Fred Hickman, a pioneering sports broadcaster and anchor who helped to launch two major cable networks and influenced and informed a generation of sports journalists and fans, has died.
Hickman, who turned 66 on October 16, died peacefully in hospital after battling liver cancer according to his widow Sheila.
“A light has gone out,” Sheila Hickman told CNN.
Hickman was one of the first anchors on CNN. On June 1, 1980, the network’s first day on the air, he and Nick Charles were the first hosts of “Sports Tonight,” the 11 pm ET sports news and highlights program which competed with ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” often winning the time slot.
He stayed with CNN and Turner Sports for most of the next 21 years,
“Fred truly succeeded at everything he did and was adored by his colleagues in front of the camera and behind the scenes,” said Cory Charles, Nick Charles’ widow. Charles passed away in 2011.
“Fred and my late husband were known as Nick & Hick. I have so many memories over the past 30 years of him, not only as Nick’s partner, but as a dear friend and brother,” she said. “The two of them were not only incredible on the air but so hysterical off camera together.”
In 2001, Hickman moved to the YES Network, the regional sports network that airs Yankees and Brooklyn Nets games, among other programming. He was the first anchor to appear on the network’s initial broadcast on March 19, 2002, and its lead anchor for the network’s first three years.
“Fred was a joy to work with and a joyful person,” said YES broadcaster Michael Kay in a statement included in the network’s tribute to him Wednesday. “A total pro that you felt comfortable knowing would lead you the right way on the air. He was the first voice ever heard on YES and his professionalism put us all on the right track.”
After his time at YES, he moved to ESPN in 2004, serving as a host of “SportsCenter” among other programing there through 2008. He then moved on to Fox, serving as pre- and post-game host for the Atlanta Braves broadcasts on the Fox Sports South and Sport South Networks, through 2011.
Recently, he served as an anchor and managing editor at Black News Channel.
He was praised by many of his former colleagues and fans when news of his passing spread on Wednesday.
“I was the only female anchor at CNN Sports, and Fred was such a welcoming presence…always with a laugh, a quip, a story…and supremely talented,” ESPN’s Hannah Storm tweeted Wednesday.
“Had the privilege of working with him & Nick at CNN Sports. Huge talent with huge heart,” tweeted Dan Hicks of NBC Sports.
“If you are about my age, he was one of the faces on your sports-crazy youth on CNN. He was a true OG in the field,” tweeted Pittsburgh sports radio host Colin Dunlap, who called Hickman and some of his colleagues from that time “our internet before the internet.”
“It didn’t matter if you were a high-level executive or a production assistant on your first day, Fred made you feel special as soon as he met you. He was a wonderful person to be around – someone who brightened every room he walked into,” said YES anchor Bob Lorenz in YES’ tribute to him.
“As a professional Fred was noteworthy for his studio acumen, his presence that gave a fledgling nework instant credibility, his dedication to his craft and his excellence under pressure,” said John Filippelli, president of production and programming at YES.
Hickman began his broadcast career in radio, first in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while he was in college, then at a station in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.
He soon became an anchor, director and reporter at WICS-TV, also in Springfield. He worked there two years soon after college before moving to CNN.