By MASON SIEGEL, LSU Athletics Communications
There’s something about the true power of a voice. For generations of LSU fans, there is no more iconic, more golden voice than Jim Hawthorne’s.
Last Friday night, Hawthorne was awarded the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame Distinguished Honor.
Known as “The Voice of the Tigers,” from 1979-2016, Hawthorne served as the radio play-by-play announcer for LSU football, baseball and men’s basketball.
Born in Many, Hawthorne moved just south to Anacoco, in the sixth grade. He began his career at radio station KLLA as a senior in high school, serving as the play-by-play announcer for the Leesville High School Wampus Cats football team.
After graduating from high school, Hawthorne worked as a commercial radio broadcaster and DJ for KNOC in Natchitoches, while attending college at Northwestern State.
There, he befriended one of his greatest mentors, the late Norm Fletcher. Fletcher served as a play-by-play announcer for Northwestern State sports for four decades after working as a broadcaster in the US. Military’s Far East Network during the Korean Conflict.
“I loved him, he was like a big brother to me,” Hawthorne said. “If it weren’t for him, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
With Fletcher as his guide, Hawthorne began calling his first collegiate games, serving as play-by-play announcer for NSU men’s basketball. Hawthorne then moved to Shreveport, where he worked at KWKH, one of the nation’s top 50,000-watt stations, known through much of the country as a home to LSU football as well as for a popular country music program known as the Louisiana Hayride.
While at KWKH, Hawthorne was the play-by-play announcer for Centenary College men’s basketball. He had the opportunity to call games involving future four-time NBA champion center Robert “The Chief” Parish. Hawthorne also handled Texas League baseball games and World Football League contests.
With Hawthorne still living in Shreveport and working for KWKH, the voice of LSU football, John Ferguson, visited KWKH in search of a radio announcer for LSU men’s basketball. It was there that Ferguson requested an audition tape from Hawthorne. A few weeks later, Ferguson returned to Shreveport, where the two met for lunch.
While at lunch, Hawthorne asked Ferguson if the position for LSU basketball had been filled.
“Well, that depends,” said Ferguson.
“What does it depend on?” asked Hawthorne.
“It depends on if you’ll take the job or not,” responded Ferguson.
Hawthorne accepted the job, and his tenure as a Tiger had begun.
He began calling LSU men’s basketball games during the 1979-80 season. He went on to broadcast three NCAA Final Four appearances (1981, 1986, 2006), seven SEC regular-season championships and one SEC Tournament title.
Hawthorne covered some of college basketball’s most electrifying players, highlighted by NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and a host of others. Hawthorne was also the voice behind the winningest head coach in program history, Dale Brown.
Hawthorne’s success early success with men’s basketball led him to Tiger Stadium, where he worked alongside Ferguson for a short time before becoming the voice of LSU football. From 1983 to 2015, Hawthorne covered LSU’s 22 bowl games, six SEC titles and two national championships (2003, 2007).
Some of Hawthorne’s most famous calls on the football field include the “Earthquake Game” on October 8, 1988, in which the Tiger Stadium crowd’s reaction to LSU’s game-winning touchdown pass against Auburn registered on a seismograph on campus.
In 1984, Hawthorne – who played some college baseball at Northwestern State — became the first play-by-play announcer in the history of LSU baseball. With the arrival of coach Skip Bertman in the same year, LSU baseball rapidly transformed into a national power.
“To see it start as something that people came to because they didn’t have anything else to do,” Hawthorne remembered, “and seeing it develop into the incredible powerhouse that the baseball program became under Skip Bertman was just incredible.
“I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with him and for him. I don’t know if my career would’ve ended up the way it did had it not been for him.”
Hawthorne was the voice behind LSU’s first 17 College World Series appearances, six national titles and 11 SEC Tournament championships.
Of all the iconic calls over Hawthorne’s legendary career, no moment quite compares to the Warren Morris walk-off home run in the 1996 CWS finale to capture LSU’s third national title.
“That’s probably the most incredible feeling that I’ve ever had,” Hawthorne said as he recalled the moment. “I don’t know if there will ever be anything quite like it again. I’m just very proud to have been part of it.”
Hawthorne proved himself as one of the all-time greats in the industry. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Lindsey Nelson Award, an honor given to an individual who has exemplified a passion for broadcasting during his or her career.
In 2015, Hawthorne was presented with the Chris Schenkel Award in New York City. The award honors those who have lengthy, illustrious careers as college football broadcasters with ties to a particular university.
Hawthorne’s basketball accomplishments were recognized by the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches with their Mr. Basketball Award, and on June 25, 2016, he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.
Hawthorne credits his mother, as well as Norm Fletcher, for being integral parts of his success.
“Those two really laid the foundation for me to have had the career that I did,” he said.
The LSU Athletics Hall of Fame Distinguished Honor is icing on the cake.
“I’m very humbled by it,” he said. “It’s an incredible award with incredible recognition, and I’d always hoped I’d be worthy of it.”