Born in Cleveland, Fitzgerald graduated from Lakewood High School in 1944 and the University of Michigan in 1948. He was also a commissioned officer in the Navy. Fitzgerald started his broadcast career at WXEL, which later became WJW Channel 8, in 1950, just one year after the start of the station itself. He worked there until 1983, when he retired as sports director, leaving behind a legacy of work on and off the air.
John hosted game shows, read the news and quickly settled into his position as one of the first dedicated TV sportscasters in Cleveland. Black Label beer sponsored Fitzgerald’s nightly “Sports Final” show. WJW weatherman, Dick Goddard said he will never forget listening to Fitzgerald’s trademark whistle and the slogan, “Hey Mabel, Black Label.” The beer company used the concept for a national advertising campaign. Goddard also remembers Fitzgerald as the consummate sports announcer and “a man who could pack 10 minutes of sports news into 2 minutes.”
In 1953, Fitzgerald was one of the founders of the Cleveland Chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He was an officer in the union for more than 50 years and served as president for 10 years. In 1954, he helped negotiate the AFTRA Pension and Welfare Plan which was later negotiated into all national contracts in radio and television. Until the time of his death in 2010, Fitzgerald served as a trustee of the union’s national health and retirement funds.
The man whom television viewers came to know and love over the years was just as kind and caring off camera. “He was just an uncommonly decent person”, said his son Jack. “He believed in faith, family and the union. He worked hard to gain benefits for people less fortunate than him in the industry. He stressed the nobility of work and would talk proudly about his years working at a warehouse and brewery.”