Fran Fisher was back on the air Monday, talking Penn State football, his trademark baritone rolling through the microphone and out to Nittany Lion fans.
The longtime broadcaster and Penn State icon celebrated his 90th birthday among family and friends at Otto’s Pub off North Atherton Street.
He joined son Jerry Fisher, CDT football writer Travis Johnson and other area media, taking a turn on WBLF radio’s “Quarterbacks Show.”
“Well, that shot the hell out of the ratings,” Fran Fisher said with a chuckle after stepping away from the microphone.
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“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I’m a very fortunate guy. I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many great people.”
Fran Fisher was a sportscaster and manager of WKPA radio in Lewistown in the 1960s when he tried out for a spot at Penn State. He landed the role of radio analyst from 1966-69 before joining Penn State full time in 1970.
“Here I was, this radio broadcaster and a ‘big shot’ in Mifflin County,” Fisher recalled. “I don’t know that a lot of universities would have handled it the way they did. They said, ‘We’ll give this guy a chance.’ I was in the right place at the right time.”
He served as play-by-play announcer for Penn State football from 1970-82 and again from 1994-99. Fisher built a lifetime of memories that included Penn State’s victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl following the 1982 season, when Joe Paterno’s Lions won the first of their two national championships.
Fisher was host of the weekly “Joe Paterno Call-in Show” and co-host of the “TV Quarterbacks” show. He served as executive director of the Nittany Lion Club from 1984-88.
“I love who he is and I love what he has represented at Penn State,” Jerry Fisher said. “He’s my idol. He really is.”
Jeff Byers, of WRSC radio, recalled the day his family huddled around a radio in 1979 as Fran Fisher called a 54-yard game-winning field goal by Penn State’s Herb Menhardt as the Lions topped North Carolina State, 9-7.
“I know a lot of people point to the national championship game, but when I think of Fran, that (kick) is still the call I think of first,” Byers said Monday at Otto’s. “Penn State games weren’t on TV nearly as often back then. The thrill for a radio announcer is to describe something for the people who aren’t watching. That’s the great thing.”
Byers also reflected on the day his grandfather, a Pitt graduate and die-hard Panthers fan, met the voice of Penn State games at a local function.
“My grandfather turned to me and said, ‘That’s the guy you want to have representing your university,’ ” Byers said. “That really speaks to Fran’s role as an ambassador for the university and the teams he covered.”
Lou Prato first encountered Fran Fisher in the pressbox at Beaver Stadium in 1966 during Paterno’s first game as head coach. Prato was a TV newscaster in Pittsburgh.
His friendship with Fisher would lure Prato back to State College where he served as the first director of the university’s All Sports Museum and where he has written several books about Nittany Lions football.
“If Joe Paterno symbolizes Penn State football, then Fran is second, or maybe third to John Cappelletti,” Prato said.
“He hasn’t changed a bit,” Prato said. “He’s funny. He remembers people.”
Fisher’s resume includes an Honorary Alumni Award from the Penn State Alumni Association, bestowed in 2008, and a lifetime achievement award from the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation, given in 2011.
He attempted to deflect the accolades Monday, but there were too many stories to be told, too many moments to be relived.
“There have been so many people who have done so much here, and unfortunately some of them aren’t around any longer,” Fran Fisher said. “There are a lot of guys who have made significant contributions to the Penn State program. And here they are, saluting this old guy.”
Many friends, including a parade of media professionals, stopped by Fisher’s table to offer handshakes, hugs and best wishes.
“It’s embarrassing,” Fisher said of the attention.
Then he winked and added, “But I love it.”