Friday, January 31, 2014

Jack Nixon, Hall of Famer

Jack Nixon will be inducted into the New Mexico State University Hall of Fame on Saturday. It's a well deserved honor for Jack, who I consider a friend. Congrats.

LAS CRUCES >> Jack Nixon got his start in Las Cruces and he still can't say when or if he will retire in Las Cruces.
But in his 34 years as the Voice of the Aggies, the 63-year-old Nixon has certainly made a significant impact. On Saturday, Nixon will be one of three individuals inducted into the U.S. Bank New Mexico State University Hall of Fame during the Aggies' home game against Utah Valley University.
Nixon's career has spanned 34 years and includes stops in Tulsa, Denver and Poplar Bluff, Mo. But it's his work as the Aggies announcer that has included over 1,000 NMSU men's basketball games and over 400 NMSU football games that Aggies fans have come to look forward to.
"I'm really excited for him, he's such a great guy and a humble soul and those are the people who you want to be rewarded," said NMSU men's basketball coach Marvin Menzies. "In our seven-year journey so far, he's one of us. We feel like we all got something when he got it."
The Sun-News sat down with Nixon to discuss his time in broadcasting and his career as a broadcaster:

What makes a good play-by-play announcer in your opinion?
Nixon: Having a good education, being able to draw on a wide range of knowledge. Knowing sports is important too, but to be able to describe something, you have to have a good vocabulary. To make it real to people, you have to relate it to things that they understand in life. I think there are different levels to broadcasting. Some people will get some stuff, others will get other stuff. You also have to be able to think quickly. ... I have worked with some people who understood sports and the game better than I did but they couldn't express it in the timeframe.

At what point did you realize it was what you wanted to do?
Nixon: I remember I was really nervous. The first time I realized I wanted to was when I started working at the campus radio station. I went to Bradley University for two years. It was WRBU. It just went into the dorms and the fraternity houses. This was 1968. When I started that, it was so much fun. ... I wanted to pursue a career in this. That was the first time really in my life that I had something in front of me that I really wanted. ... There were two things that I really wanted to do. One was to be in a rock band, which I was in junior high and high school, and this. I played lead guitar (for The Shades) and I would teach the other guys the songs. We played little jobs for $30 for the six of us. It seemed like a lot of money in 1966. ... I didn't get to do play-by-play until I was at Kansas University. I had transferred there and was on the student radio station. There was a basketball game and the guy was horrible. I called the station and asked who it was. I asked if I could audition. I didn't have much experience as far as play-by-play but I had enough confidence from my other broadcasting. I felt like I knew how to do it. I got the chance and things worked out.

How did you identify your play-by-play style? Did other people influence you?
Nixon: I have to be honest, I stole my sign off from Jack Buck, who was the announcer for the Saint Louis Cardinals. ... There was a guy in Omaha named Joe Patrick. He was good but he also had a sense of humor about him. He took it seriously but he let you laugh about it. He also hosted the wrestling show. When I was 10 years old, that seemed like the ultimate. ... Chick Hearn as far as technically, to me he was the best that will ever be. I admired Howard Cosell's journalistic integrity. ... I got to meet him once. ... I always thought it was very important to not be head over heels homer guy. I don't think it hurts that people know that I'm on the Aggies side so to speak. I'm happy when the Aggies win and I don't mind if people hear that in my voice.

You replaced Tom Dillon at NMSU. What were your thoughts on him?
Nixon: We became friends. He was the guy that I had to be better then in my mind. He was a great broadcaster, but in my mind, I had to be as good if not better. You want people to like you. That's what broadcasting is. I wanted to establish myself in this career. I didn't want people to say, 'This is the guy that replaced Dillon.' I wanted them to say, 'This is the guy we like.'"

Why did you leave NMSU (in 1982-86)? What was the USFL like? Did you think you would return to Las Cruces?
Nixon: To answer the last part, no. There were some places I have been where I wouldn't want to go back and this wasn't one of them, but I felt like my career was going skyward. I think that's what everyone thinks. They had lost the rights to the (NMSU) games and I was facing a year when I wasn't going to be doing it here. I had some other things in my life that were really kind of bad. I was hanging around with some crummy people and was doing stuff that was not good. It was time to get out of here. I got a job with a news talk station in Tulsa and was going to do Tulsa games. I got there and found out I wasn't going to necessarily do Tulsa games. ... Tulsa was a bigger market and I kind of got the rug jerked out from under me. It wasn't as bad as I thought initially, but after nine months, they changed the format and everyone got fired. I moved back (to Las Cruces) and lived out in Vado. I felt really low as a person. Your ego is so tied into broadcasting and then I had to see people back here. I had to eat crow and deal with it. ... I moved back (to Tulsa) in October and went to work for the USFL. The thing in Tulsa was fun. It was new and Sid Gillman was our general manager. Doug Williams was our quarterback. Your job was to work for a pro football team. It was really exciting and then the team moved out of town and I was out of work again. ... A guy I had met through the league who worked with the Houston franchise said Denver had changed owners. They needed a guy to sell tickets. It was a job. I moved there to sell tickets and kind of hang on. I was depressed frankly. It wasn't as if I was on the verge of the network (in Las Cruces) but I had a thing going. ... I was their best salesman, but they took me out of that and I did the team's program and did all of their travel. It was an interesting job. ... The league goes out of business in 1985 and I went back to Tulsa. ...  A guy named Mike Ryan, who was a former (NMSU) SID, had moved (to Las Cruces) and was at NMSU administration (Herb Taylor's predecessor). ... It was KASK at the time. It was 103.1, which is now HOT. That's how I came back. That was in July 1986.

Now that you have had a Hall of Fame career here, do you see yourself retiring at NMSU?
Nixon: I don't know. People ask that all the time. I don't want to retire until I have to and I will know that I have to at the point where I can't do this at the level that I think is good enough. I would hate for people to say it used to be fun to listen to him. ... Lets say that I have a chance to go do this in Omaha where my family is. I would have to seriously consider it. Obviously at this age, if the KU job or the USC job probably won't look for a guy my age, but if they called and said we are going to pay you $200,000 a year for two years as the voice of the Jayhawks, it would be hard to say no. But I would leave here reluctantly if I ever had to.

How would say local radio landscape has changed?
Nixon: When I came here it was KOBE and Walt Rubens owned the station and we had a director and  I was one of the three reporters. There was a heavy news emphasis at the station. Walt was on the AP Board. Walt wanted to always get the story before the Sun-News. We had to have it first and accurate. ... Most of the programming now comes from satellite. Then the technology. You would have to play records and they had these cartriges that had commercials on them. It was inefficient but it was what you had then. It has really helped a lot. ... Every job I have had in broadcasting has involved news, either as a news director or a reporter. I enjoyed that. ... I think that true journalism, you are cynical about stuff but there is also an innocence in your view of it. Hopefully what you are reporting has a clarity that stands on its own. I'm very cynical, but to be a good journalist there are clear cut ideals. The Sun-News played a prank on me and I bit on it and was embarassed by it. ... That did happen and it was a mistake but I have made a lot of mistakes. Everyone does.

Where haven't  you been that you would like to call a football or basketball game from?
Nixon: A Bowl game. An actual Bowl game. I don't know that there is any really. I've done a game at Nebraska. A game at Kansas. In the Rose Bowl. There really isn't one as far as a facility.

Can you tell me one or two of the best NMSU football teams you have seen here?
Nixon: The ones where they had Mick Rodemeyer on the line. I think the best quarterback I saw was Buck Pierce. The best running back was Denvis Manns. Denvis was one of Jim Hess's players. Cody Ledbetter's last year, they were really exciting and had a good offense. When I started, Jim Bradley was the coach and they could never get over the hump. Gil Krueger won with his players basically. Probably Tony Samuels' teams. The one that went 7-5 (in 2002).

What would be your starting five basketball team and a coach if you like in your tenure at NMSU?
Nixon: Randy Brown, Steve Colter. There have been so many. Wendell McKines, Slab Jones and Billy Keys. That's not a true center, forward guard. A coach would be very hard. Even though Neil (McCarthy), even though his reputation was tarnished, he was a good coach. He was a guy who didn't respect you unless you stood up to him. And then you were his guy. He did a lot of nice things for me. When my sister was terminal as it turns out, I didn't know how to handle it and I called Neil and he gave me some really good advice. It was more common sense but it was something I was really caught up in the emotion. He was a good friend, to me. Coach Henson  knows so much about basketball and he was a super guy. I liked Reggie a lot. He was crazy but he was fun to be around. Marvin is probably the one I'm closes to. If I had to choose one, I don't know. I liked all of these guys. I couldn't choose one.

What does it mean to you to be recognized by the University as a Hall of Famer?
Nixon: It, on one hand validates my efforts. At the same time, I have a feeling inside. This speaks more to who I am but I don't know that I deserve this. It's more about me as an insecure person. I've worked hard and people compliment me on my work, which I appreciate and I accept. There is something that has to do with me that I wonder if this is right. That is more the insecurities that I have. It's one of those things you don't set out to do. ... I was extremely ambitious when I was 22 years old. I did pro football and college sports, which is a lot more than most guys get. For the people to say you have earned this status is tremendously humblling. It truly is hard to express. To say that, Lou Henson, Steve Colter, Denvis Manns, Charley Johnson. You are in the company with them. It makes you think hard about what you have done and it's tremendously flattering.

It's part of a weekend that also includes a number of NMSU hoops alums during the Weldon Drew Era (1974-85) that were honored Thursday. The list was headlined by Reggie Jordan and also included the following

Presley Askew (1957-59)
Robert Banegas (1962-65)
Greg Berry (Assistant coach 1975-85)
Raymond Brito (1967-68)
Dave Brunson (1979-80)
Scott Caton (1966-67, 1972-75)
Steven Colter (1980-84)
Cyrus Cormier (1975-79)
Albert Slab Jones (1976-80)
Notie Pate (1975-79)
Bob Porter (1947-51)
Gil Williams (1981-83)
Gerald Drake (1959-63)
Stewart Meerscheidt (1947-49)
Jeff Williams (1984-89)

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