Hickman, Fred 1951—

views updated

Fred Hickman 1951

Television sportscaster

At a Glance

A Pioneer at CNN

Beat a Cocaine Habit


Fred Hickmans polished and urbane sportscasting for the Cable News Network (CNN) has helped to develop a sports identity for cable television. Teamed with Nick Charles as the co-host of Sports Tonight since 1980, Hickman has been part of the longest-running anchor team in the history of television-sports or otherwise. San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Fritz Quindt citesSports Tonight as a standout franchise, largely due to the creamy-smooth delivery, witty personality, [and] free-formed-ness that Hickman and Charles exhibit. Indeed, going head-to-head with sports highlight shows on other cable networks, Hickman and Charles have been able to sustain high ratings and a large fan base through more than 3,300 broadcasts. Hickman described Sports Tonight in the Baltimore Sun as hard to find, but its worth it when you get there. He added: I think our viewers feel that way. We wouldnt have 3,000 shows if they didnt. There may not be a lot of viewers, but they are nice people who want something different. I hope we give them that.

Frederick Douglass Hickman was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois. From an early age he was a good athlete and a ham who liked to clown in front of the camera. Ironically, one of his heroes was a local Springfield sportscaster named Nick Charles. The first time the two men occupied the same television screen was in 1970-Charles, 24 at the time, was reporting on a high school football game from the field; Hickman, a freshman at the school, was waving from the stands.

After graduating from Springfield Southeast High School in 1974, Hickman attendee Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he studied broadcasting. Like many radio and television personalities, he did not stay to finish his degree because he was able to land a job without it. In 1977 he began his professional career at radio station KLWW in Cedar Rapids. Less than one year later he found a broadcasting job in his home town, with WFMB Radio. By 1978 he was on television at WICS-TV in Springfield, the same station that had employed Nick Charles. Although only 22 at the time, Hickman quickly established himself as a serious and dependable anchor person. Most days he was responsible for the sports report, but on some occasions he anchored the entire

At a Glance

Full name Frederick Douglass Hickman; born October 17, 1951, in Springfield, IL; son of CeorgeHenry and Louise Winifred Hickman; married second wife, Judith Tillman (an attorney), February 20, 1989; children: one. Education: Attended Coe College, Cedar Rapids, I A, 197477.

KLWW Radio, Cedar Rapids, IA, news anchor, 1977; WFMB-FM Radio, Springfield, IL, news and sports anchor, 197778; WICS-TV, Springfield, sports director, 1978-80; CNN/Turner Broadcasting, Atlanta, G A, sports-caster/commentator, 1980-84; WDIV-TV, Detroit, Ml, sportscaster, 1984-86; CNN/Turner Broadcasting, Atlanta, sportscaster and cohost of Sports Tonight, 1986-

Selected awards: Cable ACE Award nominee, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993; Cable ACE award winner, 1989 and 1993; named sexiest sportscaster by U.S. Television Fan Association, 1993.

Address : Office -Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., One CNN Center, Box 105366, Atlanta, G A 30348-5366.

nightly news show including news, sports, and weather.

A Pioneer at CNN

In 1980 Hickman accepted a job with fledgling cable television company Turner Broadcasting, based in Atlanta. There he joined his former hero, Nick Charles, as part of a four-person sports department working for the Cable News Network. On June 1, 1980, Hickman and Charles took to the air withSports Tonight, an unpromoted show on an unknown network, to quote Star Tribune reporter Rachel Blount. Even then the camaraderie between the two cohosts was evident. We had to develop something consistent and something consistently different from ESPN, Hickman recalled in the Star Tribune.We also catered to an audience that was interested in finance, world affairs, and the body politic. But all those people graduated from some school, and many of them were interested in sports. That gave us a chance to develop a show where we could bring in our personalities.

Sports Tonight developed as a nightly sports wrap-up show in which Hickman and Charles reported scores and events, selected a play of the day, and showed highlights of college and pro games. We had good chemistry, Charles remembered inSports Illustrated of those early days in Atlanta. On the air, the two anchors projected an image of polish and wit with just a hint of playfulness, and sure enough theirs was a departure image for the sports television industry.

In 1984 Hickman was offered a job as the weekend sports anchor at WDIV-TV in Detroit, and he accepted it. He thought the move to Detroit would establish him in a major metropolitan market and thus enhance his career. Instead it proved a fiasco that almost sent him into early retirement.

Beat a Cocaine Habit

Reflecting on his decision to leave CNN in 1984, Hickman toldSports Illustrated: I wanted to go out by myself into the desert. But I picked the wrong desert. Lonely and unhappy in the Motor City, he began using cocaine and soon found himself overcome by a $400-a-week habit. His first marriage dissolved, and-although none of his viewers or coworkers ever detected it-he succumbed to a deep addiction. It was one of those things where-I dont like to make excuses about it-but where I was a young kid, and I was in a city that I didnt particularly like, Hickman said in the Akron Beacon Journal.It was a bad choice of career moves.

One early morning in 1985, Hickman found himself weeping uncontrollably at the wheel of his car. The valley was incredibly low, he recalled in a Knight-Ridder wire story. I knew I needed to go to a rehab center. He checked himself into a treatment facility and spent one month there overcoming his addiction and exploring the personal issues that had caused it to happen. Today he cites low self-esteem as the source of his troubles. I didnt get into the [broadcasting] business to be any kind of star, he declared in the Akcron Beacon-Journal.All of a sudden people are asking for autographs, interviewing you. I never knew whether people wanted to hang out with me because they liked Fred or because they were trying to get free tickets.

Hickman returned to his sports anchor duties at WDIV, but within a few weeks he quit and left Detroit. He thought he would have no trouble finding another television job, but the publicity surrounding his drug treatment made it impossible for him to get work. Finally, it was his old friend Nick Charles who convinced the executives at Turner Broadcasting to give Hickman another chance. Hickman and Charles were reunited at theSports Ton ight desk for CNN in November of 1986 and have been working together consistently ever since.

The Hickman-Charles duo has been described as everything from the Lucy and Ricky Ricardo of sports broadcasting to comedie team Laurel and Hardy. Hickman himself joked in the Baltimore Sun of his relationship with Charles: Were still on our honeymoon. That honeymoon has lasted through a decade of continuous broadcasting and close daily association. In addition to the nightlySports Tonight shows, Hickman and Charles hosted the 1992 and 1994 Olympic Games for CNN and have worked the Goodwill Games as well. Their broadcast of the 1992 Olympics from Barcelona was the first time the Olympics had ever received major coverage on cable television.

Hickman has been nominated for the Cable ACE sports-casting award numerous times and has won it twice, in 1989 and 1993. Married again to an Atlanta attorney, he is the father of a young child. Reluctant to give interviews or discuss his past in the press, Hickman nonetheless told the Akron Beacon-Journal: Im a walking miracle. I came out of that [drug] thing a lot better human being than I was before I went in. So, thanks to God, things always happen for a reason.


Akron Beacon-Journal, July 30, 1993, p. 1A.

Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1994, p. 2C.

Sports Illustrated, June 26, 1989, p. 74; November 21, 1994, p. 52.

Star Tribune (Kansas City, MO), November 11, 1994, p. 8C.

USA Today, June 10, 1988, p. 3C.

Additional information supplied by Turner Broadcasting Company, Inc. and a Knight-Ridder wire story, February 9, 1992.

Anne Janette Johnson

About this article

Hickman, Fred 1951—

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article