SOUTHINGTON – The outpouring of kind words have continued to come in for longtime news and radio man Jim Senich.
A two-hour tribute for Senich was on the 1320 WATR airwaves on Monday morning. Senich died at 83 on Thursday and WATR’s Chris Fortier and Tom Chute hosted the tribute in the Waterbury studio.
Also, calling into the station were three of Senich’s five children – Marty, Eric and Diana – as well as former colleagues at the Southington Observer – Dave Phillips, Karen Avitabile and Art Secondo.
Senich is best known for his voice, but he also worked in newspapers, serving as sports editor of the Southington Observer from 1976-88.
Although Senich enjoyed his time in print journalism, radio was his love from the beginning. He got his start at Leland Powers School of Radio, Television and Theater in Boston.
The closest Senich got to the national stage was in 1962 when he was one of three finalists for the Dallas Cowboys' play-by-play job.
He has had radio gigs in Danbury, Bridgeport, Greenwich, Southington, Bristol and, most notably, WATR. He called thousands of basketball, football, baseball and softball games along the way. He also hosted talk shows.
“My dad believed in fairness,” Marty Senich said. “He believed in being a fair reporter and didn’t like negativity – which is something different in today’s world. He was always fair to all of his kids. All of us got equal time all the way through his life.”
Marty Senich added that his father was loyal to everyone and was always prepared.
“He did his homework,” Marty Senich said. “He made sure he went into any event and knew what he was talking about – which was amazing. I’m biased, but he’s the greatest story teller of all time. People who had heard his story so many times I needed to hear them again and again, you know, people who are close to him who had hear them, and he just captivated everyone's attention. And he taught us to be respectful. He taught us to handle things with class.”
Eric Senich followed his dad’s footsteps into radio and he was proud of his dad and his accomplishments.
“Everything he did I wanted to do,” Eric Senich said.”He never told me you should do this. I just saw him do it and I wanted to do it. He was my first rock star. We would go to the restaurant on Thursday night and people would always come up to him and say, ‘Hey, Jim. How are you doing? He would introduce me to them. Kids would come up to him and say hello. My dad did so many things in his life and met so many people and then the sports guys, radio aficionado and music artists. He loved everything. We could talk about anything. He had a bond with all of his kids. He had different bonds with us. For me it was endlessly talking about radio and sports. I became a sports writer because of him. I got into radio because of him.”
Eric Senich has gone through his dad’s tapes and air checks over the years. Jim Senich had interviews with Ted Williams, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Red Barber and Tom Seaver to name a few.
Among the great players Senich saw in over 40 years in high school were Bobby Valentine (Rappowam-Stamford), Calvin Murphy (Norwalk), Rob Dibble (Southington), Ryan Gomes (Wilby), Edmund Saunders (Holy Cross), Rico Brogna (Watertown), Tony Ortiz (Crosby) and Irene Mach (Southington).
“He never bragged. So told him I will do the bragging for him,” Eric Senich said. “I would talk about it in the nursing home. I would show people, You see my picture up there? That’s my dad and he’s in the Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame.”
Senich’s plaque is up at Rentschler Field. He became the third media member to be inducted in 2007. Previous media inductees were Dick Galiette and Bo Kolinsky.
Jim Senich left the media business in the early 2000’s when he left WATR in 2001 for a position as a manager of communications at the Connecticut Supreme Court in Hartford.
Jim Senich has had his share of health challenges in the last 20 years or so. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003 and the next year was struck by a car and suffered a fractured tibia and fibula, torn rotator cuff, three fractures of the skull, blood on the brain and fractured vertebrae. He battled through a long healing process that included 17 surgeries and the amputation of his right leg above the knee.
Eric Senich lived in the same building as his dad when he was working working for the CT Supreme Court and they would commute to Hartford together.
“I loved those car rides. After the accident, he struggled but he kept working,” Eric Senich said. “And you know all these little things that he just enjoyed...he got me into all of the music that he loved as I got older. I just had such an appreciation for Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.”
Eric Senich also remembers going for a job interview at ESPN and running into former Southington great Rob Dibble.
“He told me that my dad was the best sports writer,” Senich recalled.
The general sentiment from all is Senich was all about the athletes and made them feel like celebrities.
“He brought everything to a higher place and treated everyone the same,” Marty Senich said. “He made the most with every opportunity with me, Eric, Chad, Diana and Mary Ellen. The Southington Care Center kept him comfortable.”
“Dad set the table for us to be successful, opened doors. Just incredible,” Marty Senich said. “He loved Waterbury and everything he did he did it from his heart. He made you feel like the only person in the room when he talked to you.”
Former Southington Observer staffer Karen Avitabile was given her break in the business by Senich. She was initially brought into the business as a youth correspondent at the Observer. She would type up her story and drop it off at the office. Eventually she became editor of the paper in 1996.
“When you're a kid trying to break into the field, and it's, it's obviously dominated by adults, and you had an editor who was giving you a chance to show what you got, and to be patient about it, and to be encouraging and supported about it made the whole difference for me in from my high school career, continuing to do stories for the Observer, and then through college, and into my professional life,” Avitabile said. “So if I had someone back, then who was negative, didn't want to give me a chance, and who wasn't at all upbeat about his current job, which Jim was. It would have been a totally different story for me and where I have been now professionally, my whole career in the field.”
“Jim was solid, newspaperman. And he knew how to take a story. How do you go after it, who to contact for and he did it in a really calm and patient manner which was a really great learning process,” Avitabile added.
Phillips said he got to know Senich while working for the Waterbury Republican-American. He was Senich’s halftime guest more than 20 times at gyms in the Greater Waterbury area.
“We would shoot the breeze about everything but the basketball game,” Phillips recalled. “Jim was one of my all-time favorites. Six years after I met him we did the writing for Sports Page Magazine. It was so much fun.”
Diana Senich Sheard said her dad was always sought after as an emcee.
“He would get up and say a few words and would always nail it...He gave a blessing first. He was part deacon and part comedian” Diana said. “He always paid attention to people like they were the only person in the room.”
Former Southington softball coach Joe Piazza and Senich became good friends over the years.
“He was always accurate about what he reported and it wasn’t just X’s and O’s with him. He wanted to know about the kids,” Piazza said. “I’ve been saying this for 40 years...He’s the first sports writer at least in this area that did features on female athletes. He did the Senich Sports Scope and would talk to me about the kids and then talk to them and do a really nice article.”
Piazza added that Senich gave the girls and boys equal coverage.
Southington won its first softball state title in 1978. Senich rode on the bus with the team to face Norwalk in the state final that year. Southington won the championship game, 4-3.
“As far as what he meant to Southington – he was a voice that everyone respected,” Piazza said. “He was the voice that kids loved to talk to. He had the best voice and I still pull out my scrapbooks and read what he wrote about my teams. Just a great guy.”