ColumnistsMy Turn

That’s How It All Got Started

Decisions that may look insignificant at first can determine lifelong professional career

By Bruce Frassinelli

CareerOne of the perks we seniors have earned is to put our experiences into perspective.

Our longevity allows us to dial back into the past to determine how those experiences formed us.

For about 18 months when I was a kid, I thought I would like to become a priest. I remember throwing a long towel around me and pinning it around my neck and saying mass — in Latin, no less. I would pound out little hosts from a slice of bread and sneak some “dago red” wine from my dad’s stash in the kitchen cabinet. I would serve communion to three of my younger friends who were gullible enough to sit through this ritual.

I would even prepare and deliver a homily to them using actual gospels. I thundered and bellowed at times, imitating our parish priest and pastor, Father McCook. If my friends snickered or laughed, I would point at them and told them in my sternest voice that they would surely experience eternal hellfire and damnation for their blasphemous disrespect.

In my mid-teen years, I moved on and scrapped the priesthood idea. Celibacy seemed like a drag, and I decided I wanted no part of it.

I became enamored of a well-known disc jockey of the day, Joe Niagara, who had a nightly radio broadcast on WIBG in Philadelphia. I thought it would be so cool to spin platters accompanied by my patter: “And now, here she is, Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs, with her 1951 blockbuster, `Ballin’ the Jack.’”

My parents had a grocery store, and I persuaded my dad to allow me to record a two-hour disc jockey, Top-40 program each day on my reel-to-reel Wollensak tape recorder, then play the recordings as background for customers who came into the store. I called the program “The Bruce Niagara Show.”

This led to a part-time job at the local drive-in theater where I would be the disc jockey for the half-hour before the first show and at intermission.

In 1960, during my junior year of college, I became a part-time weekend DJ at WVPO (Voice of the Poconos) in Stroudsburg, Pa., a 250-watt AM daytime-only station.

After I earned my bachelor’s degree in education the following year, I got a teaching job but continued to work part-time for the radio station. In 1963, when my friend, the program director, left to take a job on WABC radio in New York City, I was named program, news and sports director. It was one of those career forks in the road that many encounter, and, of course, I always wondered whether I went in the right direction.

‘Of the hats I wore, the one that really knocked my socks off was being news director. I wanted to learn how to gather and write news effectively and professionally.’

Of the hats I wore, the one that really knocked my socks off was being news director. I wanted to learn how to gather and write news effectively and professionally. To do that, I needed to go to a newspaper, which I did in 1966. Another fork in the road.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, if I had stayed at the radio station, I might have become general manager, then owner when the Ottaway group of Campbell Hall, N.Y., had to divest itself of its four radio stations in Stroudsburg, Middletown and Oneonta, N.Y., and Cape Cod, Mass. It kept all of its newspapers after the Federal Communications Commission ruled that a company could not own both the only newspaper and radio station in a community.

But it all worked out eventually, although it took some 26 years. I worked my way through the chairs of my newspaper — reporter to bureau chief to regional editor, then managing editor, editor, and general manager. In 1992, I was appointed as publisher of The Palladium-Times in Oswego, a position I held until I retired at the end of 1998.

Throughout most of the time I was in newspaper work, I also taught high school, then college on a part-time basis.

I frequently recall that brief conversation I had with an aunt when I was in fifth grade, and she asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Bruce?” I told her I either wanted to be a teacher or involved in the communication business.

Who could have figured that I would be doing one or the other or both for the last 57 years — and counting. And it all started by pretending to be a disc jockey making taped “broadcasts” in my parents’ grocery store.