Long before he was an electee to the Basketball Hall of Fame, Mike Breen was an intimidated 18-year-old freshman attending a workshop at Fordham’s renowned college radio station, WFUV, in the fall of 1979.
Breen felt sheepish next to the juniors and seniors leading the seminar and contemplated delaying the start of his broadcasting training. Soon, a couple of upperclassmen, including future NBA writer Dave D’Allesandro, made him feel more comfortable.
But he still didn’t have any friends until one day on campus he saw a confident sophomore trying to sweet talk a young woman. “I know you like me,” he said. “I can see it in your eyes.”
The woman responded by saying she would not date him if he were the last man on earth. She essentially was saying, “See ya” … to Michael Kay.
That is how Breen first became friends with Kay.
“For him to have the confidence to do this in front of everybody with this beautiful student, I thought, ‘Man, this guy has a great sense of humor,’” Breen said.
Four decades later, Breen and Kay are still good friends.
Fordham, the private Jesuit university in The Bronx that launched the legendary Vin Scully, for decades has been a powerhouse sportscasting pipeline, especially in New York. And the school ties that first united Breen and Kay are webbed throughout the industry.
Fordham is the alma mater for the voice of the NBA Finals/Knicks (Breen, Class of 1983), the Yankees’ lead TV play-by-player/ESPN New York afternoon radio host (Kay, ’82), the voice of the Giants (Bob Papa, ’86), the radio voice of the Nets (Chris Carrino, ’92) MSG’s John Giannone (’86), YES’ Jack Curry (’86), WFAN’s Paul Dottino (’86) and YES/ESPN’s Ryan Ruocco (’08). And that’s just New York-based sportscasters.
For good measure, the school produced CBS’ Spero Dedes (’01), ESPN’s Tony Reali (’00) and the Washington Nationals’ Charlie Slowes (’83). There are many more, and not just in front of the camera. If you need a field producer, Jim Johnson (’86) works for ESPN. A radio engineer? WFAN’s Chris Majkowski (’89) will set things up. Media relations? Louis Barricelli (’09) is leading things at MLB Network.
Like everyone else, they are all dealing with the halt of sports due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is a jarring timeout for people so used to being on the run.
Take Carrino, who has done so much to raise money and awareness for facio scapulo humeral dystrophy (FSHD), a form of muscular dystrophy that afflicts him. A fundraising event was supposed to take place in March at a Nets game at Barclays Center. His 10th annual fundraising dinner, corresponding with his 50th birthday, was slated for August, and now is in question.
“I don’t know if it is going to be safe to have people together still,” Carrino said. “Are the restrictions going to be there in terms of how many people can gather in one place? The other aspect of it for me is: How comfortable am I asking people for money when I know the economy and certain businesses are affected so badly?”
Ruocco was supposed to get married in Italy in June. He and his fiancée, Andrea Ferzoco, are now going to punt the wedding until June 2021.
“It sucks,” Ruocco said. “Andrea and I were so excited and so were our guests. We have been feeling all the joy leading us to this. There are people dealing with much more dire circumstances than rescheduling a wedding. That is kind of the perspective we have tried to take.”
While most of the successful sports media alumni are worried about the current direction of Fordham and WFUV because of a de-emphasis on sports during the pandemic, to a man they say how Fordham molded them and led them to where they are today.
They were helped by famous names such as the legendary Marty Glickman, a mentor, and Stan Fischler, who taught classes. Then there were the less famous, equally instrumental figures in the program, such as Bob Ahrens, who ran WFUV as its executive producer during many of these notable students’ formative years.
The experiences that they shared forged many of them, such as Breen and Kay, into close friends.
Giannone went to Fordham after being recruited to be a punter on the football team. During training camp his freshman year, he quickly figured out the third-string punter would never see the field. He went to Kay, then the WFUV sports director as a senior, to try to help on the station. Kay said Giannone could do stats for him during the football season.
Kay went on to work at The Post, and later helped Giannone land an entry-level position at the paper. When Giannone transferred into television at CNN/Sports Illustrated, it was through a Kay connection. And Giannone landed at MSG Network after Kay left to become the TV voice of the Yankees when YES Network began.
When it was Giannone’s turn as WFUV sports director, he made Papa and Curry a play-by-player and an analyst when they were sophomores.
WFUV also got its staff access to locker rooms at places like Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden to learn the craft next to professionals at the highest level. That remains largely true today.
“WFUV allowed you to believe you were a professional broadcaster before you really were,” Curry said. “We were in the heart of New York City, and, even if we weren’t Marv Albert, we felt as if what Marv Albert was doing for the Knicks, we were doing for Fordham.”
There is a lineage that unites. Carrino learned how to describe the geography of a basketball court from Glickman. Later, Carrino returned to Fordham and taught Ruocco the same lessons. These days, at some Nets games, Ruocco is on TV, sitting next to Carrino, calling the game on the radio.
Papa also was mentored by Glickman. Papa and Carrino each were told by their fathers that if they majored in communications, they would have to pay for school themselves. Both ended up in the Business School, but had their eyes on WFUV the whole time.
Carrino ended up working as a producer for Papa, beginning when Papa hosted a tailgate show on WFAN. Carrino eventually followed Papa as the radio voice of the Nets.
The Fordham sports alums want everyone to be safe during this time — and they can’t wait to get back to what they love to do.
“I’m desperate to get back to work,” Breen said. “I’m hoping there is NBA basketball. This is the best time of the year.”