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End of an era: Hirsch reflects on career
NATE HIRSCH 6 col col
Nate Hirsch, whose voice is synonymous with radio in Statesboro, ended his career in broadcasting last month after Georgia Eagle Broadcasting, Inc. finalized its purchase of seven radio stations from Communications Capital Partners. Hirsch, a former Communications Capital employee, wasn’t retained by the stations’ new owner. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    After nearly four decades of working in radio in Statesboro, Nate Hirsch’s career came to a halt last month after Georgia Eagle Broadcasting, Inc. finalized its purchase of seven radio stations from Communications Capital Partners. Hirsch, a former Communications Capital employee, wasn’t retained by the stations’ new owner. The abrupt ending comes a year after Georgia Eagle outbid Hirsch for the rights to broadcast Georgia Southern athletics, which effectively ended his 36-year run as the voice of the Eagles.
    Hirsch, who is synonymous with radio in Statesboro, has called all six of GSU’s national championships and helped the Eagle baseball team become the first in the nation to have its entire schedule broadcast. A New York native, Hirsch grew up in the Bronx before earning a broadcasting degree from Indiana State University in 1970. He worked briefly in Atlanta before a job opening at the radio station brought him to Statesboro in the fall of 1970. He eventually purchased the stations in 1980 and sold them to Communications Capital in 2004.
    Recently, he sat down with the Statesboro Herald to reflect on more than 30 years of radio in Statesboro.


    Q: How did you get your start in radio?
    A: It’s just one of those things. If I wasn’t going to play the sports, I was hoping to broadcast. I think growing up in the New York area, I was exposed to at an early age some of the top broadcasters in sports history — Mel Allen was probably my favorite. He did the Yankees while I was growing up. I was there when the Mets started and they had their crew with Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy. There were a lot of good broadcasters in the New York area. While attending ISU, I realized there are also a lot of good broadcasters in the Midwest.
    Q: When did you call your first game?
    A: Back in high school, I had a teacher who shot the video of the football games. He would take me with him, and I’d be up there with a tape recorder practicing and trying to do the games, though not very well.
    Then I was very fortunate because as a freshman and Indiana State they let me get right involved with the broadcast team. As a sophomore on, I was the sports director at the station.
    Q: In 1973, you called every GSU baseball game of the season making the Eagles the first team in the nation to have their entire schedule broadcast. How’d you facilitate that?
    A: They said if I could sell the games and we didn’t lose money on it, then we could do it. So I had to go out and sell the sponsors, which was a great experience for me to get into sales that way. We didn’t realize how things were going to go —that we were going to get into a regional in Starkville, Miss., then go to the College World Series. Ron Polk, the coach, was big on numbers and said we’d sold more season tickets than anybody in the country. He was going door-to-door selling them. We got all the games on the radio, but of course once we started it, several other schools said, “Wait a second, Georgia Southern can’t be the only one doing this.”
    Q: Which sport is your favorite to call?
    A: As I’m doing each one, I enjoy them. But I started out as a baseball fan. Baseball to me is just perfect for radio.
    Q: You’ve called all six of Georgia Southern’s national championships. Which one was your favorite?
    A: The first one, 1985, of course. The whole ‘85 season was such a surprise. None of us realized, including (late Eagle coaching legend) Erk (Russell), what was going to happen, especially the fact that Middle Tennessee had beaten us so badly during the regular season here. We got to host a first-round playoff game and beat Jackson State. Then we went to Middle Tennessee State the next weekend.
    What I remember most about that weekend is I did a basketball game on Friday because we were in a tournament at Chattanooga. Then we got up Saturday morning and we all drove over to Murfreesboro did the football game, where obviously Georgia Southern jumped out 21-0 on the No. 1 team in the nation then held on to win. Then I drove back to Chattanooga, luckily basketball had won so we were in the winner’s bracket. We played the late game Saturday and won the tournament, too.
    Then it was on to Northern Iowa. We went out to Cedar Falls, Iowa, and of course came back and won that game right at the end. So here we are going to the national championship in Tacoma, Wash. I said, “When am I ever going to go to Tacoma, Wash., again?” So I took my wife and all the kids. Little did we realize Georgia Southern would go back the next year, but no one knew that at the time.
    It was such an exciting thing to have happen. That was super.
    In 1986, we were just better than everybody. We lost the opening game to Florida and later to East Carolina, but we won all the rest of the games. We thought that was how it was going to be every year — we were just going to keep going to the playoffs.
    Q: What’s the biggest call you ever botched?
    A: That’s a good one…In the championship game of ‘85, where Frankie Johnson caught the touchdown pass. Everybody was so excited, (color commentator) Frank Inman was screaming over me, and I probably didn’t identify the reception as quickly as I would have liked to. First of all, Frank was yelling, “He caught it! He caught it!” Then I was trying to find (Johnson’s) number quickly. I would have preferred to have had a better call on that one, and that’s about as big as it gets, too.
    Q: If you could go back and rebroadcast any game in GSU history, which one would you relive?
    A: Boy…The national championship game in 1989, when we had the perfect season. We didn’t know Erk was going to retire the following week. I remember the comment I made on the air. We had 26,000 people at Paulson, and I said, “Folks, let’s savor the moment because it can’t get any better than this.” It could be as good but never better than winning the national championship at home. Lee Greenwood gave a concert after the game.
    Q: You mentioned the broadcasters you listened to growing up in New York. Who did you try to model yourself after or did anyone really inspire you?
    A: I have listened to a lot of good ones over the years, and I really liked a close friend of mine to this day, (Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play announcer) Joe Tait, who I worked with from 1968-70 when I was in college. He finally got to experience the NBA finals for the first time this year.
    Q: What’s one the biggest bonuses that come with being a broadcaster?
    A: I think where I’ve gotten spoiled, and I didn’t realize it over the years, is I’ve actually talked to so many people who were my heroes. (Hall of Fame pitcher) Warren Spahn was my hero. He was managing the Tulsa Oilers, they came in to play Indianapolis and they set it up for me to talk to him. I was supposed to do a five-minute interview, and I ended up doing 25. The tape might have even run out, but I just kept thinking of things. That was a big deal. I also got to interview Hall of Famers Hank Aaron in 1973 and Eddie Matthews. Those were special people. The fact that I got to meet a lot of people I looked up to was very special.
    Q: What part of your job did you enjoy the most?
    A: Probably the relationships with the coaches and athletes over the years. They’ve all been great.
    Q: What’s the toughest position you’ve ever been in while you were on-air?
    A: I’ve had a coach, (former Eagle baseball skipper) Ron Polk, resign on my post-game show in 1975. I didn’t know it was coming. We had a big series at home with South Carolina. (Former Yankees second baseman) Bobby Richardson was managing the Gamecocks, and NBC came in and did a whole pre-game segment for their game of the week. We won on Friday, but we lost the double header on Saturday, and it just looked bad.
    Polk comes up afterwards for the post-game and says during a 60-second commercial break, “I told you I’d always tell you first, so just ask me a question and I’m going to announce that I’m resigning effective the end of the season.”
    We came back from the break, and I said that Coach Polk wants to make an announcement. We were close friends, and I was visibly upset. The whole weekend was ruined.
I’ve also had a basketball coach, John Nelson, resign on the pre-game show in 1981. I had to ask the coaches to please not do that again. It’s an awkward spot.
    Q: Where did you get the passion you always had for your job?
    A: It was such a big part of my life. When I had bypass surgery in 1993, my first thought was, “How quickly can I get back and do the games?” Living in this community — I never dreamed I’d get to spend my whole adult life here, which has been great — it’s so easy to get caught up in the athletics. My wife would tell you stories about how I couldn’t go to sleep on a Friday night after Statesboro High lost a tough game. I’d be just miserable. It drove me crazy, and I had the same passion for Georgia Southern.
    I think after about 25 or 30 years, I finally grew up a little and said, “You know what, I don’t have a whole lot of control over this.” Joe Tait once told me, “Check the box score. See if you’ve had a hit, an error, given up any runs or made any baskets.”
    I always felt like it was my responsibility to be at the games. There were overlaps, but I’d go one place and try to catch up with the others. I just always felt like it was important to me. But I also felt like it was important for my listeners and everybody who cared about Georgia Southern. I was always close with the coaches. I just wanted them to win so badly.
    Q: GSU has had plenty of dynamic athletes over the years. Who was the most fun to call?
    A: I think for me personally, Tracy Ham. Adrian Peterson was unbelievable. But Tracy Ham did things that we didn’t realize at the time how great they were. Part of it was it was new. We didn’t know what we had then, but we actually had a pretty good group of athletes.
    Q: Which former GSU athlete was the best interview?
    A: That’s a tough one. Wide receiver Monty Sharpe (1983-86) was always funny. He wore No. 1, and he’d always say, “Nate, it’s good to see ‘ya. I’m Monty Sharpe, No. 1 in your program, and No. 1 in your heart.” There were so many good ones over the years. That whole group with Steve Bussoletti (1988-91), Giff Smith (1987-90), and recently Victor Cabral (2001-04). There were several who were pretty much always going to tell you how it is.
    Q: What are your top three most memorable moments in GSU athletics? If you can narrow it down.
    A: The 1985 football national championship has to be the first one. No. 2, in basketball in 1983, Eric Hightower hit a shot at the buzzer to beat Arkansas-Little Rock on their floor on a last-second shot fading away from the corner. I went nuts. We had won the Trans America Athletic Conference and were going to the NCAA tournament for the first time. That was a pretty big deal. For baseball, going to the World Series in 1973 was great, but probably the most memorable was in 2000, coming back to win the Southern Conference tournament when no one was expecting it. We didn’t have any players on the team. Coach Rodney Hennon had to dismiss a bunch of guys, and we only had about 16 players and six pitchers. That one will always be special because of what they had to put up and endure to get through the season.
    Q: You’ve witnessed GSU establish itself in Division I and win national championships. What do you feel like the next step for Eagle athletics should be?
    A: I think most people would like to see them explore the possibility of moving up. I don’t know if the timing is going to be right. Timing will be everything as to when and if we make a move up.
    Q: What are you going to do with your free time?
    A: So far, I haven’t had a lot of free time, and all of a sudden, I’ve had a couple of opportunities pop up. I’d rather not talk about them right now, but it could be very interesting. I may know a lot more in the next month.
    I’d really like to thank all the high school and college coaches and athletes I had a chance to work with all these years. I’d do it all over again.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.