Entrepreneurs love other entrepreneurs. That's why Buzz Battaglia and I hit it off immediately.
It was 1989, Baltimore radio station WFBR had been sold, and I was going to try to buy my way onto the airwaves at WCAO. Manny Klein, then the media director at my brother's ad agency, TBC, made a couple calls on my behalf to help me find sponsors who would pay the freight.
Klein directed me to Buzz Battaglia, who owned six Metro Auto Parts stores around Baltimore and Bel Air, Md. (or "Belll-Air" as he would say it). I had known Buzz only as a sponsor of Phil Wood's radio show on WCBM. I stopped over to see Buzz at his Rosedale, Md., location, and based on Klein's seal of approval, Buzz was in.
A friendship that lasted 28 years was born.
When I heard Buzz Battaglia died June 6 at 69, I knew I'd be the one at PressBox to have to put pen to paper, and I immediately worried about all that I didn't know about Buzz's life. And then a calm came over me, because all I had to focus on were the enormous things I did know about the man.
Married for 42 years to the love of his life, Bunny, they had four children: John, Vicki, Maria and Joe. He started his own auto parts business and built it up to be a force in this market for 27 years. When he lost his business, all he did was go right down the street to his friend and competitor Joe Salvo and convince him he could work for him and make it a "win win" for the Salvos and for himself. He continued to work and create revenue for the Salvo family in the 17 years since Metro dissolved.
Aside from his family, his passion was sports, specifically football. He dedicated a large chunk of his life to saving recreational football in this area. When owner Robert Irsay took the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, not only were the Colts taken from the heart and soul of a city, but youth football was decimated over anger at the NFL.
Ex-Colt Artie Donovan had known Buzz from his days of sponsoring some of the radio shows Donovan starred during the 1970s and early 1980s. Donovan reached out to Buzz to help find players for youth football teams.
As Buzz's son John remembers it, "As soon as Dad hung up the phone, Dad was in the truck and grabbed me, and we grabbed five friends and started a team." At one point, after the Colts' exodus, the Harford/Baltimore County Youth Football League had a total of nearly 500 players.
Buzz was able to stabilize the league and keep it alive until the Ravens came into being and breathed life back into the league. When Buzz
retired as president of the league in 2007
, it had expanded to 29 programs with more than 7,000 players.
Even after he left his post with HBCYFL, he still coached at Gilman School under head coach Biff Poggi through 2015, when Poggi left Gilman to go work with Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
When I started PressBox, Buzz stepped into a role he had never anticipated: sports writer, as he penned a weekly article we called The Coach's Buzz. As part of his deal with us, Buzz did a weekly segment on our first radio program, which I hosted with my friend Bruce Posner.
When PressBox opted out of the radio business, my two "students" both went into the brokered programming realm that I first tried in 1989. I'm proud to say both Bruce with his "Terp Talk" show on WJZ-AM 1300 and Buzz with "The Coach's Buzz" (along with the help from Miles Goodman and son John) have been successful fixtures on the radio for a decade.
One of Buzz's proudest possessions was his gorgeous home in Monkton, Md. He always loved having the big house, because as any Italian knows, it is all about family.
One of my fondest memories of my friend Buzz was when he was able to host his daughter Vicki's wedding at his home under a huge tented backyard. I always felt a tremendous warmth whenever I had reason to rub elbows with Buzz. But usually when I was dealing with Buzz he was on the go, making something happen.
On this occasion, I got a glimpse of why Buzz worked so hard. It was so he could do things that allowed him to smile around his family.