By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Twin Cities broadcasting legend has passed away.

Ralph Jon Fritz died in his adopted state of Florida Wednesday after battling stomach cancer for more than two-and-a-half years, according to his friend and fellow WCCO sportscaster Mark Rosen.

Ralph Jon Fritz during his radio career in the 1960s (credit: CBS)

A kid at heart, Fritz was the sportscaster with a knack for shenanigans. He learned his love of sports growing up in Sleepy Eye, but the star basketball player kicked off his broadcasting career at Stillwater’s WAVN 1220-AM in 1958. He was just 19.

“It was about 9 to 5, five days a week, and made $85 a week back then,” Fritz said in a 2005 interview. “That’s a lot of dough, isn’t it?”

Then in 1968, he began his 40-year run at WCCO-TV. The small-town kid hit the big leagues.

Fritz and fellow WCCO-TV sportscaster Mark Rosen formed the best tandem in town.

“He connected with people through the television screen,” Rosen said. “That’s why people gravitated towards him, because he’s like your neighbor. Just a guy you want to hang out with, play cribbage with and have a beer with.”

Former WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby says Fritz was like “his brother.” When Fritz and Shelby got together, look out.

“He often would say, when he was feeling good, ‘You’re the little brother I never had, and never wanted [laughs]!'” Shelby said.

Fritz would write the shtick, and Shelby would play along.

Fritz in the 1970s (credit: CBS)

“If he had a choice between telling the straight story and telling the story that had a twist or some fun in it, he would go with that story,” Shelby said.

Fritz loved the outdoors, especially fishing. That passion was at the heart of his long-running show “Out ‘N’ About with R.J. Fritz.”

In April of 2015, after almost a decade into retirement, he revealed in an email to friends that he had been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, and was only expected to live for a couple weeks.

Chemotherapy helped sustain his life for more than two-and-a-half years. He spent those days embracing what matters most: family and friends.

“He was the best,” Shelby said. “He was absolutely the best.”

Fritz posted this statement to his CaringBridge site on Nov. 25:

Hello Family and Friends. This is the first time in my life I am at a loss for words.

It would take forever to list all that I have been grateful for throughout my life. So lets cut right to the chase.

The most recent chemo treatment wreaked havoc on my body and I am [too] weak to continue with treatments. I will be under the care of hospice to help with my transition to a better place.

I want to thank all of you for all your prayers, cards, phone calls,e-mails, texts and visits. Without you I would have never come this far. The BEST part of all is knowing we will meet again.

Fritz in 2005 (credit: CBS)

The Hospice folks have promised to keep my pain level as low as possible. Boy….they BETTER or are they in for it.

Seriously,…they are a wonderfully great group who are extremely talented at what they do.

As for me…..I plan on sticking around for a while. After all, there’s something called the Super Bowl scheduled for early February…. not to forget the Minnesota Twins playing in the 2018 World Series…etc etc etc…

By then…the Hospice people have closed up shop and have gone home.

My Love to each one of you….
Sincerely, As Always, RJ

Ralph Jon Fritz was 78 years old.

WCCO’s Mark Rosen Shares His Memories Of R.J.

Bill Hudson