Chris Blair remembers the unmistakable cheers that used to come screaming through his car radio.
He always knew what game it was: LSU football.
“We’d listen to Death Valley on the radio. There’s something different when you hear the roar at an LSU game,” he said. “It’s a literal roar.”
Soon, he’ll be part of it.
LSU hired Blair, the Georgia Southern play-by-play man, to replace Jim Hawthorne as the Voice of the Tigers, news the school announced Saturday afternoon. Blair is scheduled to arrive in Baton Rouge in December and will start his LSU radio career with the 2016 baseball season.
He was told late this week that he received the job, something he calls “exciting, awesome and unbelievable.”
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva called Blair “a rising star” in the radio business. Those close to Blair know the 40-year-old as a “radio station rat,” a kid who grew up working and playing at his father’s Kentucky radio stations.
Blair climbed the radio totem poll to get to his current spot. He’s been calling Georgia Southern football, men’s basketball and baseball for a decade.
He has an unusual signature touchdown call while broadcasting the Eagles’ games: “Put an Eagle six on it!”
Georgia Southern has branded the phrase, using it as hashtags and in game prompts. Will he bring it to Baton Rouge: “Put a Tiger six on it”?
“I’m not sure,” he said during an interview Saturday from his home in Statesboro, Georgia. “It’s almost like a Georgia Southern thing. ‘Touchdown LSU’ says all you need to say.”
Blair’s booming calls can be heard in online audio files. He’s clear, colorful and, in many ways, has a similar pitch level to Hawthorne.
Blair is not afraid to belt splashy calls either.
“Open up the shirt and put on the cape!” Blair boomed on a scrambling run.
“Katy, bar the door!” he said during a touchdown scamper.
Hawthorne, 71, announced in February that he will be retiring from the job as Voice of the Tigers after the 2015-16 basketball season, sparking the search for a full-time announcer that LSU hasn’t undertaken in more than 30 years.
Hawthorne will call this year’s football season before calling it quits after basketball.
The Advocate reported on June 9 that Blair, 40, had interviewed for the position. He was one of eight finalists who interviewed with a selection committee on campus June 8-11.
Others included local radio personality Charles Hanagriff, LSU’s Voice of the Lady Tigers Patrick Wright, longtime local TV broadcaster Lyn Rollins, Pelicans play-by-play man Sean Kelly and Northwestern State play-by-play person Patrick Netherton.
Two previously unreported, out-of-state candidates included former Houston Astros play-by-play guy Brett Dolan and Liberty’s play-by-play personality Alan York, a source said.
Blair rose above all of them.
“We had many quality candidates, and Chris just stood out,” Alleva said in a statement from the school.
Blair, who plans to call Georgia Southern football games this fall, is familiar with LSU and used to listen to Hawthorne’s calls through WWL radio while driving across the Carolinas and Georgia. He’s spent his life following the Southeastern Conference and grew up in the basketball-crazed state of Kentucky.
His first childhood memory of LSU: former basketball coach Dale Brown.
“That was my first exposure to LSU,” Blair said. “I always liked coach Brown. He was one of the few guys who was pretty animated on the bench. I took note of that. I always thought that was fun.”
Some of Blair’s first memories came inside the DJ booth at his father’s radio stations. He’d shuffle through albums, ask questions and listen intently to radio calls.
It was his life.
“It was second nature. Go to school and then go to the radio station,” he said. “My mother was always, ‘Do anything but radio. Don’t get into radio.’”
He started as a teenager calling high school football games. The family moved to South Carolina, where he graduated from Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina. His first post-college jobs were at Lander and the Clemson Tiger Sports Network, where he idolized former Clemson play-by-play man Jim Phillips.
For 10 years, he worked for stations in Greenville and Columbia, South Carolina. He split his time broadcasting, mostly high school sports, and selling advertisements. He moved up to general manager, a position that took him mostly off the air.
And then Georgia Southern came calling.
“Somebody came to me and said ‘Hey have you heard of Georgia Southern?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they run that crazy offense,’” Blair said referring to the Eagles’ run-heavy flexbone scheme.
A few months later, he was calling Georgia Southern games and helping build a radio network for the athletic department.
“I got back to doing why I got in the radio business,” he said.
He’ll be doing it now in Baton Rouge: in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, at Alex Box Stadium and, of course, in Death Valley.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.