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He was wild about Harry

Kristen Coppock, Burlington County Times, April 21, 2009

Jim Vassallo can be counted among the legion of baseball fans mourning the death of beloved sportscaster Harry Kalas.

The Evesham man can be included among the young radio broadcasters influenced by the Philadelphia Phillies' legendary play-by-play caller.

And he also is among those few people who got the opportunity to meet their idol - and not be disappointed.

Vassallo, 23, said he has been a lifelong fan of Kalas, who died April 13. As a child, he enjoyed following Phillies games. But as he got older, the 2004 graduate of Holy Cross High School in Delran developed a deeper appreciation for the announcer. He said he especially admired Kalas' ability to make even the most mundane plays seem important and the most negative situations, including the team's 10,000th loss, seem exciting.

"I fell in love with how he called the game, how he made everything interesting," said Vassallo, who coaches freshman baseball at his alma mater.

As an undergraduate radio broadcaster at Rowan University in Glassboro, Vassallo met Kalas. With other staff members of WGLS-FM (89.7), Rowan's student-run radio station, Vassallo attended an awards banquet for the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, during which Kalas was honored for his lifetime achievements.

Vassallo, who announced Camden Riversharks games as a WGLS sportscaster, said he spoke with the broadcasting icon for about 30 minutes during the dinner. They discussed baseball, Kalas' career and the young man's future.

"He had time for every single person there," Vassallo said. "He didn't want to sit down and have dinner. He wanted to walk around and mingle with everyone."

Kalas' death is "a huge loss" to the broadcasting industry, said Vassallo, and a "blow" to up-and-coming sports announcers and retired players trying to break into the business.

"Harry was a mentor to everyone he met," Vassallo said. "He was very knowledgeable about the broadcasting industry and baseball."

As part of the next generation of sportscasters, Vassallo already is earning his own reputation.

Since getting his bachelor's degree in 2008, he has continued to volunteer at WGLS, leading a Sunday night music program that features Frank Sinatra and other tunes from the Rat Pack era. Also, he operates an Internet writing business, JAV Freelancing at www.javfreelancing.com, and radio programs he created as a student are continuing to win awards.

At the Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 conference in Philadelphia on April 25, Vassallo will receive the Mark of Excellence award in the documentary radio sports category for 2008. He is being honored for his work on the one-hour program, "From First Snap to Stagg: A History of Rowan Football," which aired on WGLS. As the station's sports director, he produced the documentary with fellow student Joe Staudenmayer of Pennsauken.

Among Vassallo's other honors is the Award of Distinction from the 2008 Communicator Awards, which recognize excellence by communication professionals. The International Academy of the Visual Arts, which received more than 8,500 submissions for the awards, selected Vassallo's "Rowan Sports Review From John Page Field" for the honor.