Reflections on My Years at ESPN Radio
Original Post: March 12, 2013
I’ve been thinking today of the word that best describes how I feel about my time at ESPN Radio. And I came up with it —- grateful. Believe me, I know how fortunate I was to work at ESPN Radio for close to 17-years.
I remember being approached by ESPN back in 1991. ESPN was planning to start a radio network, just weekends at first, and was interviewing candidates for the two host positions. I hadn’t given a thought to the ESPN venture. It never even occurred to me to apply for a job.
It was my 11th year hosting a sports talk show in Rhode Island. I had developed a concept that worked well —- a topic-drive show with a heavy dose of national, as well as local, sports figures. We had a good number of “A” list guests.
We also were the first nightly sports talk show in New England to have regular contributors. They provided what I like to call “informed opinion”. They included Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan and Mel Kiper Jr. My show had some of the format elements that ESPN envisioned for the network, plus Gammons and Kiper were ESPN regulars. So, I was the first host hired. I would be the straight man, the “information guy”, the lead interviewer on news stories.
What happened next must have made ESPN seriously question it’s decision to hire me.
ESPN May Have Second-Guessed Their Decision
There was an audition held in New York to determine the best co-host to pair with me. Obviously, they were looking for an entertaining character who knew sports and would bring to the booth a more irreverent approach. There were five candidates. They didn’t know me. I didn’t know any of them. One at a time, each came into the booth to simulate a sports discussion. The subjects were made up.
Now, there are a lot of talented people out there capable of smart, cogent conversation that is completely off-the-cuff.
“Talk about this pencil for 60-seconds”. There are people who can do that kind of extemporaneous speaking very well. The best I’ve ever heard is Bob Costas.
Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. If you’re looking for a host who’s well-prepared and strong on research, someone who interacts well with callers and can put sports into historical context; a host with an even-handed interviewing style, maybe I’m your guy.
But, extemporaneous? Ah, no.
So, as each of these talented candidates tried to impress the ESPN brass on the other side of the glass, they received little competent help from me. I knew my new bosses must be saying to themselves. “Why on earth did we hire this guy?”
It was awkward and unnerving. It wasn’t like I could say, “This isn’t really what I do well”. I regret that I performed so poorly and may have impacted the audition process, but fortunately for me and for ESPN Radio, the decision-makers were smart enough to pick Tony Bruno as the co-host.
The Early Days at ESPN Radio
Those who listened to “GameNight” in the early days will know how that move worked out. Tony was brilliant and we developed an on-air chemistry that really worked. I would push his buttons and he would push mine. It was my job to rein the conversation back in when needed, but frankly, I would be laughing so hard, it often was just better to let it play out.
There are few on-air personalities funnier than Tony Bruno. Despite the ridiculous, 7-hour length of the shows (6:00 pm to 1:00 am ET Saturday and Sunday), we had a tremendous amount of fun. And, when we began, Keith Olbermann would join us one night and Mike Tirico the other.
Talk about instant sports credibility!
I always will be thankful for the opportunity to help launch ESPN Radio. I learned a lot from Tony, Keith and Mike. Not all of it about radio. Like this from Tony: ‘If your scoring at home, congratulations! After all, it is Saturday night’!
I stayed on GameNight until the summer of 2005 when my contract was not renewed. Hard to believe, but in my close to 14-year initial stint with the network, I worked with well over 200 different hosts. After a 3-year stretch that I really enjoyed on XM Satellite Radio’s Baseball Channel (It ended with the merger with Sirius), I returned in a freelance role the last 3-years at ESPN Radio.
A New Direction
Now that my contract has not been renewed, I’m a free agent. While I am exploring opportunities to continue my career in radio, I have a real passion for character education, ethics and sportsmanship. I also have a deep interest in youth sports and sports injuries; in particular, concussions.
Currently, I am working with two character education projects. One is with 4e Productions with my buddy, former ESPN Radio Producer, Bill Rodman. If you haven’t every heard of 4e’s “Letters to Daddy” – The Musical Key to Bully Free“, you should check it out. It is a musical for kids, by kids, that opens doors to understanding through inspirational songs, peer-to-peer influence, and collaboration to resolve challenging issues. This original, musical production was last performed at the iconic Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (site of 1969’s Woodstock Festival). The inspiring song “Together We Can Change the World” features original cast member Rilee O’Neill and The Sifa Choir, and is one of the songs in “Letters to Daddy”.
Anyone who knows me has heard me talk about “Effort and Attitude”, two things in life over which we have complete control.
It’s a deeply held belief and I will continue to work to counter the damaging “Win at All Costs” culture, by promoting core principles and values that are universal in nature, such as fairness, integrity, and respect for others.
Founder & Executive Director
Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.
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