."
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