With each win of the famous 1991 East Carolina University football season, the popularity of the team on the field grew. So did a legend off the field as well.
The then-young phrase “and you can paint this one purple” gained traction with each win, and 26 years later it’s woven into the ECU community fabric. Just as important as the now-legendary phrase is the voice behind it, the voice of the Pirates, Jeff Charles.
Charles has been the voice of Pirate football and ECU men’s basketball games since 1988 and has twice been named the North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year. Charles also worked for WSB in Atlanta covering the Braves, Hawks and Falcons.
In Charles’ 30 years as the voice of the Pirates, there has been an endless amount of stories and moments which are valuable to him. None are more memorable for Charles than the 1991 football season.
ECU lost its first game but finished perfect the rest of the way and went 11-1 on its way to finishing the season ranked No. 9 in the country. A trip to the Peach Bowl followed, where ECU would defeat in-state rival North Carolina State University 37-34. Charles was there every step of the way, painting it purple each game.
“It was all this momentum, enthusiasm and excitement,” Charles said. “People just couldn’t wait for the next game to see if they’re gonna win the next one and we all got caught up in that.”
Out of all the games that season, the most memorable for Charles was the win over Pittsburgh in Ficklen Memorial Stadium. The Pirates won that game 24-23 after star quarterback Jeff Blake scored on a two-point conversion to win, and the atmosphere has since been unmatched, according to Charles.
“It was before (the) expansion of the stadium so it could fit 35,000 people standing around behind fences kind of like high school,” Charles said. “Now we’ve had crowds of 50,000, but those 36,000 people made more noise and it was the loudest, best environment that I’ve ever seen to this day.”
Not only have there been memorable seasons for Charles, but stand-out athletes as well. Charles named many football players he enjoyed over the seasons, including Blake, Robert Jones and Chris Johnson. Outside of football, Charles has seen great athletes, such as former dominant men’s basketball player Blue Edwards.
“He was a one man wrecking crew,” Charles said. “He was like the Michael Jordan of East Carolina basketball of the time, he could just take over a game himself and win the game.”
Over the course of 30 years in one place, someone such as Charles has seen a large amount of change in his tenure. Charles said that both Greenville and East Carolina don’t resemble the places he came to in 1988, because both have doubled in population and size.
Charles said the growth of social media has changed everything, with coaches and players under a microscope now. Charles also talked about the amount of money going around athletics now, due in large part to everything being on television and the size of television contracts.
Charles thinks back proudly of 1995, when he considered to be kind of the radio heyday. Back then, fans could call in to the station’s 800 number and listen to the radio broadcast of the game on their phone, and that’s how streaming was done. In 1995, East Carolina had more calls than any other team that was broadcasted in the nation, and Charles still has the sheet framed that has ECU at the top, over larger schools such as Texas and Ohio State.
Charles said with the growth of television and social media, it has also brought changes and new challenges to how radio needs to be done. Charles added he has incorporated Twitter and Facebook, among other things, to get listeners to tune in.
“That used to be a no-brainer,” Charles said. “They were gonna listen in because that was the only way they could get the game, but now you have to get creative to get people to listen in.”
Charles believes building a good following with longevity is still a good way to get listeners. Charles gives a lot of credit to the team he has worked with for a long time as part of his success.
That longevity also gives Charles expertise on ECU football and, as for the 2018 Pirates, Charles said he believes the staff has improved but there are still concerns. Inexperience at key spots such as quarterback and the defensive issues from last season are concerning, but the biggest key in Charles’ opinion is the health of the team.
“It’s not really rocket science but you have to stay healthy,” Charles said. “Especially at programs like East Carolina where there is a drop-off from the first team to the second team guy and another little drop off to the third team. So you have to keep your main guys healthy, that’s the most important thing.”
Charles said he believes getting off to a good start will be important for the 2018 Pirates more so than other years. That will also be important for head coach Scottie Montgomery, who has gone 6-18 in two seasons at the helm. Charles said that the fan base is recovering from the firing of Ruffin McNeill but that nobody takes the team’s success more seriously than Montgomery and his coaching staff.