I’ve shared a few times on this site that growing up, I wanted to be a sportscaster or at least work in sports in an on-air capacity. I’ve also shared that I truly sucked at it in college but probably should have kept going with it after I graduated. Instead, I took the other TV route, which was coming to NYC and working behind the scenes in a totally different genre.
However, at one point, before I decided to move to NYC, I was still giving it the old college try. I still wanted it. I tried everything to get my voice down to a “T.” I talked to professors, I read copy after copy of material while facing the mirror or a Buffalo State camera. No matter what I tried, my frustration with my delivery was always at a boiling point. I know it’s cliche to say ‘You are your own worst enemy’, but I can probably put that on my grave.
While trying to put the pieces together, I got a sports internship at WGRZ. They only accepted one person a semester so it was a tough gig to get. (My sister, who worked at WGRZ at the time, helped. Lesson #1, kids: Sometimes it’s who you know.) My job didn’t consist of getting coffee or answering mail. It actually involved a lot of hands-on work. I edited highlights, I went on shoots, I covered Sabres morning skates, and I even asked questions.
I was also a fricken disaster.
I couldn’t tell you how many times the sports producer – his nickname was Yack – wanted to ring my neck. All right, maybe I’m exaggerating some. But there were times I messed up editing highlights, misspelled shot sheets (the pieces of paper anchors read when doing highlights) and one time, I actually wrote down the wrong score to a baseball game which then ended up going on-air.
I still remember when Yack came back to the edit and said “Wait. The score you said was 8-4, Orioles, but it’s 8-4, Yanks!” I, being stupid, denied it. He showed me the shot sheet with the score and of course it was my handwriting. I had just scribbled it down too hastily. I was a nervous intern, sue me. Whatever the excuse, I was guilty.
It was as if I’d let all of Channel 2 down. Yack didn’t yell, but he turned around and pretty much slammed the door of the edit bay. The message was kind of sent that he was none to pleased.
My career was over. I was finished. I’d never work in this town again.
All right, I’m being a bit dramatic. But I really felt terrible. So terrible, in fact, that I went into the sports office to apologize to the anchor.
That anchor was Ed Kilgore.
I’m sure some of you can picture the scene. I came in with puppy dog eyes and a nervous and sad tone in my voice. I had met Ed before, I think on my second day at WGRZ, and he was a very nice guy, about as cordial as you can get. Nothing diva about him whatsoever.
I stuttered out an apology to Mr. Kilgore, he kind of looked at me with a bewildered expression, and said, “Don’t worry. These things happen.” It was as if he didn’t care. Right then and there, I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I can still work in this town!
I ended up chatting with Mr. Kilgore for a good 10 minutes about broadcasting and how I wanted to be a sports reporter. I told Ed how much I hated my delivery and how frustrated I was about it. Ed then did something that I’ll never forget: He offered to help me out. He said that if I came back to his office after the 6 p.m. newscast with a copy of the sports script, he’d help me with my delivery.
He showed me how to be more conversational and less robotic when reading copy. He showed me what words to enunciate and add more emphasis to. Just the little tricks of the trade you sure as hell wouldn’t learn in college. We did this a few times over the course of my internship, and it helped.
Almost 12 years later, it still amazes me that someone like him would actually sit down and help me without me even asking him. I’ve seen how people treat interns in TV. Let’s just say there’s usually a “You are our slaves and I don’t need to know your name” mentality. I saw an anchor at a national TV show tell his staff that he didn’t want an intern to even look at him, let alone speak to him. Divas.
What Ed really taught me during those lessons wasn’t how to read copy or connect to the viewer at. It was really about connecting with people anywhere. Connecting with co-workers and especially interns. Today I make sure I go out of my way to help interns out. If they are good, I’ll recommend them for jobs to people I know. I’ll be their reference. I’ll teach them the nuances of finding a really good characters for shows.
If they ask for career advice, I’ll give it to them and I’ll go easy on the discouragement. Yes, this industry can blow, but you can’t crap on a college student’s dream. If Ed had crapped on me for giving him the wrong score, I can only imagine how many tears I would have been crying and how fast I would have run through the nearest exit.
I bring this all up, of course, because Ed Kilgore recently retired after 40 years at Channel 2. It is pretty remarkable for one person to spend almost 40 years at one TV station, let alone at the same job. If I were to guess why Ed lasted so long, I’d go back to those lessons he gave a scared 21-year-old kid. He lasted because he treated people well. It is a quality that sometimes gets lost when working in broadcasting and high-pressure situations.
Sure, you can be demanding, but you can be encouraging at the same time. Ed’s encouragement went a long way in making me a damn good TV producer. I don’t yell at people, I encourage. I don’t lecture, I teach. Our talks probably totaled 60 minutes over the 4 months I interned at WGRZ, but when you are trying to learn a craft and are passionate about breaking into a field, those seconds become minutes and those minutes become hours.
Besides making good TV and paying rent, my goal is to help those younger folks out. I’m 33 and have been doing this for 11 years. I hope that one day some kid can look back at me as a positive influence on his or her career, just like Ed was for me.Congrats, Mr. Kilgore. I’m sure you will kill it with kindness at your next gig.