By MIKE COOK
Las Cruces Bulletin
Jack Nixon estimates he has called about 1,500 New Mexico State University Aggie basketball and football games – with a few baseball, softball and volleyball games thrown in – over the past four decades.
Nixon, who turns 67 in March, has been the Voice of the Aggies for 37 of the past 41 years, giving Aggie Radio Network listeners a courtside or stadium seat at regular and post-season games in Las Cruces and across the country since 1976.
In addition to calling games, Nixon returned to the Las Cruces airwaves earlier this month as a news reporter for Bravo Mic Communications. He started out at KOBE Radio in Las Cruces in 1976, hired by Walt Rubens. And, he spent 25 years doing news for what is now Adams Radio Group of Las Cruces.
Nixon was inducted into the NMSU Athletics Hall of Fame three years ago, and last year received distinguished service recognition from Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and the city council.
“I don’t think you should take yourself too seriously,” Nixon said, adding that he “didn’t start out to be in the hall of fame. I just wanted to do this job. It’s nice that people recognize that.”
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Nixon was working in Hastings, Nebraska when he saw an item in a magazine about KOBE radio in Las Cruces. He sent a tape, and said the waiting period before he heard back “was the longest two weeks of my life.” He was flown to Las Cruces for an interview – he sat beside former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Barry Switzer on the plane – and was offered the job.
Nixon’s first two years of calling local basketball games were at the old NMSU gymnasium in what is now Williams Hall on Solano Drive. Then, the Pan American Center opened.
In the early 1980s, Nixon said he found himself “in a rut” and developed “a crummy attitude” about his career. He sought other opportunities, and left Las Cruces in July 1982 for Tulsa, Oklahoma to work for the now defunct USFL. He later moved to Denver and finally to Poplar Bluff, Missouri before returning to Las Cruces and his old job with the Aggies in the summer of 1986.
Those four years taught him important life lessons, Nixon said, including asking others for help when he needed it – “you have to learn to bend,” Nixon said. “I also understood that what I had was something special.”
Since returning to Las Cruces, Nixon has collected a lot of great memories with Aggie sports, especially the men’s basketball team.
Those memories include five straight NCAA tournaments the Aggies played in between 1990 and 1995, including the Sweet 16 in 1991-92. Nixon remembers the return of legendary men’s basketball coach Lou Henson to the Aggies in 1997, the “show business” years when retired NBA player and coach Reggie Theus was head basketball coach from 2005 to 2007, and being on the search committee that hired former owner and president of the El Paso Diablos Jim Paul as NMSU director of athletics in 1997.
Current NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia said he has “been fortunate at my last few stops to work with long-time broadcasters,” including Nixon. “They are all in their respective halls of fame and are all deserving. In this day and age of instant gratification and moving on to the next shiny object, it is comforting for me, and, I assume, Aggie fans, to tune in and hear a familiar voice with a strong connection to the past coming through the radio. As television explodes as a medium as well as hand-held devices to watch content, it is nice to know that through radio and our Tune IN app, Aggie fans across the country can hear Jack by just downloading the app. We are very fortunate that Jack is a member of the Aggie family and looks to be here for many more seasons,” Moccia said.
The 1998-99 Aggie men’s basketball team is “one of my real favorites,” Nixon said. Team members included former Los Montañas Charter High School Principal Richard Robinson, Dexter Hawkins and “Slab” Jones. That team had lost twice by large margins to Boise State during the regular season, Nixon remembers, but came back to beat them in the conference championship. “It was an incredible game,” Nixon said.
He also remembers the Aggies beating Larry Johnson and UNLV, and beating future NBA hall of famer Larry Bird when he played for Indiana State University in the late 1970s.
“I’ve just enjoyed them all,” Nixon said – even the season he called when the men’s basketball team only won six games.
“I’ve had a very fortunate life,” he said. “I think God has looked out for me.”
And, Nixon said he has no plans to retire any time soon. He just wants to be able to “walk away from it” when the time is right. “I don’t want people to say, ‘He used to be good.’”
“Jack is as good on-air today as he was when we met 37 years ago,” said Las Cruces Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Jo Galvan. “Jack put up with me when I was a cub reporter, just learning the news business at KOBE Radio in the late ’70s. I learned as much from Jack and the late Erik Ness as I did from journalism school.”
Some things you may not know about Nixon: He learned to play the accordion at the age of 10 and played guitar in a band in high school. He also volunteers for Mesilla Valley Hospice.
Being called the Voice of the Aggies “blows my mind sometimes,” Nixon said. “In my head, I’m still like the guy who started in 1976.” Back then, he said, “I was young enough to look like I was part of the team.” Now, Nixon said, he looks like a coach because he’s “old and white (haired).”
Mike Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org