LSU's next radio announcer has experience stepping in for a legend

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The scope is larger now, but Chris Blair already has experience with what he will attempt in replacing Jim Hawthorne as LSU's radio play-by-play announcer.

In 2006, Blair took over at Georgia Southern from Nate Hirsch -- the man who had called every Eagles football, baseball and men's basketball game in the previous three decades -- so he understands that it is not easy to replace a legend. The announcer must build that relationship over time, just as Hawthorne did in 30-plus seasons calling LSU sports.

"It's a scary and intimidating prospect to follow in somebody's shoes, but you just have to be yourself," Blair said. "I've always felt like if you're yourself and you're prepared for the job and passionate about what you do, most fans that listen will respect you for that. And then over time you're able to get more people.

"They don't necessarily love you, but they won't be against you because they realize this guy loves that he's here and he loves LSU and he loves doing what he's doing and you can tell every time he's on the air that he is having the thrill of a lifetime."

Hawthorne went through that process in the early 1980s, when he also stepped in for an LSU legend. He went on to call LSU's two BCS championships in football, six College World Series titles in baseball and three Final Fours in men's basketball.

As Hawthorne can attest, Blair and the LSU fan base will develop their own rapport over the years.

"I've had a lot of people tell me, 'I never thought they could replace John Ferguson, but they did.' The same thing is going to happen with Chris," Hawthorne said. "I hope that people will look back favorably on when I was here, but Chris is going to do a great job. It won't take long."

Blair will call football, baseball and men's basketball at LSU, just as Hawthorne did. His debut will come on Feb. 19 with the baseball team's season opener against Cincinnati. Hawthorne called his final LSU baseball game in June at the College World Series, and Tuesday's AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl will be his final football call. He'll hand over basketball duties after Johnny Jones' team ends its season in the spring.

Blair's first official day at LSU was Dec. 7, and he has used that time to observe Hawthorne calling games and interacting with fans and co-workers. That has been a rare opportunity for the Tigers' new announcer.

"Typically the way this thing works is you get a new play-by-play guy and his introduction to the fan base is at Lambeau Field taking on Wisconsin [the football team's 2016 opener], which is a big stage and a very deep end to be thrown into," Blair said. "So it's really to my advantage, and it's worked out wonderfully."

That was a smoother introduction to LSU's radio network than when Blair first joined Georgia Southern's announcing team. Not only did he have to win over listeners accustomed to Hirsch's calls, but the Eagles' traditionally successful football team also stunk under first-year coach Brian VanGorder.

"When you take over for a guy who called every major play of all three sports and you go 3-8 in football, you're bad, the coach is bad, the popcorn's bad, the tickets are awful, the parking's horrendous. Everything's bad," Blair laughed.

However, that experience was great preparation for what awaits him at LSU. Yes, the audience will be decidedly larger, but Blair believes the fanaticism at Georgia Southern and LSU is comparable.

"There are a lot of schools where, 'Hey, we gave it a good shot. The guys played hard. We'll get them next time.' That never comes out of anybody's mouth at Southern, and I dare say I've pretty much figured out that never comes out of any LSU fan's mouth, either," Blair said.

After 10 years at Georgia Southern, Blair jumped at the opportunity to call games for a major-conference heavyweight like LSU. As an observer of the college sports broadcasting industry, Blair said LSU play-by-play ranks alongside Notre Dame, Texas, USC and UCLA as jobs that "once [announcers] really think about where they would like to be to have the job, LSU's going to be somewhere on that list."

"If you're trying to hit the top of your profession, you want to go to a place that is under a lot of scrutiny, you want to go to a place where people pay attention to it," Blair said. "And when you think about LSU, it's a program that LSU fans pay attention to it 24 hours a day, but non-LSU fans also pay attention to what happens at LSU. That, to me, talks about the power of this university."