Ann Liguori has been called a “pioneer” plenty of times before. Even if it’s the truth, Liguori, a 30-year veteran of sports media both regionally and nationally, is uncomfortable with the term.
“I laugh because when people say I’m a ‘pioneer,’ it conjures up an image of this ancient person,” Liguori said. “I act and feel like I’m 21.”
She was about that age when she started her 30-year career in mass media, a midwestern girl catching on in New York City. Liguori’s one of two broadcasters who have been at WFAN-AM 660 since its inception in 1987 as the first all-sports talk station in the world. She’s interviewed countless icons from the world of sports and entertainment—DiMaggio, Wilt, Tiger, The Mick. Liguori has traveled the world to play and cover golf, and on August 29, she began her coverage of her 29th US Open in Flushing.
Fresh out of the University of South Florida, her career began as a statistician for HBO, then the cable carrier of the Open, in 1982. That year, Chris Evert won her sixth and final title in Queens. It was the first time Liguori saw Jimmy Connors, whose Wilson T2000 racquet she used growing up; Connors won the ‘82 title for the seventh of his eight career Slams.
With WFAN, her weekly show Hey Liguori, What’s the Story? ran from 1987 to 2008. She has also provided live reports from the Open since then. Liguori watched a teenage hotshot named Andre Agassi explode onto the scene, his Open wins in 1994 and 1999, through to his heartfelt retirement speech in 2006. She’s seen the rise and the continued success of the Williams sisters. For Liguori, perhaps no player stands out like Roger Federer, the all-time men’s Slam leader who takes aim at his sixth Open win this month.
“I wish more young athletes would act like Roger Federer,” Liguori said. “The guy is just all class and so talented. It’s been a pleasure to watch him through the years. To dominate that long, fans take it for granted. It’s so extraordinary.”
For two weeks, she watches the action unfold from her perch at Arthur Ashe Stadium, also serving as a correspondent for various media, including for cbsnewyork.com this year. This year’s favorites include, for the men’s side, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer, while Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are amid a wide-open field competing for the women’s crown.
“I love seeing the variety of talent descend upon New York from all over the world,” Liguori said. “I especially like the first week, when someone can make a name for themselves by knocking off a top seed.”
In addition to covering tennis majors, she has toured the world’s finest golf venues, reporting from several Ryder Cups, Masters, US Opens and more as a writer (USA Today) and radio personality. She hosted Conversations With Ann Liguori upon the launch of the Golf Channel in 1995, and with interviews from there and from celebrity events in which she’s played, she pieced together the book A Passion for Golf: Celebrity Musings About the Game.
It wasn’t always easy for Liguori to earn an all-access pass. Even with Lesley Visser at CBS, Claire Smith at The New York Times and others, sports broadcasting was still a man’s world when she started. For sitdown sessions with legends like Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Brett Favre, she tirelessly researched her subjects to, in a way, prove that she belonged. Her aim was to lead an informative and objective interview, something she believes has been compromised in today’s media.
“It’s so easy to hit the Enter button, and all of a sudden, there you are on the web,” she said. “People don’t edit themselves and aren’t as careful as they need to be. The written word is so powerful, and we as journalists have a responsibility to be accurate, fact-check, to be as well versed on the subject as you can be and to be balanced.”
She’s continued that tack at her latest media home—WPPB 88.3 FM in Southampton, which broadcasts her weekly one-hour show entitled Sports Innerview (peconicpublicbroadcasting.org). It shares the name of her television program that aired both regionally and nationally from 1989 to 2004.
Liguori, who moved to Westhampton Beach in 2002, will conduct the show in studio but also takes it on the road, broadcasting from the Masters, golf courses in Ireland, even Cabo San Lucas.
“It’s such intelligent radio,” she said, speaking of what attracted her to the opportunity. “I love the diversity of it, and I love the variety of music they play and the community programs that are on… With my show, I love the variety of sports topics that I can discuss. I can talk about anything from baseball, basketball, football, golf, to health and wellness, financial management—it all applies to sports and it gives me a lot more latitude.”
In addition, she is the spokesperson for Family Golf Challenge, a skills competition designed to involve more women and children in the game. Liguori also runs the Ann Liguori Foundation, which, through golf outings and other events on the East End, has raised more than $1.5 million for the American Cancer Society since the late 1990s.
What isn’t lost on Liguori is how her skills, paired with the timing of the expansion of media, allowed her the opportunities that she’s had. She entered three now-massive media outlets—WFAN, USA Today and the Golf Channel—on the ground level. Her one-on-one checklist can match up with any of her contemporaries, especially in the world of sports.
The novelty of it all, including this month’s Open, hasn’t worn off and won’t soon.
“I’m still so passionate about hosting shows, going to golf events, tennis events; every one of them is different,” Liguori said. “The people continue to change and I have a front-row seat. The seat’s the same. The difference is I’m wiser and older, but I appreciate it just as much.”