Norm Hitzges changed radio, but also changes lives
Dramatic changes in technology have given people unlimited ways to be entertained, and sports is no exception.
Yet with podcasts and shows like SportsCenter, the art of radio has seemed to have lost its spotlight. There are, however, people who are powerful enough to keep radio alive, and in the world of sports radio, Norm Hitzges is the perfect example.
Hitzges was hired to work at KDFW 4 in 1972 by news director Eddie Barker, the anchorman who broke the news to the world that President Kennedy was dead. The station was eventually sold and Barker and Hitzges were let go. According to Hitzges, the new network had different ideas about the show. Consultants came in to view the programming and did not like Hitzges’ look on TV.
“I was fired on February 27, 1975, and I will always remember that day,” Hitzges said.
Wayne Thomas succeeded Barker as news director and told Hitzges that he would never be a major market talent. After two years, Newsweek in New York hired Hitzges to cover sports, which he was hesitant about.
“I didn’t want to leave Dallas, but nobody gave me a really good job here,” he said.
In June of 1980, Hitzges came back to Dallas to work for WFAA-AM, where he began his successful career in radio.
Hitzges often receives praise not only for his knowledge of sports, but for the enthusiasm he brings on a daily basis. He is often compared to the legendary Dick Vitale because of his spirit. For somebody like Hitzges, long-lasting friendships are often made.
One of the most successful sports reporters in Dallas-Fort Worth is Mike Doocy, the weeknight sports anchor for KDFW channel 4. Although they do not work for the same organization, Doocy and Hitzges have spent years appearing on each other’s shows.
“Norm has appeared on ‘Sports Sunday,’ our weekly sports show,” Doocy said. “It means a great deal to me that he comes on our show because it gives great credibility.”
While Hitzges has helped with Doocy’s on-air show, he has also been of assistance off the air.
“He has helped me a lot with establishing myself in the market,” Doocy said. “His friendship means the world to me.”
It is not out of the ordinary for people with success to be charitable, and Hitzges is no exception. Hitzges was introduced to the Austin Street Center, a homeless shelter located near Fair Park in Dallas, in the late 1970s. He met Father Jerry Hill, the first executive director of the shelter, and admired what he was doing to help those who were less fortunate than others. To help the organization, Hitzges created the Norm-a-Thon.
“The Norm-a-Thon is a marathon broadcast,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were getting into, but we wanted to support Austin Street.”
Originally, the marathon was 24 hours long, but it now runs 18 hours.
“It is amazing that he can go 18 hours,” Hitzges’ wife, Mary Danz, said. “The first time I went I was in disbelief.”
To Hitzges’ surprise, the first Norm-a-Thon raised $52,000. Success has rapidly increased, with the 2014 marathon raising over $400,000.
“It gives such a warm feeling to know you’re making a difference, and that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Hitzges said. “We should be doing things like this, we can help people who need it.”
This August will mark 40 years of working in radio for Hitzges, and he is the only sports personality to be on the radio for that long. With changes in technology, he is forced to adjust, but according to Danz, he keeps part of his career old-fashioned.
“He is old school and writes on a yellow pad,” she said. “Most people research things on the computer, but Norm’s computer is in his head.”
It was unthinkable to have a radio station devoted completely to sports when Hitzges first started his career. He has undoubtedly changed the landscape of radio, which has earned him several honors.
Over the years, he has been inducted into the Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the Dallas All Sports Association, and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. To Hitzges, these accomplishments are nice, but they aren’t what his job is about.
“I don’t like being put on a pedestal. We do our jobs, and I’m proud of the work I’ve put in,” he said. “I wound up with a good job in the city I love, and the city has been so good to me.”
The old saying goes that you never have to work a day in your life if you love what you do.
“I have been blessed for the last 40 years because runs like this don’t happen in this world. I am thrilled to do this and to still keep doing it,” Hitzges said.
Danz agreed, adding that it is remarkable to make a living by being passionate about sports.
When looking back at Hitzges’ firing from channel 4 in 1975, Mike Doocy sums it up in the simplest way possible:
“It wouldn’t be the first time a consultant made a mistake.”