Police vehicle accidents and the impact such crashes have had on communities across New York State are the focus of a new data journalism project involving Newhouse School students working in partnership with reporters from the USA Today Network and Central Current….
Meet Biko Skalla ’18, Voice of the World-Famous Savannah Bananas
Baseball is America’s pastime, a game rich in history and time-honored traditions, where change is slow to be embraced and slower still to be adopted.
Then, there are the Savannah Bananas, a minor league baseball team that has changed the way baseball is played.
Yes, the fundamentals of the game remain the same. But the Bananas—who are bringing their unique brand of baseball to Syracuse’s NBT Stadium Thursday evening as part of their sold-out Banana Ball World Tour—incorporate a fan-friendly style that has ushered in a new generation of fans, something that was sorely lacking in Major League Baseball (MLB).
Enticements include a breakdancing first-base coach, a dance team consisting solely of grandmothers (the Banana Nanas), choreographed walk-up performances for every batter and a commitment to providing fans with nonstop entertainment from the moment they enter the ballpark.
And the voice of the Bananas, Biko Skalla ’18, is an up-and-coming broadcaster who, like the players he covers, isn’t afraid to break traditional norms. Skalla shows excitement and passion that is reflected whenever he calls a huge moment for the team. He lets his goofy personality show through to the audience with an over-the-top call. He’s even conducted postgame interviews in the shower or in an ice bath following a big win.
With a personality that perfectly aligns with the zany on-field antics of the team he covers, Skalla has found a home in Savannah as the Bananas’ ultimate hype man while honing a craft he hopes can carry him to the big leagues.
“I’m always true to myself and who I am when I get fired up about things that maybe other broadcasters would see as more mundane. And while I changed my broadcasting style, I didn’t change who I am as a broadcaster or the standards that I developed at Syracuse University. And that’s important because this is not the end goal for me. The end goal is a Major League Baseball broadcast booth,” says Skalla, in his fourth season covering the Bananas.
A Broadcasting Job Unlike Anything Else
Skalla possessed the play-by-play experience before coming to Savannah—he was the lead broadcaster for two years with the Saugerties Stallions, who play in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, a wooden bat league that is about as far removed from the big leagues as you can get—and he spent two seasons working for the MLB Network after graduating with a degree in broadcast and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications.
Skalla landed a job with the MLB Network while still at Syracuse. He quickly moved up the ranks, starting as a video editor before being promoted to broadcast associate and then associate producer.
But something wasn’t right. After two years, Skalla wasn’t satisfied with the career path he was on. Longing to return to the broadcast booth, Skalla began scouring the baseball broadcasting job boards and websites, searching for the job that could launch his career.
One day, he came across an opening for the Bananas that “was unlike any job opening I’d ever seen,” Skalla says. Bananas’ owner Jesse Cole was looking for a broadcaster and an entertainer, and almost immediately, Skalla knew “this job was for me.”
Skalla learned all about the history of the Bananas and their desire to produce the most entertaining version of baseball possible. The personality of the Bananas—making baseball fun and not taking themselves or the game too seriously—resonated with what Skalla wanted out of a broadcasting job.
Skalla was originally hired on a two-and-a-half-month seasonal contract, but after proving his dedication, he was promoted to a full-time position.
“I love baseball more than anything, it’s always been my number one love from as far back as I can remember. Bananas games are six hours of non-stop entertainment and it’s about making people happy and spreading joy by bringing folks back to baseball, which is the greatest game in the world. I bring a lot of excitement to our broadcasts. I’m just more jazzed up about everything that’s happening. That comes with the job, and that’s perfect because I’m an excitable person,” Skalla says of the Bananas, who have sold out every single home game since their inaugural season in 2016.
Eyeing a Return to Major League Baseball
The path to an MLB broadcasting job can be arduous. Competition for these jobs is intense. After all, there’s only 30 MLB teams and thousands of aspiring sportscasters vying for the same on-air positions.
Whenever the time comes for him to leave the Bananas to pursue his MLB dreams, he feels confident that the lessons he’s learned during his young career—which included on-air broadcasting experience on campus with WAER-FM, WJPZ-FM and CitrusTV—will serve him well.
“When I was in Newhouse, you know there’s a broadcasting standard to live up to, and that’s instilled in you from day one. I learned so much about the importance of telling a great story and how to conduct an interesting interview. Being able to broadcast a Bananas game in Syracuse is going to be surreal. This city means so much to me, it’s where I learned to be a broadcaster, and I’ll always be proud to be a Syracuse University alumnus,” says Skalla, whose hard work earned him the Coastal Plain League Broadcaster of the Year honors in 2021.