Not all roads lead to where you think you’re headed
“Like branches of a tree, we grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”
Making the trip from Brooklyn every day, the four of us bonded at Hunter College, a commuter school situated in Manhattan’s wealthy Upper East Side, a neighborhood replete with expensive restaurants, boutique shops, and uniformed doormen. At the time, Hunter was housed in a gray, unadorned, stark structure that belied the posh elegance of one of America's richest zip-codes.
Andy Furman, Barry Kipnis, Mickey Morabito and I didn’t know of a tony campus, only of Tony Scolnick, Hunter’s basketball coach who brought us together. The team played in a tiny, dimly lit acoustical hellhole that had the feel of an inner-city dungeon, but hidden on the fifth floor.
Morabito, the basketball team manager, moonlighted as a Yankee batboy. Later, his professional success surprised no one. Gregarious, committed, smart and understated, Mickey nonchalantly disarmed the grumpiest, including George Steinbrenner who anointed him as the Yankees’ public relations director not many years after his graduation. In 1980, Billy Martin brought him to Oakland where he’s been since, serving primarily as the team’s traveling secretary.
Mention his name today to some of baseball’s younger generation and they’ll lower their voices reverentially, “Mickey…of course, a legend!”
Barry Kipnis was precocious. He would call Hunter’s basketball games into a cassette tape-recorder, at first for clinical purposes and then on noncommercial radio. The acoustical challenges notwithstanding, Kip sounded like the next Marv Albert. We were all convinced that he would be a network star in an economy of time.
After he did his first ever football game , Kipnis sought the counseling of Marty Glickman who listened to the recording, shared some thoughts, looked at Kipnis sternly and asked, “Are you sure, this was your first ever football broadcast?”
Meanwhile, Andy Furman, Hunter College’s version of P.T. Barnum was the team’s publicity man. He had Bill Veeck written all over him; never missing an opportunity to drum up attention for the program.
Furman regularly called in the basketball results to the Associated Press. One day, he did so mischievously; Hunter 70 Bodner State 64. It appeared in the agate the next day in most newspapers in America. But one problem. There was no school in America named Bodner State. Hunter had a baseball player named Stu Bodner, so as a lark he created a school in Bodner’s honor. To this day, the AP doesn’t know it was had.
A few years after doing wacky promotions for a small college and later for a New York area racetrack , he took his thick Brooklyn accent to Tulsa’s christian based Oral Roberts University where he was as novel as a New York egg-cream. When opponent Hardin-Simmons tiptoed into Tulsa, Furman offered anyone in town named Hardin or Simmons free tickets. When a Bulgarian all-star team found its way onto the schedule, he let all local Bulgarians in Oklahoma into the game for free. Furman eventually took his promotional wares to Latonia Downs, a racetrack outside Cincinnati, where in 1984, he also got married. Not surprisingly, in the Winner’s Circle!
When Latonia was sold, Furman took a sales job, first at a Cincinnati television station and later at the local AM radio powerhouse, 700 WLW. Working late one night, Furman was summoned to fill in on-air for the regular evening host who was home ill.
The station liked what it heard and for the next eighteen years Cincinnati sports radio was never the same. Furman galvanized the marketplace, working many shows with NBC’s football analyst, Cris Collinsworth. Stirring it up regularly Furman himself became a regular subject of conversation. He candidly took on coaches, teams and issues in the marketplace.
After leaving WLW, he hooked up with Fox Sports Radio where he's served as a national host for seven years. “The sports-talk world is different today from when I started,” Furman reminds me. “Back then, stations ran trivia contests all the time. Google has destroyed stations’ ability to run trivia.”
Furman differentiates between hosting locally and nationally “If the local sports team is a loser, a qualified host can lead the charge for a boycott or even a change in coaches. The national host doesn’t have that luxury. He or she has to be cognizant that talking college football might not play popularly in New York City or the NBA might not move the needle in Birmingham.”
When Kipnis got out of Hunter, broadcast openings were scant but he kept his hand in the business, working occasional games; including the first ever women’s college basketball game at Madison Square Garden. His partner that day was the Mets’ current radio voice Howie Rose.
For Kip, broadcasting DIII games in his youth – under some ungodly conditions - still triggers amusing memories today. “I called a college basketball game at a small school where those at the scorers table outnumbered the spectators. Another time, one team changed its nickname at halftime. And one day, our broadcast table and equipment were physically moved while we were on the air.”
His top memory is likely a football broadcast that he worked at Brooklyn College with the venerable Stan Lomax, a New York broadcast mainstay who was in his 80s at the time. “We called the game from an uncovered scaffold when the skies opened up. So we were forced to move into a parked car near the sideline. Talk about bad sightlines, it was like describing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from the subway.
“After my clothing dried, I came to the conclusion that it would be best to pursue another line of work, so I focused my career on banking and finance. No regrets. But I will tell you without hesitation, I loved it all, had great fun and made friends for life.”
Careers take sharp and unpredictable turns. Furman, the cigar chomping promoter, became a creative and popular radio host. Kipnis, a play-by-play prodigy, become a banker.
Kip says that the most important things he learned as a broadcaster are:
1) Respect your audience
2) Know the rules of the sport you’re broadcasting
3) BE PREPARED!
As for me, the fourth member of the quartet, I’m the hybrid guy, a jack of all trades and master at none!