The Voice. That recognizable voice.
A voice that tells you whether fourth-and-goal results in a touchdown and a win, whether a late 3-pointer is good or not, and calls the walk-off chance for victory or defeat.
That’s what “The Voice” does for multitudes of fan at colleges and universities all over this country. He is the one who paints the pictures for those listening on radio or these days a favorite mobile device.
For more than one generation of fans at LSU, Jim Hawthorne is the only “Voice of the Tigers” they’ve known. He’s been the soundtrack of our lives to know the good and bad of LSU sports. What LSU fans have adored is that soundtrack has told you a lot about how Hawthorne has felt about what has happened to the Tigers, and they usually respond in kind.
For his long-standing work in painting word pictures for well over 50 years at places like Northwestern State, Centenary, the Texas League, the World Football League and since 1980 (many years calling the three major men’s sports on the campus) at LSU, Jim Hawthorne will be one of two recipients of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism as presented by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Saturday, June 25, at the annual induction ceremonies for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Under LSWA rules, Hawthorne and co-award winner Bob Tompkins will be officially considered members of the Hall of Fame.
What would you expect to be Jim’s reaction when told he was one of the recipient of this year’s award?
It is a phrase heard often over the past 36 years first at LSU basketball, then football and baseball, as Hawthorne became the voice of LSU Tiger fans. When he said it, nine times out of 10 it meant something good was happening for the Tigers.
Some of those good things at LSU included:
22 bowl games in football;
Two of LSU’s national championships (2003, 2007);
Six SEC Basketball titles;
Three NCAA Final Four appearances;
17 College World Series appearances;
Six national championship victories in the CWS.
All part of thousands of play-by-play broadcasts, coach’s radio shows and more that Hawthorne was at the microphone for.
“It’s just really be overwhelming, humbling, people that want to take a picture or ask me to sign something or just come up and say ‘hi,’” Hawthorne said. “Some of the college kids that come up and talk to me, they’ve never heard anyone else do an LSU game. I’m the only one that they know as the voice of LSU. That’s neat to know that — that you’ve been around that long.”
Hawthorne took over calling the basketball Tigers at the start of the 1979-80 season as LSU was entering one of its greatest eras under coach Dale Brown. He picked up the Tiger baseball broadcasts at the time when Skip Bertman was taking the program to national heights.
In football, he has seen the best of times and some not-so-good times in his years, but his dream of calling a championship year for LSU happened twice. He has been at the microphone to document the amazing plays of Les Miles.
In his final year, the National Football Foundation awarded Hawthorne the Chris Schenkel Award.
“Jim Hawthorne has had an exceptional broadcasting career with the Tigers, spanning more than 30 years,” NFF President/CEO Steve Hatchell said. “We are pleased to honor Jim Hawthorne with the 2015 NFF Chris Schenkel Award as he finishes his remarkable career.”
The Chris Schenkel Award recognizes individuals who have had long, distinguished careers broadcasting college football with direct ties to a specific university.
Hawthorne, at the press conference in New York City on the day of the event, related his love of LSU football was a part of his life.
“As a youngster growing up in the state of Louisiana back in the 1950s, listening to LSU football on the radio every Saturday night was one of the highlights of the week for me,” Hawthorne said. “I never had any idea that I would be fortunate to be the ‘Voice of the Tigers.’”
“I can say the first football game I broadcast for LSU was in 1984 and prior to a little bump in the road this year I was able to do 387 consecutive games without missing a game. There have been so many great highlights in that period of time, including the opportunity to cover three national championship (games). I have been exceptionally fortunate to represent LSU, the state of Louisiana and of course, the Southeastern Conference in doing that. I’m very honored and humbled to be here.”
Moderator Chris Cotter of ESPN knew exactly the coach Jim had to broadcast and asked Jim about staying on his toes in case Miles pulled one of his fake field goals or “trick plays.”
“That’s what makes it fun,” said Hawthorne. “You have to be able to cover those spontaneous moments. I think that is what makes radio broadcasting a challenge and part of the reason I have enjoyed it so much.”
That little bump in the road in November 2015 was a planned doctor’s visit that turned into heart bypass surgery. Now Jim had missed games in basketball and baseball because of conflicts in other sports, but football, no way. When it was announced Jim would miss the first game of November against Alabama, it wasn’t just statewide news, it was front page news that spread across the Southeastern Conference and beyond.
So while all football fans were concerned with LSU losing three straight games, most were also worried about their play-by-play announcer. Hawthorne returned for the final game of the season against Texas A&M in one of the most-pressure packed nights in a long time in the stadium when no one knew if Miles was coaching his final game at LSU. Hawthorne was at his best in one of the most dramatic LSU wins in recent times.
With a bowl win, Hawthorne had an undefeated final season calling LSU football.
The native of Anacoco in Vernon Parish, a few miles from the Texas state line, has made listening to the Tigers a habit, and applause came from everywhere for Hawthorne.
There have not been many in the past 60 years to have called all three major sports at a university — football, men’s basketball and baseball — as the primary announcer, and the number in Division I doing that today is shrinking.
Besides the Schenkel Award, earlier recognition came in the form of the Lindsey Nelson Award. His basketball accomplishments were recognized by the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches with their Mr. Basketball Award. On June 25, he receives the pinnacle of Louisiana recognition.
His broadcasting career began with the Leesville High School Wampus Cats, where according to a story in the Baton Rouge Advocate Hawthorne on his first broadcast said he “sounded like a cross between Gomer Pyle and Donald Duck.”
He then in college came under the mentorship of the late Norm Fletcher (the former voice of the Hall of Fame and a DSA winner) at KNOC in Natchitoches, and called his first college games after hanging up his glove as an aspiring baseball player for the Demons.
Hawthorne moved to KWKH in Shreveport. He called World Football League games with a guy rebounding from bad luck in Miami, Larry King (yes, that Larry King). Hawthorne broadcast Centenary College basketball for a decade and called one of the school’s all-time greats, 7-foot center Robert Parish, who went on to an illustrious career with the Boston Celtics.
Hawthorne left his broadcast chair with his legacy forever entrenched and with his own bobble-head that would play the call Jim said is his lasting memory: the Warren Morris home run in the 1996 CWS finale, the walk-off homer that won LSU’s third baseball national title.
“It is easy for me when they ask, ‘What’s your favorite call you’ve ever made?’ And that’s Warren Morris’ home run, because there’s never been anything close to it,” he said.
Now retirement isn’t going to be all sitting at the house for Hawthorne and his wife, Carol. The two have been countless places around the world on vacation and shortly after Jim’s final game, the pair spent much of April touring Australia and New Zealand.
Just last month, he signed on his latest project, a Sunday night radio show of “classic” country music “This is Country With Jim Hawthorne” from 6-9 p.m. each week on 100.7 FM The Tiger in Baton Rouge.
When Tom Shatel of the Omaha World Herald wrote about Hawthorne prior to his final call at the College World Series last June, he penned: “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore: a broadcaster who does three major sports and has for more than 30 years. Amazing career. Interesting life.”
“I have no regrets,” Hawthorne said recently. “It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve had more thrills than I deserve.”
And one more honor awaits, in Natchitoches. The little kid from Anacoco enters the doors of the sports Hall of Fame and as he does, one hears his classic closing line, “Thank you and Good Night!”