When WFAN and CBS Sports talent Joey Wahler first came to Seton Hall as a freshman in 1986, the men’s basketball team experienced little success. Two seasons later, Seton Hall reached the NCAA championship game and Wahler reaped the benefits of the team’s success by covering it for The Setonian and WSOU.
An anchor, writer and play-by-play man, Wahler’s passion for journalism has always been rooted in storytelling. As a member of The Setonian, Wahler told stories across all disciplines, and his involvement in WSOU on campus allowed him to witness the growth of the men’s basketball team and its tournament run firsthand.
“The opportunity at WSOU to call games in the Big East, in the NCAA Tournament, at the Meadowlands (before the Prudential Center, which was our home court), at The Garden, at the Carrier Dome, to be around these legendary coaches at the time…and, by the way, at that time, we probably had as many people listening to us doing the games on ‘SOU as were listening on whatever commercial station was carrying us at the time, so people were listening,” Wahler said. “It’s one thing to get to do it, people were really listening.”
Those legendary coaches in the Big East at the time included Jim Boeheim, Rollie Massimino and Lou Carnesecca, but at Seton Hall, Wahler got to form a relationship with then-men’s basketball head coach P.J. Carlesimo, who later went on to coach in the NBA.
As both WSOU and The Setonian had access to Carlesimo, Wahler often went to the coach’s office to talk or interview him for a story. Right off the bat, Wahler knew what he was getting into with the head coach.
“The first time I ever crossed paths with P.J., my first year at Seton Hall, I had an appointment to interview him in the basketball office,” Wahler said.” I showed up on a Monday morning, bright and early, and he was running late. And the basketball secretary took a call from him on his way in, and she said, ‘Coach is on the phone, he says he’s sorry he’s running late, he wants to know if you want anything from the deli because he’s stopping.’ Now he had never met me, and he knew I was just some kid from The Setonian, but that’s the kind of guy he was, and right away it just gave you a good feeling about being around him, because I think he appreciated that we were all like him just trying to do a job, even though in a different way, at different levels.”
After Wahler’s freshman year, the men’s basketball program started to take off. Seton Hall reached the Sweet 16 in 1988, and Wahler traveled to the first two rounds of the 1989 run to the NCAA championship game, calling games with WSOU.
Although Seton Hall lost in the 1989 NCAA Tournament championship game to Michigan, the people in South Orange still celebrated like a trophy was coming to campus, according to Wahler.
“One thing that I’ll never forget is the celebration parade that South Orange had for the team, even though they didn’t win, because [Seton Hall was] robbed on a really bad call against Michigan,” Wahler said. “But many people around here felt as though we had won, and it wasn’t sour grapes. People had a really positive attitude about it, and there was this really big parade down South Orange Avenue that I covered for The Setonian in the days after the national championship game, and I’ll never forget the sea of people. You literally could not move from here to there because people were packed everywhere for as far as you can see, and my hope is that one day we’ll see that again.”
As Wahler continued his time at Seton Hall, he became editor-in-chief of The Setonian as a fifth-year senior. The paper’s advisor at the time, and current vice president of student services, Dr. Tracy Gottlieb recalls Wahler’s motivation in the journalism field.
“Joey was always very talented. He was stubborn and sometimes we butted heads, but never in a bad way,” Gottlieb said. “I always respected his passion for journalism.”
Wahler recalls learning the most from Gottlieb in his time at Seton Hall, and them “butting heads” taught him lessons that he still uses to this day.
“She was a great teacher, and there were specific things that she taught that I use all the time – some of them were philosophical, some of them were specific rules of new writing and reporting,” Wahler said. “She would put us in these situations right in the classroom where it felt like you were out in the real world by her sort of creating a real-life experience where, under the gun, you had to make those decisions, and it really was very beneficial.”
Perhaps the most notable instance the two had disagreements was when Wahler broke a story on two men’s basketball players involved in a fist-fight in Xavier Hall. Wahler talked to both players involved but was wary of writing the story because it was a heated topic for all sides of the situation.
“It was very beneficial at such an early stage to be put in that situation to have to make tough decisions, what to put in the paper, what not to put in the paper, how it would affect people – understanding that while you’re sitting by yourself at a computer writing a story, that that can really impact people’s lives,” Wahler said. “I think you have to live that, and make not just good decisions but some mistakes along the way to know what flame not to touch again. To have had that opportunity here was great because you are given the freedom to do all of that.”
Ultimately, those college experiences with Carlesimo, WSOU and The Setonian set up a foundation that led to Wahler’s success today. After spending time at a local station, WZBN, out of college, Wahler went on to get involved with WFAN, CBS Sports and ABC News Radio, anchoring sports updates and doing play-by-play for Wagner College and the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks.
“I am always thrilled to see my students succeed in journalism beyond my own level of achievement,” Gottlieb said. “I left daily journalism at a pretty young age and turned to higher education. Now, it makes me proud and, at the same time, reminds me of the heavy responsibility we have as professors to help chart the careers of our students. It’s something that Seton Hall does very well.”
No matter the discipline in the ever-changing media landscape of the modern age, Wahler has always held true to his love of storytelling.
Participating at Seton Hall in the way he did set the foundation for him to live his dream.
“I came here because I thought that I could use this place as preparation for being a broadcast journalist,” Wahler said. “I came here largely because of WSOU and because of The Setonian, and I spent God knows how many days and wee hours working at both places and getting the practical experience and knowledge that somehow helps me every day during my career.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @eswint22.