The newest voice of our local minor league hockey team, the Atlanta Gladiators, Ira Liebman was like many young Jewish kids in New York, a die-hard fan of his Yankees, Islanders, Jets and Knicks, with the dream of potentially working in sports when he grew up.
“When the Yankees lost, I woke up in a bad mood, and when they won, I woke up feeling great,” he said. “There was something there that went beyond the norm and that I knew I needed to be involved with.”
Sports is a competitive field to break into, so Liebman chose a different path initially, selling audio technology.
“Just because you’re selling radios doesn’t mean you’re going to be on the radio,” he joked.
He worked in retail sales for Bose and was tasked with giving announcements in a big box store to draw customers in for a promotion and a giveaway.
“People were coming back and asking, who’s doing the announcements, … and they were like, ‘Wow, you’ve got a good voice,’ and I thought they were just saying that because I was their manager, which was true, but other departments started coming over and saying the same thing,” Liebman said.
A few more stops along the way, he realized that sports, which had always been there for him in his free time, could also be his calling.
He signed up to take classes at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting — just a ferry ride away from his home on Long Island — and after an abbreviated program, began working for WFAN, one of the biggest sports-talk radio stations in the nation.
“I was an intern and one of the shows I worked for was ‘Mike and the Mad Dog,’” he said. “The next step was getting on the air.”
Taking classes at Stony Brook University, Liebman found his voice discussing the school’s newly Division I baseball team.
“Everyone wanted football and basketball, but baseball was always my first love,” he said. “They [the baseball team] ended up making the tournament and fought through the losers’ bracket, so I got to do five games over a weekend.”
Liebman’s first big professional break took place at the Major League Baseball winter meetings, known to fans as a place where managers and owners meet, and the biggest deals are made. It is also the home of a job fair for every position from mascot to general manager, and fortunately for Liebman, broadcasting.
A 16-year career took Liebman around the country working for teams in California, Colorado, Texas and more, mostly in baseball. While working in Sugar Land, Texas, Liebman was one of the driving forces behind a revolutionary ESPN3 broadcast, which was the genesis for many innovations making their debuts in the MLB booth today.
“The nice thing about working in independent baseball is that you didn’t have to abide by any major league rules,” he explained. “We talked to the manager at third base, … and he’d take a step back live on the air and give us the signs. We would talk to guys in the dugout during the game, … and we’d mic guys up and find out what they were talking about.”
His experience didn’t just stop at the U.S. border, however. He also worked for team Australia at the World Baseball Classic in 2009.
“I was a huge fan of the World Baseball Classic when it first popped up in 2006 — finally a true World Series,” he said. “A lot of people wouldn’t expect Australia to have much of a baseball team, but they were a few outs away from going to the next round facing teams like Mexico and Cuba.”
While he is working in the industry, it’s clear Liebman’s fandom has never faded. The joy is still in his voice as he discusses some of the amazing players he’s gotten to know over the years.
“I got to interview and actually became pretty good friends with Roger Clemens,” he said. “Rafael Palmeiro also, … Tracy McGrady, … and Fritz Peterson, [whose] story is actually really interesting; he and his teammate swapped wives.”
As for if he still has major league aspirations, Liebman insists, “I could die a happy man if I could do one major league game.”
Liebman is coming on in a full-time role year-round with the Gladiators. In addition to being the voice of the team, he is also the organization’s communications and media manager.
“A lot of broadcasters either do it seasonally or fill another role for the team as well,” he said. “I realized I could use my sales skills and the marketing skills I’d developed over the years to really make this position a great fit for me.”
As for what the young Jewish kid from Long Island would think of what he’s achieved, his answer was very simple. “I wouldn’t have believed it, not in a million years,” he said. “I was the furthest thing away from figuring out that I had a voice.”
As for what keeps him invested in the work he’s doing game after game, Liebman said, “When I’m on the air, all the planets are aligned and life is perfect in that moment. … I’ve been skydiving and didn’t get the same adrenaline rush I get when I’m on the air.”
The Atlanta Gladiators season kicks off Oct. 18 at the Infinite Energy Center. To learn more, or to purchase tickets, visit www.atlantagladiators.com.