Remembering a Hawkeye Legend

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Jim Zabel, whose voice kept Hawkeye radio listeners entertained and on the edge of their seats for more than half a century, passed away yesterday in his Scottsdale, Ariz., home at the age of 91. For many, Zabel’s voice is the voice of the Hawkeyes.

The University of Iowa Alumni Association had the privilege of working with Zabel while compiling our Gridiron Glory stories for our website. You can listen to a few of his famous calls here and here.

I sat down with Vince Nelson, University of Iowa Alumni Association President and CEO, to discuss what he remembers most about “Z” and his impact on the University of Iowa.

What do you remember most about Jim Zabel?

VN: Number one: “I love it! I love it! I love it!” Certain people have that ability to say that one little thing to make you stop.

Number two would be, “OK, fans, hug your radios out there. Hug your radios out there!” He’d say that at times when Iowa was in a close game, when they were about to possibly win it, or whatever the case may be.

His unbridled enthusiasm and love of the Hawkeyes—he just loved them. Some people would say he was too biased. He probably was—he was a Hawkeye through and through. But, hey, he was hired as the Hawkeyes’ broadcaster. I remember him as someone who always had a great sense of humor. He was always upbeat and enthusiastic. He probably had more factual knowledge and information than anyone.

Are there any stories that particularly stand out in your mind?

VN: A couple memories stand out from when I was living in Des Moines and going to Drake in the mid 60s. Every Sunday morning when we came home from church there was a TV show called Let’s Go Bowling. It was on in black-and-white, and every Sunday he was hosting this show. Can you imagine that today: sitting down and watching a bowling show? And he had the same enthusiasm that he always brought to his broadcasts.

Another thing that I remember is that every Sunday night there was another program called Beat the Bear, featuring the head football coaches from Iowa, Iowa State, and Drake. It was sponsored by Hamm’s Beer, and there was a person dressed up as a bear. They would have the three head coaches discuss the previous day’s game, talk about some of the highlights, and pick games from the upcoming week. They would select four or five games and select the score, and then they would measure that against the bear. He would come out and stand there with a card with his picks. It was one of the most entertaining half-hours every week. Zabel had a great way of holding everything together.

When the UIAA traveled to Phoenix for events these past few years while he was living down there, he would always attend. I would make sure during my remarks to do a special introduction. I would say, “Friends we have another great Hawkeye in the seats tonight. He needs no introduction. All I’ll say is, ‘I love it! I love it! I love it!’” Jim would stand up and throw his arms up in the air.

Jim loved that stuff. He was just a wonderful, wonderful person. 

Clearly Jim Zabel is a Hawkeye legend. What do you think is his greatest contribution to the University of Iowa?

VN: He was an absolutely fabulous ambassador for the state of Iowa. Not just the Hawkeyes; he loved Iowa. He loved this state. Most people loved him. Iowa State fans used to get on him since he went to Iowa, but…

He’s just an icon. It’s hard to see another one gone; it’s hard to see him gone.


What do you remember most about Jim Zabel? Email and tell us what Zabel meant to you!

-Dylan Hendricks, Web Editor

University of Iowa Alumni Association

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One Comment

  1. Dale Wegner
    Posted May 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The great Jim Zabel had a knack for telling stories, and for telling jokes. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at a Carroll Area I-Club banquet a few years back, and the great Z had us all laughing and remembering the great successes of years gone by. There’s no better thrill than an exciting game, and hearing Z say those magic words, “I love it, I love it, I love it!” and “Hug and kiss those radios!”

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