OldBridge resident Frank Cipolla is one of the lucky few. At the age of 10, he knew he wanted to be in radio, and today he has accomplished everything that 10-year-old set out to do. He has not only worked in radio and on TV but has also worked with the broadcasters he idolized in his youth.
His three-decade career began at WCVR, a small radio station located in a wood-frame house along a two-lane highway in Warren County. The living room doubled as the radio station’s lobby, and the owner lived upstairs.
His career has since taken him to many radio and TV stations in New York and New Jersey. Currently an anchor at the Wall Street Journal Radio Network and heard regularly on WCBS-AM in New York, Cipolla worked at WNBC and WFAN radio stations before moving to Staten Island Cable and then News 12 New Jersey. There, he and Mizar Turdiu hosted “Morning Edition,” a popular news show that regularly beat CNN, WCBS and WABC in the New Jersey market, according to Cipolla. He has also been an anchor and reporter on Channel 9 News and along the way has worked with his idols Rolland Smith, Gary Nunn and Charles McCord.
Cipolla recently wrote and published “It Shocked Even Us,” detailing his career in the media.
He and his wife, Lauren, whom he refers to as “The Bride” in his book, have lived in Old Bridge for 16 years. He has two grown children — son Charles and daughter Taryn. He describes his kids as “much more shy than Dad,” and neither has chosen broadcasting as a career. Taryn helped her father publish the book and design the cover.
“And she invoiced me at the end,” Cipolla said with a laugh.
Cipolla describes his book as a story of “what goes on behind the scenes.”
“This is a love letter from me to the industry,” he said, also noting his dislike of people who bash the radio industry. He has some criticisms, but considers himself “like a dad who is concerned for his children.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said about his time in radio and TV.
His big concern is that young people today want to be reporters because they want to be on television, not because they are interested in journalism. Additionally, individuals are brought into a large market from a smaller market without being “seasoned.” It may save money, but it’s more difficult for the audience to trust someone who does not have experience.
“It’s not an easy job to do. … The ones who make it look easy are the ones who have [the experience] and are very good at it,” he said
Cipolla uses the lessons learned in his early days in radio wisely. These include the time he ate a cookie just before going on the air and promptly began choking. “Thankfully, it was at a really small station and nobody heard me,” he said.
Another lesson learned early on was that it pays to have chutzpah. In 1981 he wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan asking to be invited to the White House, and was subsequently invited to the next presidential lunch with the media. As part of the New York City delegation, Cipolla was seated at the table next to the president. Just before dessert, he got up, walked over to the president and shook his hand before being shooed away by the Secret Service. He also witnessed many things that became fodder for great stories. During his time at WNBC, Don Imus, Soupy Sales and Howard Stern all had shows at the station. Imus was one of the top DJs in the country, Soupy was a legend, and Stern’s star was on the rise. Egos clashed, and that resulted in several incidences of practical jokes. Imus opened a giant box of cereal and waved it around the studio, spreading flakes everywhere just before the start of Soupy’s show. Stern moved Soupy’s upright piano out of the studio to the other side of the city-block-long building.
More recently, at News 12, Cipolla worked on what he considered his best story. “The Secret Story,” a three-part broadcast, told the history of the treatment of Italian immigrants in the U.S. during World War II. These immigrants, many of whom had been in the U.S. for decades, were under scrutiny by the FBI. They were ordered to travel no more than a mile from their homes, causing some to lose their jobs. Their radios were taken away. Hundreds were sent to the internment camps and lost their possessions, just like the Japanese in America.
“History books seldom mention that,” he said .
The story was a major undertaking for a New Jersey station. Cipolla and a cameraman traveled to Washington, D.C., and San Francisco to interview Italian Americans who had been imprisoned in the internment camps. Cipolla noted that not one incident of sabotage was attributed to an Italian American.
Proceeds from Cipolla’s book will go to the Broadcasters Foundation of America.
“It’s my way of giving back to radio,” he said. It is also a tribute to Nick DiRienzo, the broadcaster who gave Cipolla his first radio job at WCRVinWashington, N.J., and even helped him find a place to live.
“Sadly, later in life [Nick] fell upon hard times,” Cipolla said. The Broadcasters Foundation provides a safety net to broadcasters who need assistance because of illness, advanced age or other misfortune. His book can be purchased at www.itshockedevenus.com.