This past week, another New York institution advanced another step in its evolution, as WFUV, Fordham University's 50,000 watt Bronx-based public radio held their annual spring gala. The gala honored news legend Bob Schieffer and music great Levon Helm, but at the end of the day what the gala was most noted for, and is becoming more noted for with each passing year, is it's Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award, which goes to a sports broadcaster who has served above and beyond his work in the booth over the course of his career. As a bittersweet turn of events, the gala was set to honor former Brooklyn Dodger but longtime Detroit Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell for his work in the booth and in the community. Harwell succumbed to a battle with cancer just a day prior to the event, but the tribute was no more somber and no less glowing, as every speaker, especially Tiger Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline, celebrated Harwell's life.
For years WFUV has been a great seeding ground for talent in front of and behind the microphone, and is probably best known in the business for its ethnic shows and its eclectic music mix. The students of Fordham remain in vital roles at the station, which is part of National Public Radio, but there is a growing number of professionals who also fill the on-air spots at the station.
The one category which is virtually fully student run (save for longtime director Bob Ahrens) remains one of the station's best kept but perhaps most visible offerings, and was the focal point of this past week's event...sports. It is safe to say that there is perhaps no casual or ardent sports fan in this country who has not heard the voice of a WFUV sports alum on the airwaves at some point within the last 30 days. From industry veterans like YES' Michael Kay and Jack Curry to ESPN/MSG's Mike Breen to Sirius NFL/NFL Network and Giants broadcaster Bob Papa, to Scully of the Dodgers and Charlie Slowes of the Washington Nationals, the sound of WFUV Sports is pervasive throughout the spring, more so than probably at any other time of the year. Want more? How about Spero Dedes calling Lakers and Chris Carrino calling Nets games on the radio, while Mike Yam gives us the scores and highlights on ESPN News. John Giannone provides hockey on MSG, and Ed Randall hosts "Talking Baseball" each week and Andrew Bogusch mans the weekends on Sirius XM, while newcomer Ryan Ruocco takes calls early mornings on ESPN, and Tony Reali grabs his time on "Around The Horn." Those are just a few, and the list doesn't include a host of FUV grads who cut their teeth calling Rams games and are now entrenched in local markets or with minor league teams. It also doesn't include scores of others who started calling games and have now ventured into off air work as writers, producers, publicists, engineers and executives in some area of sport.
While schools like Boston University, Northwestern and Syracuse proudly point toward their legions of sports alums, the WFUV sports alumni go about their business, keeping in contact with one another and making sure that America's fans are entertained and informed. Now it is not purely by chance that the FUV group has been so strong in sports. The station does boast "One on One," the area's longest running sports talkshow, and its students have long been amongst the regularly credentialed media by virtually all the area's professional teams (it is a safe guess that WFUV is the only college station that is actually listed in the media guides produced by each of the professional leagues). Also, the appeal of calling Division I college sports at a 50,000 watt, clear signal station in New York, along with the academic prestige of the Jesuit-run University, makes WFUV a career destination for some.
However, that doesn't really answer the question as to how Fordham, given the prestigious broadcast and journalism programs at area schools like Columbia, Seton Hall, NYU and even Hofstra, has done so well seeding the sports airwaves. Maybe this week's Gala helps provide a bit of that answer. The solution is in the quality of the people as much as the quality of their work. Fordham has long been part of the fabric of New York, both at its Rose Hill campus in the Bronx and at it's Lincoln Center campus. Part of that fabric is made up of a sense of community and a giving of self, and there is perhaps no other industry that embodies a spirit of team more than sports. That spirit is captured in the Scully Award, and it is that spirit which has really linked all the broadcasters that have come through the WFUV Sports program. So while some may see a disconnect between an award given to a non-New Yorker who may have never ventured onto the campus, Fordham sees it as honoring a man who is part of that greater good, and that makes him part of the Fordham tradition. Yes that tradition does also exist in many other areas of the University and in other areas of WFUV itself, but it is sports broadcasting which has really gone untouched by the hands of change since the Scully days in The Bronx.
Students call the game, engineer the broadcasts, take the notes and paint the pictures, first for Fordham games and then as professionals for the world. It is perhaps one of New York's greater but lesser known sports traditions, WFUV, but one that is worth telling, even when those who are its biggest parts are off telling the tales of others.
Yes, this past week was about honoring all those legends of the industry at the WFUV gala. And maybe, just maybe, Ernie Harwell opened the door for future generations of WFUV Sports members by lending his name to an award that will extend his legacy again beyond the broadcast booth. The best of WFUV Sports may still be in the future, even with all accomplished in its colorful, and now more well-known, past.
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