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Don Fischer Embarks on 50th Year as Radio Voice of IU

Writer / Ryan Kennedy
Photography Provided

Legendary radio broadcaster Don Fischer begins his 50th year as the radio voice of Indiana University football and basketball this season, but he almost didn’t make it through his first game.Don Fischer

“To tell you how much of a fool I was the first game that I did for IU, because I was from Illinois and I’d always heard ‘the University of Illinois’ – I wasn’t even thinking about Indiana University, and that would be the only thing you could call it because obviously that’s what Indiana University is,” Fischer says. “They don’t want to be called University of Indiana three times in the first half of the first game that I did for IU. I called them the University of Indiana, and the phones at our radio station lit up like a Christmas tree. It was that bad. I thought, ‘There’s a chance I might get fired after my first gig here.’”

A native of Rochelle, Illinois, Fischer, by his own admission, wasn’t a great student. It’s not that he wasn’t smart – he just didn’t like school. College was out of the question. After he graduated from high school, Fischer wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He had several jobs. In the eight months after graduation, Fischer says he worked five different jobs. Finally, he got a job as a ticket clerk for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in Mendota, Illinois. He worked the night shift.

One night, about seven months into working for the railroad, Fischer was flipping through a Sport magazine during a break at the depot when he saw a full-page ad for a home correspondence course from a broadcast school out of Wisconsin. “I looked at that and I went, ‘You know what? I may not have been a great athlete, but I got to play a lot of sports from the time I was about 8 years old on up, and I think I can become a sportscaster,’” Fischer says. He signed up. Records of the lessons, a workbook and a tape recorder arrived in the mail, and Fischer’s journey to becoming a legendary play-by-play announcer began.

Fischer got his first job in radio at a small station in Butte, Montana. Fischer heard from a friend who’d already gone out there that the station was hiring. Despite being only halfway through his correspondence course, Fischer sent the station one of his tapes. The station called him a week later. “They said, ‘If you can get to Butte, Montana, for an interview, there’s a good chance we can hire you,’” Fischer says. He took a 48-hour train ride to interview for the position. A week later they hired him.

In Butte, Fischer worked the night shift as both a radio DJ and the station’s janitor. He worked there for about 15 months. Fischer returned to his home state, where he got his first shot at doing play-by-play, calling games for local high schools in Ottawa, Illinois. From there, he got a job at a radio station in Terre Haute, Indiana. Fischer says he called 175 games per year at every level of sport. “We did football, basketball, baseball, Babe Ruth baseball,” he says. “We did softball games. I was doing play-by-play almost every night of the week.” He was even calling junior football games out of the back of a pickup truck, with a blind color analyst. “It got me rolling as far as my play-by-play career was concerned, and I just had a great time with it,” he says.

When Indiana University granted exclusive broadcast rights to WIRE radio station in Indianapolis, Fischer got a call from a friend telling him that the station was looking for someone to call play-by-play for IU football and basketball games. Fischer, along with 270 other hopefuls, sent the station a tape and a resume. A few weeks later he got a call to interview for the job. Soon after, he was named the first official voice of Indiana University football and basketball, a title he still holds five decades later.

Don Fischer

BLOOMINGTON, IN – OCTOBER 19, 2021 – sb at the Media Homerun Derby in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Sammy Nance/Indiana Athletics

Fischer has broadcast more than 2,100 Indiana University games. Included in that number are 12 bowl games, five NCAA basketball Final Fours, four NCAA championship games and two NIT championship games. He’s won Indiana Sportscaster of the Year 27 times by the National Sports Media Association, and four times by the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. He was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2010. Indiana University awarded him the J.W. Bill Orwig Medal, an award given to non-alumni for distinguished service to the university.

When Fischer started calling IU games, they were broadcast over a telephone line. Now, everything sounds like it’s recorded in a studio. “It’s just a totally different business than when I started out, but the truth of the matter is, the games haven’t changed that much,” he says. “Style plays and things like that change a lot over the years, but the game itself is still football. The game itself is still basketball, and from that perspective, that much has not changed. That’s why I love doing what I do, because I’ve been able to do my style of football and basketball broadcasts for the last 50 years.”

Fischer says he developed his style listening to the likes of the Chicago Cubs’ Harry Caray and the St. Louis Blues’ Dan Kelly. Much like an athlete watching tape of a previous game, Fischer listens to his broadcasts, noting what he did well and what needs improving. He pays special attention to make sure he’s not repeating himself. Play-by-play is spontaneous. Fischer doesn’t think about what he’s saying while he’s saying it, but he takes care to avoid using the same terminology for certain types of plays.

Preparation is key. Fischer reads everything he can get his hands on leading up to a game. He learns about storylines and stats, as well as stars for opposing teams and how they’re playing. He talks to sports information directors to get the correct pronunciations of players’ names. All of this is in the service of providing the audience with an objective, informative and entertaining listening experience. “It boils down to just knowing your product, being prepared to utilize the experience that you have, and you get into a groove with it,” he says. “Once you get into it, it’s not that difficult at all, but it takes a while.”

Fischer’s voice is the soundtrack to some major moments, not just in Indiana University history, but also in the history of college sports. Fischer says he doesn’t have a favorite call, but the 1976 national championship basketball game, when Indiana University won the title to finish the season undefeated, holds a special place in his heart. “It was emotional for me,” he says. “I was 29 years old at the time, getting the job when I was 26 here. I had tears running down my cheeks. It was so emotional in that sense. I don’t think you could tell that I was bubbling up with tears on the radio, but it was just a fun thing to be a part of. It’s always been a vivid memory for me.”

Fischer claims his memory isn’t as good as it used to be, as he breaks down Keith Smart’s famous game-winning jump shot with six seconds to go in the 1987 NCAA national title basketball game, and recalls the wind changing directions in the third quarter of IU football’s win over the University of Michigan that same year. “I’ve had so many opportunities to call some broadcasts that turned out to be kind of historical performances, so I can’t pick out just one,” he says.

Don FischerEven after 2,100 games, Fischer says he still gets nervous before the season starts. He compares it to the butterflies athletes get before they play in a game. He says he goes into every season optimistic, even if a team is coming off a disappointing year. “That’s certainly the way I feel this year too,” he says. “So my 50th year doesn’t feel a great deal different than it did back in 1973 when I started in Indiana.”

1 Comment

January 12, 2023 at 7:44 pm

To the official voice of Indiana Basketball. I feel honored to be the first person to comment here! Have enjoyed listening to you call the games for many years and I hope you were there when I attended my first and only IU basketball game, playing Iowa and winning the game! You have a great voice and knowledge. You missed calling the first national championship in basketball that IU won, and that my relatives, brothers Bill and Bob Menke played on. I appreciate the great “job” you’ve done for the last 50 years as well as the great time that you’ve had. Congratulations from another proud and thankful Hoosier

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