Communication alumnus Frank Cusumano settling into dream job at KSDK

Frank Cusumano

Sportscaster Frank Cusumano, a 1984 UMSL graduate, has been a fixture at KSDK (Channel 5) for more than 20 years and in November took on the role of sports director at the station. (Photo by Steve Walentik)

Frank Cusumano’s days have gotten a little bit longer since November.

That’s when the University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus was promoted to sports director at KSDK (Channel 5).

Cusumano now finds himself leaving the house around 7:45 a.m. each weekday and driving to the InsideSTL studios in St. Charles to host “The Press Box,” his daily morning sports talk show from 10 a.m. to noon on KFNS (590 AM). When it’s over, he heads downtown to begin prepping his segments for the nightly newscasts.

Sunday through Thursday, he doesn’t leave to return home from the station on Market Street until 10:30 or 11 p.m.

“Sometimes my mind is fried at the end of the day,” Cusumano said one recent afternoon while sitting behind the desk on set at KSDK. “I’m not saying my radio show’s great, but I am saying I do put a lot of preparation into it every day. I try to script out the monologue and all the sound bites, so that does take a little bit of time.”

Then add in the time it takes to determine what will get covered during his television segments at 5, 6 and 10 p.m.

But the hours are a small price to pay for the opportunity to hold a job he’s been dreaming about since long before the station hired him full-time in 1993 or even when he first interned there as a UMSL senior a decade before.

Cusumano was 6 years old when he first began memorizing the names of all the quarterbacks in the NFL – signaling the start of his love affair with sports.

His real passion was playing them – basketball in particular – and he excelled as a guard playing alongside future Indiana Pacers first-round draft pick Steve Stipanovich at De Smet Jesuit High School. He was part of a team that once won 63 consecutive games.

Cusumano, now 55, knew before he finished high school that he wasn’t destined to play in the NBA, but he did have several offers to play Division II basketball.

He acknowledged the one from UMSL wasn’t always his first choice.

“I had a couple other Division II schools, and they were out of the area,” Cusumano said. “But my dad said to me, he goes, ‘If you go to UMSL, you could intern at KMOX and Channel 5 and really learn a lot.’ It took me a while to come around, but I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s right.’”

He signed up to play for Coach Tom Bartow’s program starting in 1980 and developed into a high-energy guard under Bartow and later Coach Rich Meckfessel. And sure enough, he wound up interning at KMOX (1120 AM) during his freshman year and at KSDK as a senior.

Cusumano, who majored in speech communication, also gained valuable experience in between while working at UMSL-owned St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU and writing for The Current.

“That radio station, KWMU, they really allowed a lot of student involvement,” Cusumano said. “So we were doing sports reports there all the time. I enjoyed it. I absolutely enjoyed it.”

He also had a chance to host a Sunday night radio show that he remembers booking regularly with the same two guests: current KMOX broadcaster Mike Claiborne and the late Richard “Onion” Horton, a familiar and sometimes controversial voice on St. Louis airwaves for roughly three decades.

“We had like three or four people listening – my dad, Mike’s dad and maybe Onion’s son,” Cusumano joked.

Cusumano by then had had his sights set on a job on screen – a dream that crystalized for good when his father, Frank Cusumano Sr., initiating a lunch meeting between him and then-KSDK sports director Jay Randolph at the family restaurant, Kemoll’s, early in Cusumano’s time at UMSL.

“I sat there in that booth, and I see this guy having a couple Budweisers in the middle of the day, eating food and then going to cover sports,” Cusumano said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is my life.’”

He graduated from UMSL in 1984 and landed his first sportscasting position at a station in Kingsport, Tennessee. He was there a year before moving on to Lexington, Kentucky, where he stayed about six years.

Getting back to his hometown never strayed from his mind.

“The problem I had in my previous stops in Tennessee, in Kentucky, is I didn’t enjoy the process enough because I was obsessed with coming back here,” Cusumano said. “There were good times, but I should have enjoyed it more. I didn’t know there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

In fact, Cusumano found plenty of rejection as he applied for and got turned down for sports reporting positions at stations throughout St. Louis over several years.

He’d moved back to his hometown anyway after his son Alex was born and was doing freelance work for KSDK when then-sports director, now-news anchor Mike Bush created a fourth sportscaster position for him in 1993.

Cusumano has made himself a fixture on St. Louis airwaves in the years since, hosting his radio show for more than 20 years in addition to his television work at KSDK, where he has won 17 Emmy Awards.

He has found some of his greatest professional satisfaction uncovering the untold but touching stories of less visible athletes, like a February feature about a Missouri Baptist University baseball player and the grand slam he hit while wearing the jersey and honoring the memory of his late friend and teammate.

Cusumano’s stayed connected to UMSL, whether it’s keeping in touch with former professors such as Michael Murray, being friendly with basketball coaches such as Bob Sundvold or more than once serving as the master of ceremonies at the athletic department’s annual Tip-Off Luncheon. He was honored with the Marty Hendin Distinguished Service Award in 2014 at the induction of the Sports Hall of Fame class.

He aspired to one day move into the sports director position and got passed over for the job when Bush moved to the news anchor role in 2003.

If there were any hard feelings when that happened, they passed quickly, and the years since have shown Cusumano how fortunate the timing really was.

It allowed the father of three to spend more time with Alex, daughter Brooke and son Dominic – and aid them in their own athletic pursuits. Alex played college golf at Loyola University Chicago. Brooke is a senior golfer at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Dominic is entering his senior year at Westminster Christian Academy and is being recruited as a baseball player.

“There’s no way I could have taken this job when the kids were young because those five nights a week that I was home, we were either at driving ranges, gyms or baseball fields every night,” he said. “Fortunately, they’ve turned out to be pretty good athletes. I’d much rather watch them play than the Cardinals play. I’d much rather watch them play than the Blues play. It would have been horrible for me.”

His schedule still allows him enough flexibility that he can duck out during an afternoon or evening to see Dominic play.

Cusumano has only held the sports director title for seven months. But only a few others have been able to rival or exceed his 23-year tenure at KSDK – in a business where many are always eyeing the next job. Among them are Bush and that man he met for lunch at Kemoll’s all those years ago while a student at UMSL, Randolph.

“Those guys were legends,” said Cusumano, while humbly refusing to consider himself in their class. “I’m the exact same sportscaster as I was a basketball player – that probably raw skills was just kind of middle of the road – but passion and work ethic is the reason I have this job.”

The UMSL Experience

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