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Teel: Touchdown Tech! Bill Roth returning as radio voice of Hokies football

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Bill Roth, the acclaimed voice of Virginia Tech football for decades, is returning to the post after a seven-year absence.

The Hokies and their media partner, Learfield, will announce the move next week prior to Tech’s April 16 spring game, sources said. Roth and former Hokies receiver Eddie Royal are calling the spring game for ACC Network.

An 11-time Virginia Sportscaster of the Year, as voted by his peers in the National Sports Media Association, Roth is not resuming his former roles as Tech’s director of broadcasting and the play-by-play lead for men’s basketball. Learfield is vetting candidates for that dual position, sources said.

Jon Laaser resigned as the Hokies’ director of broadcasting and voice of football and men’s basketball in January. He and his wife, Renee, have subsequently founded a nonprofit, Laaser’s Ladybug Society, dedicated to mental-health concerns.

Tim Bickford, a Learfield producer and play-by-play announcer, worked the remainder of basketball season on an interim basis.

Laaser, then calling Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball games, replaced Roth at Virginia Tech in 2015, when UCLA hired Roth to head its football and basketball broadcasts. But Roth left Los Angeles after a year, the buzz of working in the nation’s No. 2 media market trumped by the pull of his Eastern roots.

A Pennsylvania native and 2013 Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Roth has since freelanced for ESPN and Westwood One, assignments he plans to continue, sources said.

Roth, who worked briefly at Marshall before going to Tech in 1988, called his first regular-season Hokies football game in nearly seven years last fall when he worked the Sept. 2 opener against North Carolina for Westwood One’s national radio broadcast. Eight days later, partnering with Royal, Roth was back at Lane Stadium for the Hokies’ contest versus Middle Tennessee State on ACC Network +.

After moving back East, Roth also discovered a passion for teaching, as a professor of practice at Virginia Tech. Modeling the program after Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, from which he graduated, Roth founded Tech’s sports media and analytics concentration, part of the Department of Communication’s multimedia journalism major.

Sports media and analytics has since become a major under the new School of Communications, and Roth intends to continue recruiting, teaching and mentoring aspiring sports journalists.

The SMA program’s most accomplished graduate is Evan Hughes, a Patrick Henry High graduate and the 2021 winner of the NSMA’s Jim Nantz Award as the nation’s top student sportscaster. Virginia Tech and Learfield have since hired Hughes to call Hokies’ baseball and women’s basketball games.

Returning to his post atop Lane Stadium also will reunite Roth with Mike Burnop, Tech’s radio analyst since 1983 and a former Hokies tight end. Roth and Burnop are dear friends, and both have homes in Florida, but they have not worked together since Tech football’s 2015 spring game.

The duo, and Roth’s “Touchdown Tech!,” return when the Hokies open Brent Pry’s first year as coach Sept. 2 at Old Dominion.

The 2022 season will be Burnop’s 40th in the booth, and in 2012, Tech commemorated 25 seasons of Roth-Burnop broadcasts — they teamed for 337 consecutive football games — by endowing a scholarship in memory of Lynda Roth and Ellen Burnop. Lynda, Bill’s sister, and Ellen, Mike’s wife, died in the summer of 2012, both from lung cancer.

Further evidence of Roth’s status at Tech: When he left for UCLA after 27 football and basketball seasons with the Hokies, the school created another grant, the Bill Roth Student-Athlete Endowed Scholarship, awarded annually to an athlete interested in communications.

Roth and Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock declined to comment on the impending announcement, but in 2015, Babcock unintentionally foreshadowed this day.

“Bill forever will be a Hokie,” Babcock said, “no matter where he works.”

Forever, indeed.

To paraphrase his signature opening: “From the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies and Bill Roth are back on the air.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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