He grew up in Niagara Falls, did radio work in Las Vegas and Buffalo, and now lives in New Jersey while working in New York. Zig Fracassi’s broadcasting career has been all over the map.
The former sportscaster for the late WNSA-FM now has a national audience as a member of the NFL Channel broadcast team at SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
During football season, Fracassi is a regular host for a Saturday evening show called “Late Hits,” which previews the weekend’s NFL matchups. He also does sports updates and fill-in hosting duties on various SiriusXM channels.
WNSA, whose on-air personalities included Mike Schopp, Howard Simon, Jim Brinson and Art Wander, folded in 2004. Fracassi’s radio contacts helped get him noticed by Sirius, which was just getting off the ground with sports programming that same year.
“October of 2004 is when it started and we’re approaching our ninth year on the air already,” Fracassi said by phone from New York this week. “So it’s really taken off since 2004.”
The “Late Hits” show has a rotation of several co-hosts, including Jim Miller, the former Chicago Bears quarterback. Fracassi doesn’t mind bragging about the roster of NFL people who are on SiriusXM.
“Former Bills GM Bill Polian does some shows with us,” Fracassi said. “He’s one of those guys, you just bring up an issue or you just set him off and, bam, he’ll just give you an education.
“Gil Brandt, who along with Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, ran the Dallas Cowboys for the first 29 years of their existence. He pioneered the scouting, the computer, drafting, the players that weren’t even necessarily football players, like Bob Hayes, a track guy. … Gil revolutionized all that. He does shows with us. I’ve worked with the likes of Anthony ‘Booger’ McFarland, a Buccaneer and Colts defensive tackle, a two-time Super Bowl winner. Rich Gannon is on our staff, a former MVP. There’s quite the stable of guys that I’ve worked with.”
Though he grew up in the Falls, Fracassi grew up rooting for “America’s Team.”
“True confessions: I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan since the early ’70s. Even though I lived in Niagara Falls, believe it not, the Cowboys were on TV a lot more than the Bills ever were.”
Those Bills home games were never on unless they were sold out well in advance. And the Cowboys, they were America’s Team with Roger Staubach and everything.
“But I do like to see the Bills do well. The fans up there are great.
“I’d like to see them get rewarded for their loyalty with a good product this year.”
So what does this national football analyst think of the Bills’ chances this year? Like many others around the league, he expressed cautious optimism.
“I would really hope that at least contending for a wild-card spot would be the ideal goal,” he said. “Between all the positive vibes up until the last couple of weeks with the injuries, a lot of good had been originating from Western New York.
“My colleague Jim Miller, who I think is one of the shrewdest evaluators of quarterback talent there is, said EJ Manuel was the best to come out of the draft this year. And that’s because he’s big, he looks the part, has a strong arm, has a great disposition, and let’s not forget this guy won a lot of games at a major school at Florida State. Plus I think some of it had to do with the fact that EJ’s dad and Bruce Smith are very good friends. When you’ve got No. 78, who used to chase quarterbacks for a living, giving you an evaluation on one, I can probably trust that.”
Fracassi said he likes the addition of rookie receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin “to give them some speed. And you’ve already got Jackson, you’ve got Spiller. So I think the offensive components are there, but the line is the big question mark, as it’s been for the last few years.”
On the defensive side, Fracassi said he likes new coordinator Mike Pettine “a lot. And I think Jerry Hughes is giving them a good pass rush … but they’ve still got to get more pressure on the quarterback. And they’ve gotta get better play from the secondary. And now Gilmore’s out two months, so that really hurts.
“Having said all that, Manuel’s going to have some highs and lows, but I can see the Bills being at or around the .500 mark and flirting with a playoff spot.”
Fracassi is gearing up for the season by doing his homework.
“I’ll watch NFL Game Rewind during the season, the previous week’s games, and make notes, then I will try to translate those into the week’s matchups,” he said. “With the guests we have, we have a lot of coaches on during the season on SiriusXM Radio. We do player interviews, a lot of Internet research, it’s almost a full-time job preparing for the weekend’s preview.”
As you might expect from a Western New York native, Fracassi also enjoys hockey, as a fan and broadcaster. Last season he did a college hockey program that he hopes will return this winter.
Fracassi lives in Clifton, N.J., about 5 miles from MetLife Stadium. There is some high anxiety in those parts about hosting the Super Bowl in that open-air stadium in February. The Farmers Almanac predicts snow and bitter cold for that week.
“I started cracking up when I heard that prediction because they’re usually pretty spot on,” Fracassi said. “You know, being a hard-core NFL fan – and an AFL fan, too, because I follow the history – before 1967, when they consolidated and played the Super Bowl, they used to play the championship games in the elements.
“For me, I thought a couple of years ago, when the Giants beat the Packers” in the playoffs after the 2011 season, “you know Tom Coughlin’s face was stone-red because it was so bloody cold at Lambeau Field, I thought that was some great theater myself. As a football fan I think it would be awesome if the game was played in the elements.”
• CBS, home network of the AFC, has the same broadcast pairings this year as it did last season for its NFL coverage, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms the No. 1 team. The No. 2 team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will work the Bills’ opener against New England. The Week Two home game against Carolina of the NFC is on Fox, of course, with Dick Stockton and Ronde Barber. The Bills’ Week Three matchup with the Jets at MetLife Stadium will see Marv Albert and Rich Gannon in the booth for CBS.
• If you haven’t caught it yet, be sure to check out the HBO documentary on former New York football Giants announcer Marty Glickman, who also worked in many other sports. Glickman, who went to Syracuse, influenced many other sports broadcasters, including Albert and fellow Syracuse alum Bob Costas. And the story of Glickman’s life as a track star and football player prior to his broadcasting career is the most fascinating part of all. “Glickman” airs several more times on HBO throughout the month, including today at 11:15 a.m.