By John Avino ’13
College is a time of our lives where we decide what direction we want to take at our lives in one way or another. Sure, going in most of us may have some idea of what we want to do, but going to college and figuring out the specifics of what you want to accomplish is more important then any other step of this process. As an aspiring sports broadcaster I thought my best choice would be Ithaca College for its resources and opportunities. After a great conversation with an Ithaca alum who is very much successful in the same field, I am confident that I chose the right school.
But this story isn’t about me; this story is about that alum. An alum who was the third host in the history of ICTV’s Gridiron Report, a show that I was very heavily involved with during my time here. He called football games in the same press box that I had the pleasure of also calling games in. This is the story of Mike Catalana, the sports director (among other things) at WHAM-TV in Rochester, New York.
Mike Catalana is from southern New Jersey, or as he likes to call it, “outside of Philadelphia.” He grew up rooting for all of the Philadelphia sports teams, and he will be the first to tell you that there have been some hard times. Bobby Clarke, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Ron Jaworski, and Mike Schmidt were among the first athletes that he had a daily following of, and as he expressed in our conversation, watching all of the Philly teams was not an easy task. They were quite lousy, but from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s Mike was as invested as anyone else in Philadelphia sports.
By the time college came around, Catalana knew that he wanted to work both in television and in sports, but where? He looked at Boston College, Boston University, and Temple among other schools, and I took especially great pleasure in hearing that Syracuse was never even on his radar.
When I asked him how he ultimately made his decision, he had a quick and easy answer. “We went upstairs in the library and took a book out and started looking for communication schools and found Ithaca,” Catalana recalled. “I didn’t know anything about it. And then I went to visit and loved the school, loved everything about it — and from that moment on I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”
I was pleased to hear that a man in his current position took the same routes that I have found myself taking over the past four years. Catalana joined both student-run radio stations and became heavily involved in ICTV (which at his time was called WICB-TV). He reminisced about broadcasting the news for the television station, and remembered his Bombers football and Gridiron Report days as well.
He was the third host in the history of The Gridiron Report — which hit pretty close to home. As someone who is as heavily involved with the show (and ICTV in general), I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit when he asked, “They still do Gridiron Report?” Years later when he returned to campus, he said there is a picture of him and Coach Butterfield hung on the wall in Park.
His football calling days were what he answered when probed with a question asking about his favorite days at IC. Traveling to call road games and being part of a complex college production both gave him pride and a sense of fulfillment. He was even able to one-up me when he said that in his days, the entire production truck and their volunteers would travel to at least one if not more road games every season.
Perhaps it was his Philadelphia roots that led him to intern with the news department at WPIV and take classes at St. Joseph’s University his second semester of his junior year. WPIV was and still is Channel 6 News in Philly, and this experience was the equivalent of current IC students going to Los Angeles or New York for a semester.
Glamorous is far from the word I would use to describe Mike Catalana’s first job after school. When I asked him about it he laughed first, and then explained that his first job was with Dial Sports, a hotline people called to find out scores and game results before the Internet. “Think about this, this is the 80s,” he said, “there was no ticker running at the bottom of the screen and no Internet. It would be a recording that would come on, and you could eventually hear whatever score you were wondering about. I didn’t care who it was; most of them were probably gamblers. I was basically doing a radio sportscast six times an hour and it really helped my delivery and style.”
His next gig came in Binghamton, with the help of a former friend at IC. WMGC was the ABC affiliate he landed a job with, and despite having complaints about the pay and bad equipment he enjoyed being back on-air and learned a lot from the experience. He was a 22-year-old sports director suddenly back on camera, learning how to make himself an even better sportscaster.
Catalana admitted that he didn’t see his next job as one that he would be at for more then a couple of years, but after WHAM-TV offered him the sports director job in 1989, Catalana found that rare keeper-of-a-job — just four years out of college. As he put it, it would’ve been a hard time to leave with how well the Bills were playing in the early 90s. Add on to the fact that he was the sports director after just 16 months and you can see why he chose never to leave.
He also noted that “local was king” when he was coming up, and there was never a real reason to have to leave. “ESPN was there, but they were nothing compared to what they are now,” he recalled. The job has changed a lot over the years, though. It went from a broad variety of sports around the country, to much more localized once the Internet and ESPN both erupted.
What does a day in the life like now for him? He does sports for all of the news broadcasts, usually four times a day. He tells me that it has changed from the older days where sports would get a big chunk of time in a particular block, to a smaller window of time with a big story hit during the first block of the show. They’re also in charge of the social media updates, which is obviously a newer portion of his job.
He also added that he has enjoyed doing sideline work for the Bills during the preseason, in addition to a postgame show for them. He does Amerks hockey games with an in between periods and postgame show, and has a radio show as well.
Finally, when I asked him what advice he had for a graduating senior looking to go into his field, he had a few words of wisdom. He first said, “Don’t think there is anything you don’t need to know. You need to be able to shoot, edit, write, write for TV, and write for the web.”
He also admitted he read this next piece of advice somewhere, but doesn’t mean that it isn’t true: “Big time is wherever you are right now.”
That speaks true to me in current day. If I didn’t think that everyday of my life, how would I ever get anywhere in my field? I truly believe that I need to cherish all of the moments and really look at the greatness that I am already surrounded with. That is why he never left. Big time was WHAM-TV for him then — and it still is now. And that is perfectly fine.