The Voice of the Pittsburgh sports gets his day
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The boy stood before Sister Rosalie and began reading lines from the script.
He was barely a teenager at the time, but little Billy Hillgrove wore the confidence of someone knowing exactly what he wanted.
"She said, 'Perfect,' '' Hillgrove said. " 'That's just what I'm looking for, a 13-year-old brat.' "
Hillgrove earned the role as the obnoxious son on the WDUQ-AM weekly drama, "Morning, Noon and Night," in 1953, and a radio/TV career was born.
Nearly six decades after impressing the nuns at Pittsburgh Diocesan Radio and Television school, Hillgrove remains perfect for his part.
The voice of the Steelers and the Pitt basketball and football teams will be honored with "Bill Hillgrove Day" today in Pittsburgh.
"He's the ultimate professional in every way," said Pitt basketball color analyst Dick Groat, Hillgrove's on-air partner for 33 years. "He's just absolutely perfect when it comes to being a broadcaster."
Hillgrove, 70, of Murrysville, has been the play-by-play voice of Pitt football for 37 years and Pitt basketball for 42 years. He just finished his 17th season with the Steelers.
Among active college basketball announcers, only three have a longer tenure than Hillgrove, including Duquesne's Ray Goss (43 years).
"He's been there for us through thick and thin," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said of Hillgrove. "He's just a really special human being."
Today's activities begin with an 8 a.m. mass at St. Lawrence O'Toole Catholic Church in Garfield, where Hillgrove was raised, followed by a proclamation at 11:30 a.m. in the courtyard of the downtown City-County Building and a 2 p.m. reception at Petersen Events Center.
Hillgrove is one of a handful of play-by-play men who work three major sports in one city. Two years ago, he called a noon basketball game at Pitt and a 3:45 p.m. Chargers-Steelers playoff game at Heinz Field on the same day.
Through it all, Hillgrove has never missed a Steelers game. He has missed two Pitt football games -- the 1999 opener against Bowling Green and the 2010 opener at Utah -- due to conflicts with the Steelers.
But it's always been a passion for Hillgrove, a Central Catholic and Duquesne University graduate and son of an electrician. Bill and younger brother John converted their bedroom into a make-shift radio studio, complete with a reel-to-reel tape, speakers and a boom microphone. A custom-made sign, with the radio call letters "WHIL," hung on the wall.
He was, it turned out, practicing for real life. A disc jockey for WTAE-AM, Hillgrove got his break when the station won the rights to air Pitt football and basketball games in 1969.
Hillgrove, who had called basketball games at Duquesne, worked his first Pitt game for the 1969-70 season-opener at Rutgers. When football play-by-play man Ed Conway died in 1974, Hillgrove took over.
He completed the broadcasting trifecta when the Rooneys hand-picked him after Steelers' play-by-play man Jack Fleming retired in 1994.
Along the way, the light-hearted, ebullient Hillgrove watched Pitt basketball go 6-21 one season and 31-5 in another. He saw the football team win a National Championship and endure a forgettable 2-9 disaster.
Hillgrove and his wife of 46 years, Rosette, have two children (and two grandchildren). He hopes to keep working for many more years.
"This is fun and games," he said. "I will keep going until I feel a wall. I don't see that happening anytime soon."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins score 1st win in San Jose in 18 years
- Pirates showing interest in starting pitcher Masterson
- Web-savvy terrorists have success luring U.S. recruits with social media
- Stylish, inexpensive dress takes television newsrooms by storm
- Pitt’s surge goes for naught as No. 11 Purdue prevails at Pete
- Boras: Alvarez’s power is too valuable for Pirates to let him leave
- Steelers notebook: Opportunity awaits Boykin
- Despite cross-check, Pens’ Crosby expects contact in front of net
- Automakers feast on deals in November
- Pittsburgh attorney cites Pa. AG’s suspension in dismissal attempt
- Express Scripts to offer alternative to $750 toxoplasmosis medication