This March, Dana Balash will celebrate his 39th anniversary with WFMJ Broadcasting, an association that has found him anchoring their nightly sportscasts for the past 33 years.
When they call you the ‘Dean’ of anything, for most is means that you have stuck around too long and are awaiting the right time to ride off into the sunset when you call it a career.
Balash has shown no signs of slowing down, approaching each and every day with the vim and vigor he did back when he began his media career as a stringer-correspondent for The Vindicator during his high school days at nearby Hubbard High School.
“The years have flown by and it is hard to believe that I have been doing this thing I absolutely love for that long,“ Balash told the Curbstone Coaches during their weekly meeting this past November 13th. “I have had great mentors and co-workers along the way, starting with the late Chuck Perazich, former sports editor of The Vindicator who would always help and guide you along the way.
“Also, I was fortunate to learn from some of the absolute best in the business, a listing that includes Steve Mechling, Denny Liebert and Pat Saunders, among others. Former YSU men’s basketball head coach, Mike Rice, who served as a TV analyst for the Portland Trailblazers for many years, joined me when I was doing high school games on our radio affiliate in the late 1980’s and I learned quite a bit from his insight into the game.
“My goal was to be the longest tenured sports anchor at WFMJ-TV. I have surpassed that and now I am told that I’m the longest tenured anchor in the Youngstown market. With all the great people I have worked with in Youngstown, that’s quite special to me.”
Balash, whether he believes it or not, has been a great mentor himself, offering opportunities to interns while taking them under his wing and provide them the time necessary to learn the ins and outs of the business.
Unlike many others in the media, Balash remains a 24-7, 365-day a year sports director.
Oh, he takes a day off here and there and has recently cut back his schedule to allow his assistants more air-time opportunities, but he works the phones on his days away from the office, keeping up with his contacts, following leads or simply saying hello to coaches, athletic directors or friends that he has made in the business over the years.
Yes, he is connected both locally, statewide, regionally and nationally so if the breaking sports story involves an athlete, coach or administrator from the Mahoning Valley, it’s Dana Balash who usually breaks the story first after running down his many leads.
Facebook, Twitter, TikToc and other social media platforms were non-existent when he began his career but he remains the unprecedented ‘King of the Tweet’ when he is ready to break a story or update an event that he is covering.
He gives so freely of his time for the various causes in which he believes, readily accepts an invitation to speak to high school or college students in their respective broadcasting classes and is a God-fearing family man who fully understands that you only get out of something that which you directly put into it.
We caught up with Dana recently and he was delighted to go “1-on-1” with us as we highlight one of the area’s absolute best sports broadcasters ever to sit behind a microphone.
“GOING ONE-ON-ONE WITH DANA BALASH”
You grew up in Hubbard so you are a lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley. How did you get interested in sports – did you play sports during your formative years?
“I did not play sports in high school but I did play 5th-8th grade basketball in the Catholic League at Ursuline High School. Unfortunately, I was not athletic enough to play in high school but still wanted to be around sports in some way. That’s when I became interested in statistics, etc. I was the Hubbard football statistician throughout my high school years.”
You had a fascination with the media beginning in high school when you served as a correspondent for The Vindicator under their sports editor at the time, the late, great Chuck Perazich. Was that the springboard to what would become a current five-decade career in the local media?
“I was extremely fortunate to be a correspondent for The Vindicator while in high school. The late-Tony Angelo, the so called Hubbard correspondent for The Vindicator couldn’t make a couple games and worked it out with Chuck Perazich for me to cover the games. Since I was keeping statistics for the football game, it was easy to get them the information. After high school and while attending college, I was able to cover other sports for Chuck and got to know others in the media. I owe a lot to Chuck Perazich for putting the faith in someone like me and for giving me that opportunity of a lifetime.”
When you graduated from high school, how tough was it to choose a college to attend? In what did you major/minor and what degree did you earn (YEAR)?
“I knew what I wanted to do while in high school. At that point, Kent State was considered, and still is a good journalism school. When I went there I got involved in the campus radio and television stations, which solidified my career choice. After a year, I transferred to Youngstown State and for the next few years did some correspondent work for the old Phoenix Publications (a mixture of newspapers in Trumbull County) and The Vindicator. I then landed a part-time position at WFMJ, AM-1390 as an overnight engineer. I owe a lot to the late Johnny Kay (Richard Kutan) for hiring me. At the point, I connected with Steve Mechling (former WFMJ sports director) and was able to do some high school football games my first year, that being in the in the fall of 1985. At first, I was a sideline reporter for Friday games and was able to do play-by-play for their Saturday games. Steve knew my desire and gave me a chance to do games exclusively due to his TV duties. It was an awesome opportunity to this day for which I am most thankful.”
You went from the newspaper medium to radio and ultimately television, where you have been a fixture for nearly four decades. Talk about the three mediums, what they were like when you started out in the business and what they are like today?
”When I started in radio, it was an honor for high school teams to have their games broadcast. At that time there were several stations doing games every Friday. Sometimes we worked together so all of us were not at the same game. I always called the coaches of the games I was doing to get line-ups, statistics and any other tidbits they could provide. The most important thing I was told was “no one ever listens to an entire game so it is important to give the score, what quarter and how much time is remaining. Doing radio play-by-play is the hardest thing to do because you must paint a picture of what’s going on for your audience. Radio and television were the two electronic mediums people relied on and I had to be correct.
Newspapers were the bread and butter in the 1980’s. Everyone read newspapers, especially in this area because The Vindicator was an afternoon paper and everyone got the “news of the day” in the late afternoon before the TV news came on.
Television is the visual media where everyone wanted to “see” the news and sports of the day.
All three mediums have changed drastically. The internet and cell phones have changed the news and sports industry. Back in the day, I could “sit” on a story and break it on air during the 6 p.m. sportscast. Those days are over because of social media. Now, I get a story and put it on social media immediately, hoping our viewers want to see the story. Many young people and even some veterans in the industry want to be first with a story. I always tell myself, yes, it is nice to be first but make sure the story is right. The industry changes have taken the learning phase out of play.”
Who were your idols growing up, either in our or out of the media industry and who gave you the best advice you ever received?
”I didn’t have idols growing up. Obviously, your upbringing is important and I was always taught ‘hard work pays off.’ I started working at age 13 or 14 and given my all to any position I had. John Grdic, the former general manager of WFMJ Radio when I started in 1985, told me a few weeks after I started.. ‘If you work hard every day and are dedicated, you can be at this company a long time.’ Now, almost 40 years later, I must have done something right.”
Is there anyone whose life you affected and didn’t know until later and conversely, who affected your life in a most positive way?
“Being in the public eye you never know who you are affecting. More than 10 years ago, my name was in a Niles woman’s obituary saying she enjoyed watching her favorite sportscaster and there was my name. I was touched and you kind of think about those things. Saying someone’s name correctly in the highlights, putting someone on television for a few seconds. Sometimes the littlest things have the biggest impacts on individuals. There are so many that have affected my life. It starts with your family, friends, co-workers and others. In this business, you have so many who rely on you and you on them.”
You are deeply religious and you take your Faith very seriously. That Faith has been tested, however, yet you have bounced back and never asked the question, WHY ME? Talk about your religious upbringing and why FAITH is so important to you.
”I am a true believer in things happen for a reason. There’s no question the last three years have been challenging from a health perspective. Prior to COVID-19, I lost my hearing in my right ear due to Ramsey Hunt syndrome and had some hearing loss in my left ear. When a doctor says your hearing is not coming back, it is a punch in the gut. My first thought, how am I going to work, how are people going to communicate with me and how am I going to do this? I didn’t want this handicap to hinder what I do. After a couple of weeks, I realized the ‘Good Lord put me in this position because he knew I can handle it.’ Currently, I have a cochlear implant for my right ear and a hearing aid in my left. I can’t hear as well as I once could, but I realize I am in a good position compared to others.
In August of 2022, I was tested again. I had a chest pain that I never experienced before. I thought it was indigestion and went to the hospital. After a quick test, I was having a heart attack. I didn’t want this to hinder me in any way. After having two stents inserted and cardio rehab, it was another test the Good Lord gave me. I still go to cardio rehab three days a week and developed great friendships with others who are dealing with the same issues. We are all there for the same reason and support each other.
I go to church every weekend and take each day as it comes. I can’t live in fear or say to myself what’s going to happen next. Everyone has issues but it is how you handle those issues that’ll make you a better person.”
As sports editor at 21 WFMJ-TV, you anchor the highly successful “Friday Night High School Football Report.” How did that come about, how many years have you done that and how many games, including this past season, have you now covered?
“This was something we started in 1994, covering eight or 10 games every Friday night. Our former sports director, Pat Saunders and general manager, John Grdic, came up with the idea and it has been a go for 30 years now. Since its inception, we have covered more than 6,900 games and have expanded to 19 or 20 games each Friday. It is a total team effort with videographers, reporters, interns, engineering staff and everyone else playing a part in its success. It is something that our viewers love and certainly we hope it continues for many more years.”
Finally, you have covered a myriad of events in a variety of sports, both men’s and women’s, both locally, regionally and nationally. Give the Top-3 that you have been fortunate to attend and cover, and why?
“In no specific order, it wasn’t a story I covered but one I was a part of. In 1996, I was fortunate enough to carry the Olympic torch as part of the relay. It was an unbelievable feeling knowing the entire country was watching. I was lucky enough to purchase the torch and it is still hard to believe that it has been almost 30 years since that occurred.
“During the early days of COVID-19, the West Branch girls basketball team was on the court at St. John Arena in Columbus preparing for its state semi-final game and they were called off the court because the entire tournament was cancelled. The eerie feeling of what was happening was a day of uncertainty. The disappointment but togetherness from both teams was something I’ll never forget. Although there was disappointment to this day, I believe the OHSAA did the right thing.
“Finally, Kelly Pavlik winning the middleweight championship of the world was a real thrill. He was down and nearly out in the second round but battled back to knock out Jermain Taylor. You could feel the excitement in Atlantic City from all the people back in Youngstown. Afterwards, Pavlik made sure he spoke to the Youngstown media before anyone else. Pavlik was a true champion and was always available to talk when asked. That is what is missing in sports today, but I always respected Kelly for the way he treated the media.”