The voice synonymous with Indiana University athletics the past 45 years was once utilized selling magazines door-to-door.
Difficult as it might be to visualize a young Don Fischer ringing doorbells and peddling subscriptions, it was part of the professional growth of a Greenwood man recently named Indiana Sportscaster of the Year for a jaw-dropping 25th time.
Fischer, 71, is the longtime radio voice of the Hoosiers’ football and men’s basketball programs. He is among the state honorees being recognized by the National Sports Media Association at a ceremony in June in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
As respected and admired as Fischer is in his line of work, there remains a humbleness about him. Maybe it’s those days working on the railroad or in a factory before the age of 21 that instilled the blue-collar work ethic in him, but he remains grounded regardless of how many plaques adorn the walls of his basement office.
Fischer has called everything from Anthony Thompson touchdowns to Kent Benson putbacks. He can tell you about Van Waiters as an IU linebacking star of the mid-1980s or break down the Cody Zeller/Victor Oladipo era of men’s basketball under then-coach Tom Crean.
Three of the five national championship banners gently swaying inside Assembly Hall represent the 1976, 1981 and 1987 men’s basketball championship teams. When those Hoosiers won it all, “Fisch” was on the call.
“My wife (Susy) and I have never discussed it seriously. My feeling is I’ll retire when I don’t feel like I’m having fun.”
He was the recognizable voice in our portable and car radios responsible for loudly speaking those six magical words: “And Indiana wins the national championship.”
Fischer said preparation has been key to his success in the sports broadcasting business.
“Being prepared is essential. You have to know who you’re dealing with, who the players are, who the coach is and know their backgrounds to some degree,” Fischer said. “And then from a play-by-play standpoint you’ve got to be able to keep up with it. I’ve always tried to keep it non-technical, because that’s what my color analyst is supposed to do.”
Former IU football assistant coach Buck Suhr has been Fischer’s sidekick for football radio broadcasts on and off since the late 1990s. Suhr’s son Errek, who played basketball for the Hoosiers from 2004-07, handles color commentary during Indiana men’s basketball games.
Buck Suhr laughs remembering early IU football broadcasts being teamed with Fischer in press boxes throughout the Big Ten Conference and beyond.
When Fischer raises his left index finger while on the air, it’s a subtle message to Suhr to stop talking. The index finger still comes out on occasion, though not nearly as often as it used to.
“For me, it’s just like two good friends talking about the football game,” Suhr said. “The thing I try to remember is it’s his show. He’s the guy. My thinking is that I’m an auxiliary to what Don does. I don’t think he’s missed a beat over the years. I really don’t.”
Fischer arrived at Indiana as a 26-year-old in time for the 1973 football season.
The Hoosiers were breaking in a new head coach, a 38-year-old fireball named Lee Corso, who cranked out hilariously memorable quotes in assembly-line fashion. Unfortunately, Corso averaged four wins per season and was fired after the 1982 season.
Corso, now 82 and best known for donning mascot headgear to close every “College GameDay” for ESPN during college football season, thoroughly enjoyed his decade of working with Fischer.
“Don is very personable. A great guy to be around,” said Corso, who resides in Florida. “And I learned very early that you could trust him. It was his trustworthiness. That was a big thing for me, because I was a guy trying to start a program.
“It was just Don’s fairness, even if he had to criticize me.”
Fischer’s ability to work with personalities ranging from Corso to Bob Knight to Cam Cameron to Mike Davis is only one of his many strengths. When he goes on the air, he does everything in his power to make radio broadcasts seem as if the listener is actually there.
Crowd noise is an essential element, which is why Fischer prefers to open the press box window in front of him before each Indiana football broadcast. If there’s one thing he abhors, it’s having glass or plexiglass between himself and the action on the field for three hours.
Certain October and November games can get chilly as a result — but it’s what Fischer wants.
Whether it’s the drive or flight to a Big Ten destination, the pre-broadcast prep work required, conversing with longtime friends, watching fans file into a stadium or arena or delivering the broadcast itself, Fischer still approaches every aspect of job with the enthusiasm of the young newcomer from the early Corso years.
Retirement will have to find Don Fischer, because he’s not looking for it.
“My wife (Susy) and I have never discussed it seriously. My feeling is I’ll retire when I don’t feel like I’m having fun,” Fischer said. “That’s hard to believe because I just love doing what I do.
“If my health deteriorates and I can’t do it anymore, or if my mind isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. If (Susy) feels in any way, shape or form that (broadcasts) are not up to par, she’s going to tell me and that will be it. I have to. Why would I destroy my legacy? There’s no sense in it.”