BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles frequently had to share the spotlight on his radio call-in show this fall.
LSU’s football coach was still the featured attraction, but many fans also wanted to speak with Miles’ retiring co-host, Jim Hawthorne, whose final football game as LSU’s radio play-by-play announcer will be Tuesday’s AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.
“I remember sitting at my radio show and having caller after caller congratulate him on a great career and what he’s meant to them,” Miles said. “Thank goodness he was with us.”
Many in LSU’s listening audience know only Hawthorne’s voice as the sound of Tigers athletics. He has called LSU men’s basketball since the 1979-80 season, added football in 1983 and baseball the following spring. Hawthorne was behind the microphone for both of LSU’s BCS national titles in football (2003 and 2007), three Final Fours in men’s hoops and all 17 of the baseball program’s appearances in the College World Series -- including six NCAA titles.
He was there for LSU’s last-second football win against Kentucky in 2004, a game later dubbed the “Bluegrass Miracle,” and for the 7-6 win over Auburn in 1988 where Tigers fans cheered Eddie Fuller’s game-winning touchdown catch so loudly that it registered on a campus seismograph. The game fittingly went down in LSU lore as the “Earthquake Game.”
Hawthorne’s favorite call came in 1996, when Warren Morris won the College World Series by lifting a two-out, two-run homer just over the right-field fence to give the Tigers an 8-7 win over Miami.
“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,” Hawthorne said. “Warren Morris is two outs, runner at third, down a run, and the guy hasn’t hit one all year -- and he hit the first pitch, so you didn’t have time to set it up. So that’s the most emotional call without question.”
This final football season has been a Morris-like final trip around the bases for the longtime Voice of the Tigers.
“It’s just really been overwhelming, humbling, people that want to take a picture or ask me to sign something or just come up and say hi,” Hawthorne said. “It’s almost like I’ve been in the military. So many of them come up and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I’d never thought of it that way, but they’ve done that. I mean from little guys to guys my age.
“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 has already gotten his most heart-wrenching football call out of the way. Although health complications knocked him out of commission for three games in November, he was able to return for the Tigers’ final home game of the regular season, a 19-7 win against Texas A&M. That allowed him to bid a proper farewell to LSU’s football fans from the home radio booth alongside color analyst Doug Moreau and the rest of the Tigers’ radio team.
“It was the last time in Tiger Stadium, plus I had 10 members of my family there,” Hawthorne said. “So that was pretty emotional. Even though the same crew will be working the bowl game, it was almost like Doug and all the crew, we all were kind of like signing off.”
After the Texas Bowl, Hawthorne will be down to one final sport: the one he started with at LSU. He’ll be behind the microphone for the men’s basketball game at Vanderbilt on Saturday, and for the rest of the season for Johnny Jones’ team.
In accordance with his retirement plans announced in February, Hawthorne’s final baseball game was the Tigers’ 8-4 loss to TCU in a College World Series elimination game in June. Chris Blair, who will replace Hawthorne as the lead announcer in all three sports, will take over as the baseball play-by-play man for the season opener against Cincinnati on Feb. 19 and will inherit football and basketball when their next seasons begin.
“When you look out at the landscape and look to places where the radio personality is a part of the program and a part of the history and the lore, LSU’s one and Jim’s one where he’s always been that kind of guy,” Blair said. “People live and die with what comes out of his mouth. In this day and age, not all people have that. I think the reason is because he has such a following and a reputation and he’s a legend, if you will, that it’s intimidating to try to go fill those shoes.”
That’s what Blair will attempt to do over the course of the next year, however. Meanwhile, Hawthorne has some elaborate vacation plans ahead. He and wife Carol have visited more than 30 countries, and they have already booked a 19-day trip to Australia and New Zealand once basketball season ends.
“We’ve been almost every place in Europe. We’ve been to China, we’ve been to Russia, we’ve been to Africa, went to Morocco,” Hawthorne said. “So I’m just interested in Australia and New Zealand. I’ve heard New Zealand’s the most beautiful country on the planet.”
Even in retirement, Hawthorne won’t abandon the radio game entirely. Listeners in Baton Rouge will still be able to catch Hawthorne on the airwaves from time to time. He plans to go back to his roots as a country music disc jockey, hosting a Sunday night show where he will play classic country hits, and he has also agreed to appear on another local show called “Grand Country Junction.”
“I’m not going to just be sitting around on the patio drinking coffee, but I’m going to do a lot of that,” Hawthorne joked.
Once his football and basketball duties end, Hawthorne will have plenty of time on his hands, not just for coffee drinking and traveling, but for family. He looks forward to seeing more of his wife and kids, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and 91-year-old father.
As caller after caller reminded him on Miles’ radio show this fall, that opportunity will be well deserved after decades of loyal service to LSU’s listening audience.
“I guess once I’ve done my last broadcast and then clean out my office and here I am sitting on the patio, that’s probably when it’s going to hit me: ‘Hey, I’m not going back to work,’” Hawthorne said. “But I have no regrets. It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve had more thrills than I deserve.”