December 18, 2012
‘Simply the best’
Sports broadcaster Arnold D’Angelo passes away
Photo provided by WTIC News Talk 1080
Arnold D’Angelo, right, a Cortland native and 60-year veteran of television and radio broadcasting, on the job at a recent Connecticut sports event. D’Angelo, who went by Arnold Dean professionally, died Dec. 8.
Arnold F. D’Angelo, a Cortland native and 60-year veteran of television and radio broadcasting, died Dec. 8 in his home in Rocky Hill, Conn. He was 82.
His death was sudden and unexpected, said his first-cousin, Marci D’Angelo, district registrar of the Homer Central School District. His pacemaker had just been replaced the previous day.
She said her cousin was equal parts older brother and father figure to her.
“This came as such a shock,” she said. “He was in great physical shape and appeared to be doing very well.”
Known better by his on-air name of Arnold Dean, D’Angelo’s last broadcast was two weeks ago on the Hartford, Conn., CBS station WTIC, where he took calls from listeners on a University of Connecticut sports show called “Husky Extra Points.”
D’Angelo, a trailblazer in sports radio, was commonly known as the Dean of Sports, which was not a self-appointed title, said his cousin.
“He never called himself that,” said Marci D’Angelo. “Someone dubbed him that and it just sort of stuck.”
Marci D’Angelo and Arnold D’Angelo lived two houses apart on Scammel Street in Cortland, as she grew up. Their fathers were brothers and their mothers were sisters.
“Our two families were pretty much one,” she said.
The brothers’ father, Frank, was an Italian immigrant, and Arnold D’Angelo became known on air as Arnold Dean, a change proposed by management at WTIC in 1965 to make him appear less ethnic. He was also the first in his family to attend and graduate from college, she said.
While the two were close, with Marci D’Angelo a frequent visitor to the grocery store that Arnold D’Angelo’s mother, Mary, owned, he was already on the radio when she was still a child, and she would listen to him every night.
“There was always a song he would play for me before I went to bed,” she said, although she could not recall the exact track. She somberly noted that they probably would have spoken on the phone after Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim won his 900th victory Monday night. They usually spoke after SU basketball games, she said, as they are both alums.
“He was the shining star of the family,” Marci D’Angelo said. “We always knew that he was going to do a wonderful job with whatever he chose to do.”
She described her cousin as affable, well-liked and non-controversial. She said he had once turned down a position at a New York City-based news station because the nature of the program would have been too argumentative.
“He wanted his programming to be friendly, pleasant and something people would look forward to listening to,” D’Angelo said. “He was genuine and humble, simply the best.”
This year marked his 47th year with WTIC, having joined in 1965 after holding broadcasting and production positions with WKRT in Cortland, WAGE radio and WHEN TV-5 in Syracuse.
Decades later, WAGE is now the Clear Channel-owned WHEN and WHEN TV-5 is now CNY Central.
D’Angelo was 16 when he graduated from Cortland High School, class of 1947, a clarinetist for the New York All-State Band.
He also played for the Old Timer’s Band, formerly known as the Cortland Civic Band, along with the father of Helen Matera, a former Elm Street resident who would become his wife of 56 years. She died last year.
His first foray into the business began in 1948 for WKRT in Cortland, where he spent a year learning the ins and outs of radio production before going to college in Syracuse.
While City Historian Mary Ann Kane did not know him personally, she remembered D’Angelo calling play-by-play for Cortland High School basketball games at what is now the County Office Building.
“He did have a very good voice,” she recalled.
While attending Syracuse University and signing on with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he got a job at the WAGE radio station that had engendered his love affair with broadcasting as an 8-year-old growing up on Scammel Street.
His career trajectory took a skyward turn when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force upon college graduation. An inner ear problem kept him from becoming a full-time pilot, so he was sent to aircraft maintenance school and spent three years as a maintenance officer for Strategic Air Command.
D’Angelo returned to do television and radio for his former employer, WHEN, in 1958, and spent seven more years there until he finally got his slot as a staff announcer on the 50,000-watt WTIC radio station in Hartford.
The “Dean of Sports” broke new ground there in 1976, when his nightly “Sports Talk” program became one of the first call-in sports talk shows in the nation.
Full-time sports radio stations were a decade away, so D’Angelo provided go-to coverage for the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut basketball and football and other area teams. He covered the Greater Hartford Open, a PGA tournament, for over 40 years.
D’Angelo interviewed sports legends like Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Ted Williams, as well as tantamount figures in the big band world like Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Harry James, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa on a monthly series called “One Night Stand with the Big Bands.”
Joe Zone, sports director at WFSB Channel 3 in Connecticut, said D’Angelo was a product of a bygone era.
“My immediate reaction was that we had lost another legend, and there aren’t too many legends left to lose,” said Zone. “He was a gentleman and the nicest guy off the air and on the air. He had a different way of doing an interview where it wasn’t about disarming the person he was talking to.”
Zone has worked at television stations in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, but spent much of his career at WSTM-TV in Syracuse.
Pictures of D’Angelo with figures like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio decorated the Brooklawn Funeral Home in Rocky Hill, Conn., said Zone, who attended his wake on Friday.
Some of the largest Connecticut sports names appeared as well, Zone said, including former University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun, a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
Arnold Dean was inducted into the Connecticut Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 1997 and has been recognized dozens of times over his career from the Associated Press and the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association in categories like “Best Sportscast,” “Best Sports Feature,” and “Best Play-by-Play.” Dean has been named repeatedly as the Connecticut Sportscaster of the Year.
Cortland High School inducted him under the name Arnold D’Angelo into its Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame in 2006 after his 60th year on air.
“He said in his acceptance speech that of all the awards he received throughout his career, that one was the most quintessential,” said Marci D’Angelo. “That one was for who he really was.”
D’Angelo donated liberally to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Nutmeg State Games and The Jimmy Fund for children’s cancer research, according to his cousin.
Arnold D’Angelo was laid to rest Saturday outside St. James Church in Rocky Hill, Conn.
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