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Ann Liguori Shares Life Lessons From Award-Winning Sports Media Career

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Updated May 10, 2024, 12:02pm EDT

While doing all she could to keep her dreams alive in the Big Apple, Ann Liguori’s mother often sent money. Of course, what might go a long way elsewhere did not last long in Manhattan.

“I lived day-to-day financially,” she said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it. My mom would send me some money. The money she sent didn’t last a day.”

Liguori not only lasted, but ultimately thrived. In 1987, five years after arriving in New York, she began working for WFAN. The nation’s first all-sports radio station launched that summer and Liguori became the first woman to host a call-in sports show. She was part of another sports media startup in 1995. It was at the Golf Channel in Orlando that she hosted a primetime show, “Conversations with Ann Liguori.”

The seeds for such opportunities were planted as a little girl watching radio and television pioneer Ruth Lyons with her mother in the family’s suburban Cincinnati home. Liguori also played whatever sport her older brother, Jim, played. Put the two together and Liguori began to construct a career path at a very young age.

“I always knew I wanted to be an interviewer and I was always athletic,” said Liguori, whose family moved to Cleveland when she was eight. “My mother had me in a highchair watching Ruth Lyons’ show. We are influenced at a very young age. I am proof of that because I knew back then that’s what I wanted to do.”

New York State of Mind

While attending the University of South Florida, Liguori often tuned in to Tampa’s NBC affiliate to watch Gayle Sierens, who spent 38 years at the station as a sports reporter and co-anchor. Sierens was the first woman to provide play-by-play of an NFL game, which she did in December 1987 during a matchup between the Seahawks and Chiefs.

“I was lucky she was the sports anchor back then,” said Liguori, who graduated USF in spring 1982. “I could actually see a woman broadcasting sports, which at that time was rare throughout the country. She was one of the few.”

Liguori, who majored in broadcast journalism with a minor in international studies, was intrigued by a flyer she saw on a bulletin board at USF. It pertained to a summer fellowship program in New York with the International Radio and Television Society Foundation.

“I thought, ‘Wow,’ I always wanted to go to New York,” said the Long Island resident, who will be enshrined in the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame on May 30. “That was my dream.”

The dream came true. Liguori applied and was one of roughly 20 students nationwide to be accepted for the fellowship. She went to New York and had the opportunity to mingle and work with industry professionals. In autumn 1982, she served as a freelance production assistant with shows such as the “NFL Today” on CBS.

When the fellowship term was complete, Liguori continued to live in Manhattan doing everything and anything she could. That included being a statistician at Wimbledon for HBO and covering every New York team for the ABC radio network.

“Every night I was at a different game,” she said. “One night it was the Yankees, the next it was the Mets. I was doing all these jobs just to afford to remain in Manhattan.”

Liguori also worked for USA Today. Often, her postgame duties included getting audio for ABC radio and then filing a report for the paper.

Dwight Gooden Interview

A week before WFAN went on the air in July 1987, Liguori made her way to Shea Stadium to record her first interview with the station. Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden, who missed the first two months that season after testing positive for cocaine, agreed to chat for a segment that would run the following week. Liguori did not want other microphones invading her space while she chatted with Gooden, who was being largely shielded by the team. The gameplan was to escape the Mets locker room for the one the Jets occupied before moving from Queens to Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands three years earlier.

“I asked him if he would be my first guest and if we could tape an interview,” recalled Liguori, who knew Gooden through her coverage with other outlets. “When he agreed, I knew I had to take him out of the Mets locker room and move to the Jets locker room. I wanted it to be an exclusive interview. We walked past this horde of reporters to the Jets locker room. It was (gutsy), but I had to do something. I knew I had to build credibility very quickly.”

That was among a treasure trove of recollections Liguori shared prior to a May 3 book signing at Avila Golf & Country Club in Tampa. Her new book, Life on the Green: Lessons and Wisdom from Legends of Golf features a foreward from Jim Nantz and consists of interviews with a dozen champions of the links such as Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player. The book is dedicated to her older brother, Jim, who lost his life to leukemia in 1982 at age 22 and only two years after Liguori lost her father to cancer. (Jim was the oldest and began a procession of the four Liguori siblings to USF. Sister Jean and brother Dan also made their way to Tampa to attend college.)

The Gooden interview was the beginning of what is a 37-year run at WFAN for Liguori, who hosts “Talking Golf” on Sunday mornings. Her show, “Hey Liguori, What’s The Story?” ran for 25 beginning in 1987.

“Women weren’t hosting sports shows back then and I had to do something to establish my credibility,” she said. “I had to have great guests. I had to get good reviews because if I failed, not only would I have hurt my own career, but perhaps would have hurt the chances of other women pursuing careers in sports. I put a lot of pressure on myself in those early days.”

Speaking of Those Early Days....

Liguori prepared for her shows by perusing five newspapers each day and clipping and filing articles and notes packages according to sport.

“It was a time before I could pick up my phone and Google,” she said. “I had folders for every person that I thought I was going to interview. I had folders on Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Wilt Chamberlain. I had filing cabinets full of folders and I saved all of that stuff.”

Of course, it took time. Google Mickey Mantle today and roughly 10 million entries are retrieved in less than a second. But pulling out scissors and going to town?

“How archaic was that?” she said. “It was so labor intensive. I read five papers and I would cut out articles. I would have a baseball file, a basketball file, all of the sports, all of the personalities. That was the only way to do it.”

Because of how things evolved with laptops, high speed internet, the ability to record videos with a phone, podcasts and whatever else, Liguori had to evolve as well. She kept up with the change in technology so that she could change with it. She felt she had no choice, which remains true today.

“I think you have to reinvent yourself, especially as an older woman,” she said. “I have always been independent and never worked at one company full time. I was never salaried and never had benefits, so I was always hustling. For example, I would bring on my own sponsors. I still do that for my radio show.”

Golf’s Life Lessons

From attending 26 Masters to her many years at the Golf Channel and the tremendous service she provides through the Ann Liguori Foundation and its charity golf tournament, one can be excused for thinking Liguori was hooked on golf above all other sports from an early age. Alas, she did not swing a club until her teens and did not dive into the game until the beginning of her tenure at the Golf Channel, where her first guest was Sylvester Stallone.

“I never took formal lessons as a kid, and I regret that,” said the host of “Sports Innerview,” a cable television series that ran nationally from 1989 to 2008 – Mantle was her first guest – and is currently heard Saturday mornings on Long Island’s WLIW-FM. “I wish I would have learned, but I played tennis. That was my big sport. It is funny how it all evolved because golf is my life. Everything I do revolves around golf.”

Liguori, who has covered every U.S. Open Tennis Championship since 1982, likens what can take place on the golf course to what can take place during the course of life.

“You learn so much from golf,” she said. “It is like a microcosm of society with its life lessons. You have to forget about bad shots and it is so hard in life to stay positive. You might have a business deal that goes sour or something in your personal life that is not going well. It is easy to say, ‘stay positive.’ However, it is so hard to do. I think that is an incredible lesson that you learn from golf.”

Liguori, who is a brand ambassador for women’s apparel company, Ibkul, never stops learning, never stops pursuing and has no intention of slowing down any time soon, which brings us to another life lesson.

“I feel like a kid,” she said. “I love what I do. Gary Player, 88 years young, talks (in my book) about pursuing your passion. I totally believe that. I cannot see myself not working. I like golf, but I don’t want to play it five days a week. I like interviewing people and I like to write about them. That’s my passion.”

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