“Jewish boys don’t play football,” quipped Jonathan Friedman, but they can be sports broadcasters. Case in point: Friedman is the host of Talking Sports With Jonathan Friedman on WABC-77 (wabcradio.com). His show airs weekly on Saturday evenings from 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m.
A resident of Livingston, Friedman has been a member of Suburban Torah for 30 years. When he’s not broadcasting, he is an executive with Success Communications Group (SCG) in Parsippany. He was raised in Atlanta by former New Yorkers who switched allegiances when expansion teams came to Atlanta in 1966. He was—and remains—a diehard fan of the Braves, Hawks and Falcons. A high school baseball and basketball player, he traded the playing field for a sportscaster’s desk at the University of Georgia.
Friedman’s dream was to become a professional sportscaster. After graduating, he moved to New York and began a job at the now-defunct WMCA, where he did some on-air work while working primarily in advertising sales. Four months later, the station was cancelled and everyone lost their jobs.
“It was beshert that my parents prevailed upon me to take courses in sales while in college,” said Friedman, “because my next job was with one of the advertising agencies I worked with at WMCA.” Friedman has remained in advertising; he is the man behind the iconic “Gotta Go to Mo’s.” (Modells)
Whatever the setting, everywhere Friedman goes people come up to him to talk sports. “I’m like a magnet that way.” Beyond his devotion to his Atlanta teams, Friedman described himself as someone who is a true sports fan who knows “what’s going on with your team.” The father of five returned to the air three years ago – about the time he and his wife, Aline, became empty nesters. He signed a one-year contract with WMTR AM in Morristown and was once again hooked. Seeking a bigger audience, he moved on to NYC-WNYM (970 AM). He fulfilled his ultimate goal of broadcasting on the biggest AM station in the country when he joined WABC 77 six months ago, where 20,000-30,000 listeners tune in to his show each week.
On any given Saturday night, Friedman fields calls from across the five boroughs. His sidekick,
Jeff Lax, is head of the English department at Kingsborough College in Brooklyn. Charlie Baldi, whom Friedman called “the scorekeeper,” screens the calls.
Friedman takes his preparation seriously. He voraciously follows sports on the internet, which he uses as a reference point for knowledge and topics. There’s a lot of last-minute work erev Shabbat. The minute Havdalah is made, he’s on his phone checking on the day’s news. Then it’s into the car and through the Lincoln Tunnel. He admitted that a few times during the summer, when Shabbat ended well after 9 p.m., he made it to the studio just in time.
Once on the air, Friedman’s style is light-hearted; he wants his audience to have a good time. Energy is a big part of his show and “callers like to call us—we’re everyone’s friends. It’s definitely not cookie cutter,” he said. Friedman doesn’t hide his Judaism; he infuses the show with Yiddishisms and talks proudly about his daughter who is a lone soldier in the Israeli Army. “My listeners know I’m Jewish and a Zionist,” he said, adding that he credits the arc his life has taken for enabling him to feel his Judaism more deeply.
He is also profoundly grateful for his wife’s support. “It’s not an easy situation. She gives up Saturday night every week. But she understands that this is who I need to be,” said Friedman.
In addition to his passion for sports, Friedman has found inspiration through his work with the Friendship Circle. Just a few weeks ago, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, the organization’s executive director and Friedman’s neighbor, joined him on air. The two talked about the grand opening of LifeTown, the 53,000-square-foot fully inclusive and accessible center in Livingston for children, teens and adults with special needs and their families.
Friedman’s all-time favorite caller dates back to when he was at WMTR. “John from Morristown” lived in a nursing home and would call every week with what Friedman described as “all sorts of crazy things—once it was roller derby. One time when he called in I told him I would come to see him.”
Friedman made good on his promise when he surprised John with a visit. “It was great. We talked for an hour.” Shortly thereafter, Friedman was on air when John’s family called in to tell him that John had passed away. Friedman likes to think he brought some joy to John.
“Sometimes you just develop a relationship with a regular caller,” he concluded.
By Sherry S. Kirschenbaum