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To My Friend Norm: Thank You

Sports radio won't be the same without him on the airwaves every day. My life won't be, either.
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Sean Bass (left) was Norm Hitzges' producer for the last year. But he learned from him for far longer. Photo by David Woo.

“Yes, is the answer.” 

That’s the first thing uttered by Norm Hitzges whenever I walk into the makeshift office at the end of the hallway of The Ticket studios at 8 a.m. It means he wants me to retrieve him a cup of coffee (extra creamer) from the break room. I don’t really mind because I can quickly make my way down the hall faster than a 78-year-old man, who now gets around with help from a walker. 

Often, he requests that I grab something off a printer in another room, too. The man loves going through paper. In his 48 years on the air in Dallas, Norm has easily chewed through a small forest’s worth of trees. We joke about him printing off the internet; there’s always some truth in comedy. That printed story or article from the Morning News inevitably gets devoured by the veteran broadcaster, then is distilled down to some loosely legible scribbles on a yellow legal pad. It’s Norm’s method. He’s old school. And that formula endured through the decades, resulting in a body of work that will never be topped in this market. 

By the time you read this, I’ll have done those things for the last time. Or, at the very least, the last time for a while. You know by now that today is Norm’s final show as a daily host. (He says he’ll still fill in from time to time.) Radio in this town won’t be the same. 

And, on a much smaller note, my life won’t be, either.

Norm has been with The Ticket for 23 years, while I’ve been there for 22. I spent more than eight years as the news anchor during his time slot before getting bumped up to the morning drive in the fall of 2014. Still, I spoke to Norm daily; ever the professional, he arrived at the station early to begin his prep work. We’d chat for a few minutes about life, politics, or the big sports topics of the day. I got to know him more in this setting than I ever did while I was stuck in the newsroom as part of his daily crew. (That includes the time I had to shave Norm’s back after losing a bet in 2010. Don’t ask. I’m still trying to recover.) 

Then, after Mike Sirois, the longtime producer of The Norm & D Invasion, the show Norm co-hosts with Donovan Lewis, left the station, I moved back to the 10-to-noon slot. Back together with Norm. For the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of being Norm and Donnie’s producer. I didn’t expect it to be the final one in Norm’s Hall of Fame career.

I could tell you about learning how to properly stack topics, craft hot sports opinions, check facts, book guests, and archive memorable flash points from our show. But it’s far more important that I share how much friendship makes a better product.

Ever since Norm announced his retirement last week, I’ve heard so many describe him as a lifelong friend. It’s a reminder that radio is a very intimate medium. He has been a constant in the Dallas media for nearly five full decades, be it calling Rangers, Mavericks, or Sidekicks games on HSE, morning radio at KLIF, or his lengthy run at The Ticket. Much of that is because his passion, preparation, and encyclopedic knowledge captured the imagination of generations of sports fans. But it’s also because the goofy man with a sizeable schnoz and even bigger personality is the same person both on and off the air. In an industry of many playing a character when the mic turns on, Norman is the genuine article. He makes people feel special. 

That starts with his wife, Mary, whom he is madly in love with. Many of us don’t like to think about the elderly displaying lovey-dovey affection, but it’s never cringey to overhear the way he talks to “Mare Bear” during the occasional pre-show phone call. The sweetness always comes through in his voice. That’s the goal, right? It’s more important than any big ratings book or Marconi award.

But his heart for people extends well beyond the person he loves most. It goes all the way out to those he’s never met. Case in point: every year, right after Christmas, Norm raises money for the Austin Street Center, the marathon broadcast known as The Normathon. Over the years, he’s raised north of $9 million. He will continue this tradition even in retirement. This past year was my first real look at how the sausage is made. The amount of care and attention to detail Norm puts into the planning, for months on end, is staggering. But it tracks with how he goes about his profession and his life. So it probably won’t surprise you to hear that booking guests for the event might be the easiest thing I’ve done as a producer. The big names we get every year jump at the chance to be part of such a great cause, working alongside Norm.

And I get my helping of it, too. Most of the dad jokes or corny puns you hear on the air are usually delivered to me and Donnie in the pre-show meeting. We are North Texas’ test kitchen. I’ve listened to numerous stories about the savannas of Africa, the Hobbit-filled wonder of New Zealand, or the beach resorts of Belize. You’ve probably heard him gush over Bob’s Steak & Chop House during a live spot. (No scripting needed for that one. He has a true affinity for the giant glazed carrot.)

Any work environment is better if you’re doing the job with people you like. It’s extra special when it’s people you love. That as a baseline allows us to be serious, frivolous, take jabs, harp on flaws, and birth running gags, all while creating the best possible product day in, day out. That’s the secret sauce on our show—and for the station as a whole. The Ticket is a lot of things, but more than anything, it’s an endless conversation among close friends. We are so lucky.

This past week has been a big celebration of Norm’s outstanding career. It’s been so great to see such an outpouring of love and support for a man who has spent decades giving those things to so many others. But as we get to the end of the line, I can’t help but feel a level of sadness. A great chapter of our radio station is coming to an end. A great chapter of my life is, too. I have grown closer to Norm than members of my family, and I know he will always answer the phone or reply to an email. There will be dinners and weekend visits. The sharing of family pictures and information on baseball prospects. But it will never be quite the same now that I won’t be fetching his coffee or his printouts each weekday morning.

When Norm stepped up and delivered the news of his retirement on June 15 in the most impressive monologue I’ve ever heard, he started with: “I don’t know how to say goodbye.” I don’t really either, other than to say he’s made me a better broadcaster and a better person. It’s been a true honor to call Norm my colleague. And, even more important, my friend. 

Author

Sean Bass

Sean Bass

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Sean Bass covers the Rangers for StrongSide. He's lived his entire life in North Texas and has worked for Sports…

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