Jim Hawthorne’s voice was made for big games like the one this weekend. But LSU’s former longtime sports broadcaster will happily watch the Alabama game from his living room.
Besides, he’s got to save that voice for something else.
Most LSU fans know Hawthorne for his play-by-play announcing, which earned him national and regional honors. Fewer know Hawthorne was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame over the summer.
Yes, the "Voice of the Tigers" can carry a country tune.
Between 1969 and 1982, Hawthorne performed at the Louisiana Hayride and was an announcer on country music radio station KWKH, and he still occasionally steps in front of the mic.
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“Totally unexpected,” said 75-year-old Hawthorne of his Hall of Fame induction. “I hardly knew how to respond to it. I have been — a whole lot more than most anybody knows — involved in music all my life. It was my passion outside of doing sports.”
During his 36 years calling multiple sports for LSU, Hawthorne regularly performed (and still does) at area country music shows such as Grand Country Junction in Satsuma. On trips to Tennessee, he’s sung at the Nashville Palace.
An Anacoco native, Hawthorne pursued both broadcasting and music as a teen. He was a play-by-play announcer for Leesville High School football games in 1962 and made his first recordings as a singer at the Big Bopper Studio in Beaumont, Texas.
He continued to produce records, broadcast Centenary College basketball games and work various roles at KWKH, whose 50,000-watt signal had a multistate reach. He is one of only three people to work at the station and both sing and serve as an emcee at the Louisiana Hayride, the country music venue that once featured musical giants like Elvis Presley on its stage.
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“I got to know and rub shoulders with an awful lot of the country music people,” he said.
Sports broadcasting, however, came first.
After doing play-by-play at his alma mater, Northwestern State University, Hawthorne came to LSU in 1979 to announce men’s basketball. He started calling Tiger football games in in 1983.
That’s a lot of football games — 34 of them involving the Crimson Tide, who the Tigers will battle on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. It’s always been a special game for him.
“In the beginning, it was the fact that LSU just didn’t beat them very much,” he said. “I just remember it was frustrating that LSU had such a hard time beating Alabama. That was even before Nick (Saban) came along.
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“I was there for a few games when Bear (Bryant) was there and some of the other Alabama coaches when they played the game in Alabama in Birmingham at Legion Field. That was a thrill to me, because the name Legion Field fell into Madison Square Garden category to me," he said. "It was a legendary place, and just to be there was a thrill."
Hawthorne said as the series went along, it became more competitive.
"LSU began to win their share. That’s what really makes a rivalry, when both teams hold up their end of the bargain. That began to happen.”
LSU had a 14-19-1 record against the Crimson Tide in games Hawthorne called — he doesn’t claim any credit for the turnaround — and at least one of the teams was ranked in the top 5 nationally in 16 of those contests.
Like many LSU fans, he recalls the 2011 games as his most memorable, with the No. 1 Tigers prevailing 9-6 in overtime during the regular season, and the No. 2 Crimson Tide winning 21-0 in the BCS national championship game rematch.
Unlike many Tiger fans, Hawthorne holds no grudge against the former LSU and current Alabama head coach.
“I’m one of Nick Saban’s biggest fans,” Hawthorne said. “He was always good to me. He was good to LSU. He was good for college football, period, and still is.
"I did the game when LSU played Nick’s Michigan State team in the Independence Bowl, and I interviewed him. I had no idea I’d be interviewing him a lot down the road.
“All of those little pieces there are woven into the LSU-Alabama thing. It’s just developed into something, and this year … that’s going to be something.”