As a network news anchor at the Wall Street Journal Radio Network, broadcaster Frank Cipolla’s voice is heard coast-to-coast, delivering news reports twice an hour. A native of Queens and a graduate of St. John’s University, Cipolla got his start on the college’s radio and television stations. After graduation, he worked as the news director at WCRV in Washington, New Jersey and later WJDM in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1986, he was hired as the full-time afternoon anchor for the renowned Soupy Sales Radio Show on WNBC in New York, where he worked alongside Don Imus and Howard Stern.
After WNBC was sold to WFAN, Cipolla moved into local television news and launched the first live call-in news talk show at Time Warner Cable in Staten Island and later co-hosted the popular Morning Edition with Mizar Turdiu at News 12 New Jersey. In 2001, Cipolla joined WWOR-TV in New York as a reporter, and later served as a fill-in anchor before moving into his current role of broadcaster at the Wall Street Journal Radio Network.
In 2011, Cipolla published It Shocked Even Us!, a behind-the-scenes memoir of his career in broadcast news, sprinkled with entertaining anecdotes about his time in radio and television. The book can be purchased at www.itshockedevenus.com.
What initially inspired you to pursue a career in broadcasting?
I have been blessed with knowing exactly what I wanted to do from the age of ten. I was always interested in history and current events and admired the men and women who delivered stories on the nightly news. In high school, as I discuss in my book, we set up a make-shift station where we used to videotape newscasts. I played the role of WCBS anchor Rolland Smith. Ironically, years later I would anchor by his side. So the decision to become a news broadcaster was made at an early age and I have been blessed with doing exactly what I have wanted to do beside so many heroes of my youth for 37 years.
How did growing up in Queens shape who you are today?
Queens is, and was, the most ethnically-diverse county in the nation, with people speaking English and 80 other different languages. What growing up in Queens did for me was make me curious about the outside world. I was exposed to different cultures and traditions which intrigued me – just as the different spices would in your favorite dish. It also instilled in me a work ethic honed by watching my mom and dad go out into the world every day without complaint to make sure my sister and brothers were taken care of. I talk about this in my book. Growing up in the place and time in which I did you either were first in something, second or third. There were no “participation” awards as they are today, and I think losing made you know how it felt – and made you work harder to do better next time. It’s okay to lose; it teaches you that you must do better and your either rise to the challenge or you don’t. There were many life lessons in that regard growing up in Queens.
Who were your role models growing up?
Living in the #1 TV market there were many! People like Rolland Smith, Jim Jensen, Bill Beutel, Vic Miles, Bob Teague, Roger Grimsby and many more. These men – and the talented women that broke into the business later – exemplified the essence of journalism. The STORY, and not them, was always the most important thing. Even though many have passed on – or moved on – I still think these were, and are, the icons all news people should emulate.
Soupy Sales was a legend when you began working for his radio show in 1986. How did that gig come about, and what was your relationship like with Mr. Sales?
Soupy had been another of my broadcasting idols. I watched his groundbreaking TV show when I was a kid. Soupy was transitioning into radio in the mid 1980’s. I had been doing news on the weekends at WNBC and was moved to weekdays and was made Soupy’s radio news anchor. It was a thrill to work across from him in the studios at 30 Rock. His star power at that time was enough to attract some of the bigger names appearing upstairs on The Today Show, and I would regularly look up and see some of the biggest Hollywood stars stopping by to say hello to Soupy. His humor was vaudevillian and his relationships with both Don Imus and Howard Stern rocky – but all-in-all, it was a magical time for radio and I was happy to be part of it.
When working at WNBC, what were your impressions of Howard Stern? Did you have any inkling that he was destined for the sort of career that he’s had?
You could see Howard was doing real cutting edge stuff, and I think all of us sensed that this was the future of radio. Irreverent, free-wheeling and raunchy. The odd thing was that off the air he was the nicest guy you could know. And very reserved. Like many radio people he understood how this business works and his success was part talent (which he has plenty of), timing and luck. In a lot of ways, he was the Don Imus of his generation. Redefining radio for all who followed. I did, and still do, find him very entertaining!
I do business news now and, even though I naturally keep up on all the current events, my focus is on what is happening in the world of business. On top of that, I am associated with arguably the best business news organization in the world, The Wall Street Journal.
The great thing about being a news person is that no day is ever the same and that goes for business news as well. I have learned a great deal about how we are all connected by the global commerce that is conducted everyday. So my day begins with checking the business news, looking for trends and stories that will pop up during the day, and learning as much as I can about what it all means. I am in the WSJ Radio studios at 7PM and begin putting all that info gathered during the day, and collected when I arrive, into my mental funnel. My job then is to write business stories that are concise, interesting and understandable to the average Joe.
I broadcast to 400-plus stations coast-to-coast, and do customized reports for WCBS (All News 880) in NYC and WNEW All News 99.1 in Washington DC. Like every news person, I take the complicated, briefly explain it, and why it is important to you.
What do you enjoy most about radio broadcasting? And for you, how does it differ from television broadcasting?
Radio is more intimate and in a lot of ways more difficult. All you have are the words and your voice. You use that voice to convey importance and the words to explain, as plainly as possible, what is happening and why. It doesn’t matter how smart you are – it matters how you communicate the story. That’s not to say radio news people aren’t the smartest folks around, only that the real good ones communicate well.
TV is a different animal with many more moving parts. The way you write a story depends on what video you have. The pace can be just as frenetic as radio but you are more dependent on your photographer, producer, editor, technicians back at the station and others to make it work. Not to mention those you will encounter on the street just as you are ready to go live. Doing a live shot, as described in my book, is akin to landing on the moon. There is a lot going on around you and you must remain calm and focused so that you can stick the landing.
What do you wish you’d figured out at a much younger age than you actually did?
How to finesse a situation. I am just naturally pushy (as all reporters should be) and was very much so in my younger years. What I have learned is sometimes you need to use honey and not vinegar to catch the bee.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
First of all, my bride of 20 years has made many of those over the years and I have had many outside my home as well. I have, like most people do, my favorite restaurants. A good number of them cook the kind of wonderful Italian food I grew up eating at home.
How has the radio industry changed since you got your start?
It’s changed in many ways. When I broke in, almost every radio station of significance had a full-time news staff, anchors who delivered the news once, sometimes twice an hour, and reporters who covered the cities they lived in. Everything from the tragic fire to the city council meeting. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for local stations to be without any news – and for no one to be physically at the station. Syndication, where disc jockeys and news people are many miles away, is very common. They’ll sit in a studio in Los Angeles or New York and do the same show for hundreds of stations around the country. All those jobs are done by one person who has no knowledge whatsoever of your tiny corner of the world.
On the upside, hyper-local news websites like Patch are filling the void, but I wonder how long before newspapers fade away or go online and leave a lot of us in the dark about what is happening in our communities. Make no mistake, however – radio news will never die. It will evolve. And for someone who loves broadcasting news it’s the best job anyone can have!
When your radio career comes to a close, how do you hope to be remembered?
I hope to be remembered as someone who got the story, got it right and worked well with others. I will hasten to add however that I have no intention of retiring. If I am healthy, and someone still wants me, I will work until the very last day. It brings to mind one of the great street reporters in NYC who passed away just a month or so. Stan Brooks not only loved every day he was out on the street covering news, but was also – for a time – a professor of mine in college. I also had the priviledge of working by his side while covering city hall for WNBC in the late 1980’s. Stan died at the age of 86 doing exactly what he wanted to do and soon they will name a street for him. Well deserved for a life well-lived.
As for working well with others, there are some people in my industry – as there are in all industries – who are not totally honest. Not on the air, of course, but in their dealings with others. I decided very early on that I would be successful but not at the expense of others. I want to leave this business not only respected by my colleagues, but well-liked as well. Just like Stan Brooks. The true sign of success is not how much money you have but rather how many friends. I am blessed with more than I could ever have imagined.