One of the real pleasures of running Barrett Sports Media is that it allows me the opportunity to listen to stations and personalities in many different markets and connect with hundreds of members of the sports radio fraternity. Through networking and forming relationships, I’ve been able to gain a deeper understanding of how many people think and operate in different places, and if you’re receptive to soaking up knowledge and testing out new ideas, it can help you improve.
One person who I’ve interacted with who does an excellent job on the airwaves of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland is Nick Wilson. Last year the night slot at The Fan became available when evening host Ken Carman shifted to morning drive. It would’ve been easy for Program Director Andy Roth to bring in a proven commodity for the position. Instead, he placed his faith in an unproven yet talented and hungry local guy from Akron. One year later, it’s paying great dividends for the radio station.
I could ramble on about Nick’s talent, passion, and future, but I’d rather give him the floor to introduce himself, share some of his experiences, and pass along some advice to those of you out there who are working your way up the ladder or are currently knocking on the door and hoping for someone to answer. Without further delay, here’s Nick Wilson’s story.
Musings From a Doddering Young Fool by Nick Wilson
We open on 3 Cleveland area natives, ranging in ages 24-30 screaming, and bro-hugging in a side room at a radio station in Downtown Cleveland. LeBron James has just collapsed in tears on the Oracle Arena floor seconds after ending Cleveland’s 52-year title drought and purported curse.
Seconds later I bolted out the station doors, ran through the Halle Building and onto the streets of Cleveland. From 100-150 yards away, the rest of Cleveland called to me. I jogged towards the roar coming from a block away only to meet a few hundred thousand of my closest compadres. Everyone was hugging & high fiving. Some shouted, “I can’t @#*#&$^! believe it!” But we all knew this was the night generations had waited for.
Fast forward 2 1/2 hours, the Nick Wilson Experiment aired at a special time. From 2am-6am, there was laughter, tears, “We Are The Champions” played on loop, and talk about this brave new championship world that Cleveland found itself in.
Of the first 24 hours after Cleveland won a championship, my show occupied 9 hours of airtime. 540 minutes of opportunity to grow my show & form an honest bond with our listeners.
I slept 3 of the 48 hours from Sunday morning to Tuesday night and ate like absolute garbage. It was everything I had dreamed of when the Nick Wilson Experiment became a weeknight fixture on Cleveland radio. One kid from Akron brought a title to Cleveland while a different, slightly portlier kid from Akron brought 9 hours of sports talk to a deserving city.
A similar opportunity awaits you, future sports media professional and fellow millennial. The following lessons learned & wisdom gained are from someone who was in your position in the not too distant past.
- It Won’t Be Easy – Many will tell you this and you will think you understand. You won’t until you get your first big break and have gone through the rigors yourself. A key to early success and advancement is stepping up to any task you’re asked to perform. (Yes, even if you had a great college radio show at a prestigious broadcasting school or university)
Assisting in promotions, running a board or answering phones are not the most glamorous jobs in radio but doing them can help you better learn this business. Every second you spend around skilled professionals is an opportunity to learn your craft and put yourself into position to gain more opportunities.
- There Is No Opportunity Too Small – I didn’t grow up with a desire to be the next Adam Schefter. But when the opportunity to report for the station arose, I jumped at it. (It was the Rite Aid Marathon after all.) Maybe 7 people read my story on the men’s marathon winner from Kenya. It was hours of work outside on a chilly day. I caught a cold and bought stock in Vicks Chemical.
None of that mattered. By taking that assignment it led to others, and that allowed me to broaden my skillset and showcase my versatility and attitude. Besides, no boss ever told a worker they were too versatile or diverse in knowledge.
Another important reminder is that you never know how an unrelated task can shape you for your dream job. Reporting improved my prep process and made me realize the importance of patience versus just getting the job done.
- Become Friends With “No” – Whether you’re just getting into sports media or trying to move up the ladder, how you respond to the many “no’s” you hear determines how much you achieve. I’ve seen people get turned down for a promotion and let that affect their current work. That only exacerbates the lack of promotions. Within months they are on their way to a rewarding career in insurance sales.
Before I got the nightshift, I heard “no” on a fairly consistent basis. I lost out on opportunities to other talent, some that I felt I had comparable skillsets with. That sort of rejection can be brutal on the psyche.
With each new “no”, I learned it wasn’t personal. With each new “no”, I learned to ask why it wasn’t a “yes”. With each new “no”, I worked even harder to round the rough edges and work my way towards a “yes”.
In every job search I lost internally, I called the person who beat me out for the gig to congratulate them. It hurt like hell but it wasn’t their fault I lost the gig. Putting your relationships with your coworkers above your feelings is important in this business.
- Network – Networking is crucial in any position in sports media. Some assume it’s all about finding a job but that isn’t true. Building meaningful relationships can help you gain valuable feedback on your development, information which can help advance your career, and a better understanding of your business. Your career will not flourish if you do not network.
- Attitude Is Everything – Too many times I’ve heard guys proclaim their passion about this business, only to hear them complain with their next breath. The task at hand. The hours. The pay. Opportunities lost. You can’t focus on the many negatives regardless of their validity. They will get you nowhere.
Focus on your passion for this business and your plan to grow within it. Want to know how to succeed in this business? Watch Craig Sager’s speech from the ESPY’s. THAT is passion.
Sports media is an amazing business, ripe with opportunity. But it can be brutal too. Demoralizing things can happen in any business which can sidetrack your career if you let it. Your choices determine how you handle the brutal and whether you succeed.
- Ask For Your Opportunities – I’m fortunate to have a boss that allows open dialogue about my future. If I have a goal I want to pursue, he verbalizes a path and helps me realize that goal. If I get too far ahead of myself, he lets me know. It’s important to hear that too. A healthy discussion about your career goals and how to attain them is crucial to career development.
Whether your boss offers that dialogue or not is secondary to the point of asking for your opportunity. There is nothing wrong with asking your boss or the universe for the chance. Realize the worst thing you can hear is “no” and most of the time that “no” just means “not right now.”
- Embrace Criticism – I’ve had good bosses, bad bosses and in-between. Each boss gave me some lesson I’ve used to further my career. It might be how to do something or it might be the opposite. It might have been sugary and filled with love. It might have been direct & filled with expletives. You may not enjoy the feedback, but find the core truth of what is said (not HOW it is said), and use it to further yourself.
- Listen/Watch/Read Others In Your Business – I consistently listen to hosts I respect & admire. Guys like Anthony Lima, Adam The Bull & Chris Fedor on my station; Damon Amendolara, Dan Le Batard & Nick Wright on a national level; These are hosts I use to push myself. My opinion of their opinions is immaterial with the importance of delivery and development of content.
- Don’t Half Effort Your Decisions – Adulting is tough, I know this to be true. Gather as much data as possible and great advice and then execute your career decision with conviction. You are going to fail or succeed but most of the time the difference between those two paths is tied to conviction. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid of playing it safe.
Ok guys. I am coming down off my soapbox now; You don’t have to get off my lawn. I hope you take these truths I’ve learned and use them in your path towards your next career break. When you discover your own truths, pass them on. Incestuous business and all that.
I started out as a god awful board operator that turned into a passable 20-20 anchor that was molded into a talk show host by my experiences and help from other talented people along the way. This business takes passion, perspective and grit. But if you have those things, you’ll never work a day in your life, which I mean in the best possible way.
Until I got the night show, I worked 2 jobs and 55-80 hours a week to support my family for roughly 5 years. I slept on office floors on a swing shift, worked holidays and missed more moments with my first born daughter than I care to admit.
I did all of this in the pursuit of a great opportunity. When given that opportunity I ran with it and now I live my dream job every day.
I host the Nick Wilson Experiment weeknights in the 31st largest radio market in America at the age of 30. Not too bad for a fat kid from Akron, Ohio.