Tuesday I had a job shadow from a local high school come in to the station. The following morning, my wife brought her Journalism class in for a morning tour that's followed by a tour of the Citadel radio stations. It was nice to see faces light up at the sight of the studio and sitting on the set. It reminded me of the first time I walked into the studio and remembering how amazed I felt. They watched Jennifer and Darrin knock out some cut-ins from the studio floor and in the control room. All that enthusiasm carried over to the radio station where they met personalities like Banana Don and Stephanie McCoy from WITL, Lori Regato and Sean Kelley from 97.5, Deb Hart from WMMQ and of course Tim Staudt on WVFN. Donna Luce of WFMK took one group around while Kelley took another and I handled one group stationed at the "Staudt on Sports" studios. I got a question from one young man about how you get started doing sports radio and it immediately took me back to my start in this business. It also got me thinking about all the people I owe for being where I am today.
Before "Mad Dog in the Morning" Dave DeMarco hosted a one-hour show called "The Sports Guys" with Jeff Haggar and Larry Lage. My dad told me they were looking for a producer for it and I contacted DeMarco and he gave me a shot. It didn't amount to much more than answering the phone in another room and telling them who it was in a little run-down house turned radio studio on Mount Hope Road. It was just me and Jason Knick making no money, just trying to get our feet wet in this business we knew nothing about. For me, I knew I wanted to be a sports reporter on TV. I had had an internship in college doing MSU hockey games, but it didn't lead to anything from the local stations. This was a way to get into the local media market and network. The show eventually moved to its current corporate headquarters and became two hours sans Lage. I worked a couple days a week and eventually got to work in some of my impressions and other ideas to push the creativity of the show and also get on the air from time to time.
Chuck King, many of you may know, is a professional comedy hypnotist. He was originally a magician who won the slight of hand contest at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 1983. He now works all over the country-- often in Vegas-- but when I was doing radio, he was primarily running his DJ and Karaoke business and he took me under his wing. I ended up DJ'ing over a hundred weddings and other things. Chuck at one time offered me an opening gig for him on a comedy tour, but I was pretty much married by then and didn't want the nomadic lifestyle.
He did three things though, that without, I don't know where I'd be. First, he told me about a tryout for some little emcee job at the Lansing Lugnuts. I had no idea what it was or to expect, but I showed up at a tryout anyway. Standing on a dugout and trying to do my best game-show routine in front of a few strangers who didn't smile. There wree only three of us in that tryout, but I later learned there were about 50. I came back for a second tryout, but before Chuck asked me if I'd done my Harry Caray impression the first time around. I said no, not thinking it was a big deal. He implored me to do it the second time, letting me know the owner of the team was from Chicago. My second tryout was a solo and when I saw the owner and GM walking down the aisle, I let 'er rip.
Me: (In Harry Caray voice) Hello! Check out the guy on the 3rd base side making his way to his seat. What a handsome fellow. I tell ya Steve he's right next to a guy with a sombrero. I tell ya, harry could make a heckuva nacho plate outta that!
Tom Dickson liked it and when he hired me, he started a new "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" segment during the 7th Inning Stretch with me singing like Caray.
Two and a half years later, Chuck also was the one to call when a sports job opened up at Channel 10. he told me he'd just heard Eric Hess was leaving and if I wanted the job I'd better talk to Staudt-- now. This is where my new friends at the Lugnuts, darla Bowen and Linda Fredrickson come in. They helped me in my approach to getting the job from interviewing to how to craft a cover letter. Darla re-wrote my cover letter in a way that ended up being the difference. She made me focus less on me and more on my knowledge of the area and my stability being married to a wife with a good job. Turns out, that's exactly what Staudt was looking for-- someone who wasn't going anywhere and knew mid-Michigan. He had to sell the news director on my experience-- which was nil-- but I eventually got the job.
That's when I met my mentor Ben Holden. He was a lot like my grandpa, he never held back on telling you what you did wrong, and since I was new to the business I did a lot wrong. Everyday I got a butt-chewing and more than a few days, I didn't think I was going to make it. After about a year of constant instruction, I showed significant signs of improvement and our relationship improved greatly. After two years, I finally felt like we were colleagues. I never stopped learning from ben, with his incredible work ethic, fiery passion and willingness to try anything in an effort to not be boring for the viewers.
So, thanks Mad Dog, Chuck, Darla, Linda, Tim and Ben. I owe you big time. That news director is still the same one bye the way, who also took a chance on switching me to news. I'd thank him too, but that'll crush my street cred in the newsroom.
I didn't tell the students that whole story, but I did tell them how tough it'll be in the beginning and how hard you have to work. Like my grandpa told me, I told them-- be the guy the boss can always count on. If you do whatever's asked every time, there will always be a place for you. Work hard and have a good attitude. The guy who complains and causes problems will never last-- no matter how talented they are. Work ethic and attitude will almost always beat talent. Sooner or later management will get tired of the headache. Kill 'em with kindness and be the guy everybody wants to work with. It won't be easy and it may take awhile, but you'll get to where you want to go. I know I did.