Whaddaya Got, Loran?
‘Just a kid from Wrightsville’ became beloved by national sports fans through his radio broadcasts and writings
By Don Rhodes | Photos by Evermore Photo Co.
U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts had a big year of 1960 when he won the presidential election. But it was a pretty big year also for Loran Smith of Johnson County, Ga, just south of Sandersville.
He attended his first Masters Tournament in April 1960 thanks to an extra badge from a classmate named Carey Williams Jr., and in June was elected captain of the University of Georgia track team.
The deal with the Masters was that Smith could have the badge for the day of the final round if he would drive Williams to the Augusta National Golf Course.
Williams would become the owner/editor of the Herald-Journal newspaper in Greensboro, Ga., and Smith would continue to consecutively cover the Masters for six decades without missing a tournament.
Smith later would observe, “I’m just a kid from Wrightsville, Georgia, who grew up reading about big-time sporting events. I never imagined I’d be fortunate enough to go to any.”
Other than Smith, the only big name celebrities identified with Wrightsville apparently are UGA football legend and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker and six-terms U.S. House of Representatives member James Roy Rowland Jr.
Six decades after watching Arnold Palmer defeat Ken Venturi by a stroke in 1960 and win his second Masters’ Green Jacket, Smith never has lost that love of watching big-time sporting events.
“Nothing comes close [to the Masters],” Smith later would write, “except, perhaps Wimbledon and the Kentucky Derby. There is a glory and grandeur with all three championships which is unmatched.”
He also hasn’t lost that love of covering big-time sporting events for his worldwide readers through his regularly online-posted columns and a steady stream of books.
Those include “Glory, Glory” with the late author and humorist Lewis Grizzard; “Dooley’s Dawgs” with UGA coach Vince Dooley; “Between The Hedges” about UGA’s first 100 years of football and “Let The Big Dawg Eat,” a collection of tailgate recipes authored with his wife of 59 years, Myrna.
The cookbook was turned into a sequel called “Let The Big Dawg Eat … Again!” with famous television cook Paula Deen writing in the foreword, “Whaddaya got? Well, let me tell you what Loran and his wife Myrna have got: a tailgating cookbook that anyone would be proud to cook from any Dawg-gone day of the week! I encourage y’all to ‘hunker down’ with one of these recipes, because I know you’ll treasure them for years to come.”
Smith isn’t quite sure just how many books he has authored.
“The five Masters’ books [Smith did for the Augusta National Golf Course] are sort of annuals,” he explained in a phone call for this Augusta Magazine article. “So I don’t count them. I think there are 16 or 18. I’m not really sure.”
Smith’s latest hot off the press book is “Whaddaya got, Loran? Dispatches From Georgia” published by Mercer University Press in Macon.
The preview in the fall/winter catalog calls it “a collection of the best columns from the legendary UGA Bulldog sportscaster, columnist and Georgia Sports Hall of Famer.”
That pretty much sums it up considering Smith’s wide range of media hats.
The title of the new book comes from the catch phrase that legendary radio network sportscaster Larry Munson used on Georgia Game Day Saturdays high up in the stadium press box to “throw the microphone” over to Smith watching the action close-up on the field sidelines.
In the recent phone call for this article, Smith was asked if the catch phrase Munson used may have come from the usual question asked by the staff at Athens’ world-famous Varsity restaurant: “Whaddayouhave?”
Smith laughed and replied, “I don’t know if Munson ever went to the Varsity, but he came along in the ‘50s so surely he did. Larry was the quintessential character. He was old fashioned. I think it was just his impulsive reaction [to say ‘Whaddaya got, Loran?’].
“We didn’t have the technology for me to wear a headset and use a boom [overhead] mike like you see everybody now doing,” Smith recalled. “If I had something to say, I would stand up on a bench, and they knew from my hand signal that I had a comment to make.
“We came up with a head set contraption that made me look like I was something coming out of a “Star Wars” movie. It had a lot of wires,” he stated. “I went in the locker room at Ole Miss one year, because I thought my head set might attract lighting. So I went inside the locker room and took the headset off.”
Munson died in Athens in 2011 at 89 after a battle with pneumonia. His memorial service at Sanford Stadium reportedly drew some 3,500 fans.
The website georgiasports.blogspot.com has posted this as one of the classic exchanges between the two:
Larry: “Whaddya Got, Loran?”
Loran: “Well, I’m on the sidelines here with [UGA player, later NFL player] Charles Grant. Charles, you’re from south Georgia. You like boiled peanuts don’t you?”
Loran: “Well, back to you, Larry.”
Larry: (Pause) “Third and Six ...”
HIGH SCHOOL RECOGNITION
The readers of The Augusta Chronicle first learned about Smith in August of 1956 when The Chronicle published a photo of Smith with Jim L. Gillis Jr., chairman of the Georgia Soil Conservation Committee, “examining a growth of kudzu at the State FFA-FHA Camp in Covington.”
Smith had won the $50 district prize awarded through the Future Farmers of America for a soil and water management project on his family’s farm.
Life on that family farm, near Harrison just off Georgia Highway 15 between Wrightsville and Tennille, was a tough one growing up in the 1940s with the home having no electricity or indoor plumbing.
Yes, he really did know about kerosene lamps, baths in metal wash tubs and two-hole out houses.
He loved checking books about baseball out of the Wrightsville library. His connections to the outside world also were his family’s radio (listening to the Grand Ole Opry over WSM-AM on Saturday nights) and their subscription to the Dublin Courier-Herald newspaper.
Many years later, Smith would write about his backstage visits to the Opry often thanks to his friend, legendary Opry star and UGA journalism school alumni, Bill Anderson.
“Never thought I’d have a radio presence in my life and could never have imagined I would work with Larry Munson, whose voice I first heard over WSM, the station of the Opry,” Smith recalled. “Those days on the farm make me realize how fortunate I have been and how important it is to grow up with radio, an imagination and a curiosity.”
In our phone conversation for this article, Smith additionally observed, “I’ve speculated often, are you born with a curiosity or can that be developed? I don’t really know the answer to that, but I’ve always had a curiosity.
“There’s a difference between having a curiosity and wanting to know how things work and being nosey. I don’t want to ever to put my nose in somebody else’s business.
“There are so many things you can do in this country,” Smith added speaking of his own experiences coming from a self-described “austere” childhood. “You can succeed by just watching and keeping your nose clean. But you can enhance it with education, curiosity and a desire to learn.”
Just a couple of months before winning the FFA conservation award, Smith had taken his first trip out of Georgia with his 1956 Wrightsville senior class traveling on a Trailways bus to Washington, D.C., and New York City.
They saw a Major League game between the Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians at Griffith Stadium and visited with U.S. Representative from Georgia Carl Vinson in the District of Columbia.
And in New York City they rode to the top of the Empire State Building and saw Mickey Mantle play at Yankee Stadium.
Back home, Smith wrote a series of stories about the trip for the Wrightsville Headlight newspaper headlined “Seniors in Wonderland.”
Smith loved being close to nature on his family’s farm and planned to study entomology in UGA’s College of Agriculture. But his love of sports changed that major to journalism with his classes being on a different hill of the university.
From his early writings in the Wrightsville newspaper, his by-line began popping up regularly in the Red & Black college newspaper, then published by the UGA journalism school, and the Athens Banner-Herald.
He began knowing sports legends as close friends with one of the first being Forrest “Spec” Towns, born in Fitzgerald, Ga., and reared in Augusta.
Towns graduated from the Academy of Richmond County and earned a track scholarship to UGA in 1933 as a high jumper. He would win a gold medal in the high hurdles at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, with a record time.
Those were the same track games where German dictator Adolph Hitler saw Black runner Jesse Owens of Ohio prove that athletics have no racial limitations.
Towns became head track coach at UGA in 1938 and would stay in that position until his retirement in 1975. He led the Bulldogs to 21 SEC outdoor titles and five indoor events.
When Towns died in Athens of heart failure at 77 in April 1991, Loran Smith as usual that spring was in Augusta covering the Masters Tournament. Towns was buried in the Carlton, Ga., Cemetery, located between Comer and Elberton.
“I drove over in the morning,” Smith said of attending the funeral, “and after the service drove back to Augusta.”
In his office, Smith has a piece of the trunk of a tree that was grown from a seedling taken from the Black Forest in Germany.
Towns, along with other Gold medalists at the 1936 Olympics, were given oak seedlings from the Black Forest by Adolf Hitler.
Dorothea Stegeman, wife of UGA Athletic Director Herman Stegeman, is said to have taken care of the seedling on the way back from Berlin. The Stegemans had accompanied Towns on his history making trip.
“Spec told me that he saw a bunch of the other athletes throwing their saplings into the sea [on the journey back to the U.S.A.],” Smith related. “The seedling brought back by Dorothea Stegeman was planted behind the north stands of Sanford Stadium.”
When the stadium seating was expanded some 30 years later in 1967, the now-grown tree was dug up and replanted near Stegeman Coliseum which had opened in 1964.
“The buildings crew late in the day didn’t make the hole big enough (to remove the tree), and the dumb asses cut the roots off,” Smith said.
“That tree died, but William Tate, our colorful dean of men, got in touch with the German consulate in Atlanta and got a replacement tree from the Black Forest. It didn’t survive either, but a sapling from that replacement tree did survive.”
And part of the trunk of the tree grown from the replacement tree is now a treasured part of Smith’s office because of its unique history. Smith has been twice to the Berlin stadium where Towns won his gold medal and gazed in awe at Towns’ name on a wall of the stadium.
“I just love history,” he said. “I go to Europe every summer, but haven’t been the last two due to Covid. If something goes wrong health wise, I want to be here.”
BECOMING PART OF UGA SPORTS LIFE
Smith started becoming a regular part of UGA sports life when Dan Magill, legendary UGA tennis coach and sports information director, began giving Smith a chance to write media releases.
Those initial assignments grew into additional duties with Smith becoming the assistant sports information director, business manager of UGA athletics and executive director of the Georgia Bulldogs clubs.
From print media Smith expanded into radio broadcasting; originating the first live football locker room show in the Southeastern Conference. He became Georgia’s first sidelines announcer in 1974 and 10 years later originated the popular Tailgate Show heard over a network of stations.
When the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame was created in 1956 (originally as the Georgia Prep Sports Hall of Fame created by the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association), Smith got involved with that organization based in Macon.
He became chairman of the organization and in 1997 was elected to the Hall of Fame.
And while attending to his UGA sports information duties, Smith has been able to continue his love affair with print journalism through authoring his books, magazine articles and regular newspaper columns.
Just by going to google.com, you can type “Loran Smith” in quotes in the search window and bring up many years of his online-posted articles based on his first-person encounters.
They include such tidbits of fascinating insights including visiting Masters champion Gary Player on his ranch near Johannesburg, South Africa; having lunch with baseball legend Stan Musial at the restaurant Musial owned in St. Louis, Mo.; remembering when he first heard about future Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker from Smith’s hometown friends in Wrightsville; and crossing paths with Gods of Sports like Ty Cobb and Satchel Paige.
And often, he even weaves magical stories about his fellow sports writers including his late radio co-host Larry Munson and the Giant of Georgia Sports Journalism Furman Bisher.
“Furman never short changed the reader,” Smith said in our phone call about The Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist who died in 2021 at 93. “You could disagree with what he said or take issue with his position, but he never gave you a column that was sloppily written or that was written without a lot of research.
“I thought Furman was really good at capturing the essence of a person’s personality. He was very entertaining. People just couldn’t wait to get the paper and read his column.”
The same can be said for Smith’s regular sports coverage which sometimes extends to such ordinary people Smith finds fascinating.
“I really appreciate the exposures that I’ve had,” he said in our call. “Sports has been a great avenue to meet people. I’ve never dropped the ball but in a couple of instances; one of which was that I never really sat down with [golf legend] Bobby Jones who was the kind of fellow who would have sat down and taken the time to have done it.”
Recent years have found Smith being honored in two major ways in Athens, the town he has loved for more than 60 years.
Since 2000, The Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support at 240 Talmadge Drive has provided North Georgia residents with educational workshops, individual and group counseling and access to a library of cancer resources and information at no charge.
It’s a community service that hits close to home for cancer survivor Smith who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989.
The branch of the Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center is financed entirely through donations to the Piedmont Athens Regional Foundation whose popular fundraisers include the In Their Shoes Walk and 50 Shades of Pink Affair.
More recently in 2017 the new lobby of the new $30 million University of Georgia Indoor Athletic Facility was dedicated to Loran and Myrna Smith.
The wording posted in the lobby about the couple reads:
“Georgia’s most gracious ambassadors for over 50 years, Loran Smith, the Southern gentleman, and Myrna, the Southern Lady, welcomed guests from all over the world onto the UGA campus and into their home always carrying the banner of the University of Georgia.
“A career Bulldog, Loran hailed from Wrightsville, captained the 1960 Bulldog track team while earning his journalism degree, and never left.
“The most versatile of all Bulldogs, he served as Assistant Sports Information Director, business manager, Executive Director of the Georgia Bulldog Club, accomplished author of more than 20 books, syndicated columnist and radio host, founder of the pre-game football Tailgate Show, the Bulldogs’ first in-game sideline reporter, and Georgia’s most accomplished fund raiser in the name of athletics.
“Loran served as chairman of the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. Myrna came to Athens from Covington and received two degrees from UGA.
“Exhibiting the essence of grace and hospitality, none have been greater standard bearers for the Georgia Bulldogs than Loran and Myrna Smith.”