from an Oklahoma twang to Today Show host
By Joseph H. Carter, Sr., 1992 Inductee
Born in 1940, Jim Hartz was the son of an Assembly of God pastor. He and I were young newsmen when I first met him in Tulsa. Later, we co-owned a public affairs consultancy in Washington, D.C.
To pay tuition as pre-medicine major at The University of Tulsa, Hartz found part-time work as a radio announcer at KOME Radio. There, a talented producer transformed his Oklahoma twang into a broadcast-quality voice that would soon echo around the world. To the chagrin of his assistant police chief brother, Hartz never became a doctor.
From KOME Hartz moved to KRMG Radio news and finally to KOTV, Tulsa’s news CBS-TV affiliate. Hartz rose from a TV street reporter to news director in just two years.
In 1962 a roving talent scout for NBC-TV stopped by Tulsa, watch the local news, and suggested that the nation’s top network audition Hartz who was anchoring two newscasts.
He was hired at 24 as NBC-TV’s youngest news correspondent ever. For more than a decade, Hartz was a news anchor at 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. at the network’s local affiliate in New York City. He captured a top Q rating in America’s largest city, reflecting popularity greater than the fame of Mayor John Lindsay.
Hartz was often dispatched on assignments, including many space shots, wars, and celebrity interviews. While covering a war in Israel, his unit was targeted by artillery fire but was saved by ducking into a bunker.
During a perilous space flight that Hartz anchored for NBC-TV, the producer walked onto the set during a station break in whispered: “Our survey shows 250 million people are watching you, Jim.” Stage lights went up and the boy from north Tulsa swallowed surprise and resumed reporting professionally.
Upon joining NBC, Shawnee, Oklahoma-born, and equally famous Hall of Fame newsmen Frank McGee became Hartz’s “guru,” giving sage advice about network politics, agents, and performance.
Hartz once said McGee advised him that anchoring space shots required three things: the anchor must be able to ad-lib endlessly. Have a tough butt. And own a huge bladder.
For two years, Hartz served as co-host of the Today Show. When fellow Today Show star Barbara Walters left NBC for ABC, Hartz requested a return to pure journalism and was assigned as the main news anchor at WRC-TV, NBC’s station in Washington, D.C.
Hartz Interviewed multiple presidents, politicos, heads of states, and corporate chiefs in addition to anchoring hundreds of newscasts with top ratings.
Among other honors, Hartz won five Emmy Awards and two Ace Awards.
For decades public television in listed Hartz, including as Over Easy co-host with actress Mary Martin, host of Tokyo-produced Asia Now and of Innovation, a series devoted to scientific research.
Hartz delved deeply into space science, being the first reporter to fly in the supersonic spy plane, the SR-71, and other high-performance planes. His scientific knowledge led to authoring the alarming and instructive book Worlds Apart with Astronaut Rich Chapel. The book explored the tragic lack of clear communications between scientists and journalists. Hartz also wrote freelance articles for Reader’s Digest and National Geographic.
Governor Henry Bellmon appointed Hartz to Oklahoma’s Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Senator Stratton Taylor led the confirmation. With later reappointments, Hartz served for decades as the active chairman.
Hartz retired at his Alexandria, Virginia home that was built in the seventeenth century.
Married to Alexandra Hartz, Hartz fathered a son and two daughters.
Frank McGee was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1974. He was followed in 2003 by Jim Hartz. Joseph H. Carter, Sr. and Jim Hartz have remained friends through the years.