Above the Norm
BUFFALO, NY - Norm Hitzges ’65 has lived and breathed sports since growing up in Dunkirk, NY in the 1950s. “I listened to Detroit Tigers games on the radio and wrote to the baseball players to ask for autographed pictures,” says Hitzges.
He never imagined how far his passion would take him.
This August, the host of Dallas’ popular sports-talk radio program, “The Norm Hitzges Show,” will mark 40 continuous years on the airwaves. It’s the longest streak of any talk show personality in a major American market.
“I love what I do,” says Hitzges, who has covered nearly every major sporting event, from the Super Bowl to the Kentucky Derby. “I love talking to people. I love sports, being at games and conversing with athletes.”
Hitzges is a pioneer in both radio and television.
He launched the first all-sports morning-drive talk show in America. And when ESPN began to televise major league baseball games in 1990, Hitzges became the first non-athlete to work as a network sports analyst, since Howard Cosell. “One of the highlights of my career was interviewing Cosell on-air during the 1980s,” he notes.
Hitzges “cherishes that moment” - almost as much as his Canisius education.
“The opportunity to attend Canisius on a scholarship was the greatest gift of my life,” says Hitzges.
He credits Canisius for introducing him to his passion for traveling, which he did extensively as manager of the men’s basketball team. Hitzges also praises his advisor, Rev. Clayton Murray, S.J., for getting him to Texas from Buffalo.
Hitzges planned to go to Columbia or Syracuse for graduate school but “this wonderful, short, snowy-haired man said ‘No, were I a young man again I would go somewhere I’ve never been.’” Hitzges walked out of Father Murray’s office “into about a foot of snow and started to reconsider,” he laughs.
Hitzges studied journalism at the University of Texas and while there, broke into the broadcasting business. He interviewed CBS’ Eddie Barker, renowned for being the first to report the death of President John F. Kennedy. Barker later offered Hitzges a tape test, which led to his first sports-casting job at CBS in Dallas. “It was pure dumb luck,” laughs Hitzges, whose storied career includes stints announcing for the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Mavericks.
Good fortune enabled Hitzges to get his foot in the door. Hard work made him a success. He learned to out-hustle other reporters and broke stories. Hitzges also acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, which he married with his infectious enthusiasm that continues to draw listeners today – even in a changing industry.
“The business is increasingly entertainment-oriented,” says Hitzges. “Listeners can access so much more information online so their expectations are higher.”
Hitzges always rises to the occasion. The National Broadcasters Association twice recognized “The Ticket” with its Marconi Award for “sports station of the year.”
The humble Hitzges uses his status and stature only to give back to the city that sustains his career. During his annual “Norm-a-thon,” Hitzges broadcasts for 18 consecutive hours to raise money for Austin House, the city’s homeless shelter.
“I am grateful for all of the doors that were opened for me over the years,” he says. “This is a way for me to contribute to a place that truly changes lives.”