Fitzgerald returns for second stint at voice of ISU Redbirds

John Fitzgerald is returning as the voice of the Illinois State University Redbirds, a position he held 18 years ago.

Fitzgerald previously served as Voice of the Redbirds from 2002-2004. This time around, he will call play-by-play ISU football and men’s basketball. He’ll also host coaches shows and the new Illinois State Athletics “In the Nest” podcast.

“I have felt a great affinity for Illinois State and the Redbird community since I first held the position,” Fitzgerald beams.

His resume is truly unique. It includes 15 years of Division I play-by-play at ISU, Loyola-Chicago and the University of Chicago. There is another 15 years as a head baseball coach at North Central College, University of Chicago and Lewis University.

Fitzgerald has also broadcast minor league baseball and spent seven years as a network sports anchor and talk show host on Sporting News Radio. He’s excited now to follow a line of legendary ISU voices that includes Joe Tait, Jim Durham, Art Kimball, Mark Johnson and Dick Luedke.

“The opportunity to return to the area and serve in this role is one that I truly cherish,” Fitzgerald smiles.

Six STAA members have accepted DI play-by-play jobs this off-season; four have been announced. They are:

Greene going home to Portland, KOIN

Brenna Greene has long had a passion for sideline reporting. Thanks to her new job, there will be plenty of opportunities, and they will be in her hometown. An STAA member, Greene is joining KOIN 6 in Portland, OR as a sports anchor/reporter.

“I’m so excited to cover the teams I was raised on in my youth, along with the new teams that have come over the 12 years I have been away,” Greene wrote on Twitter.

Greene is a 2014 graduate of Gonzaga University. As a senior, she was ranked as the 9th most outstanding collegiate sportscaster in STAA’s annual All-America program. Among Greene’s jobs during school was sideline reporting for Gonzaga’s women’s basketball and baseball for Gonzaga University Television’s “Remotes” class.

“I’m pumped to get to do more sideline reporting as [KOIN] has many live sports rights.” It’s my favorite thing to do in this job and I can’t wait to get more tastes of it,” Greene enthuses.

After receiving her diploma, Greene spent two years as a sports anchor/reporter at KRTV in Great Falls, MT. Next was two years at KRNV in Reno, NV before returning to Spokane and KREM TV. Just six months after joining the station, she was promoted to Sports Director. Now she is returning home to The City of Roses.

“It was going to take a really special gig for me to leave KREM, and I think you can tell from the way I’m speaking that this was certainly it.”

Olson new voice of UNC Bears football

Blake Olson was at a crossroads when he lost his job as the Denver Nuggets studio host and sideline reporter in 2016. “It was a bombshell for me,” he told STAA in 2020.

Though most of his career was spent as a TV sports anchor/reporter and play-by-play broadcaster, Olson longed to call games on the radio. Rather than wait for opportunity to find him, he built an online platform where he could hone his skills. That investment has paid off in an NCAA Division I job. Olson is the new voice of University of Northern Colorado football.

“To me, this is the best job in the state because it’s FCS football,” Olson enthuses.

Colorado Rockies Broadcaster Jerry Schemmel, hired last year as the Voice of the Bears, will continue calling UNC basketball.

Olson spent 27 years as a TV sports anchor/reporter. In addition to his Nuggets responsibilities, he called high school and college football games on Denver’s Altitude TV.

Olson is the 6th STAA member to accept a DI play-by-play job this off-season. Zach Mackey is the new Director of Broadcasting and men’s basketball voice at Virginia Tech. John Fitzgerald will broadcast Illinois State football and basketball, and three STAA members have been hired in positions that have yet to be announced. Olson is as happy as any of them.

“The FCS and Big Sky Conference are special,” Olson smiles. It’s a blessing to be able to work with Coach McCaffrey, his coaching staff, student-athletes and administration.”

Poling takes Marine training to play-by-play job in Wyoming

Aaron Poling’s job as a supply NCO in the Marines was maintaining, tracking and ordering supplies for his unit. Poling maintained a zero percent failure rate while in charge of more than one million dollars worth of gear.

That is the degree of responsibility and discipline Poling brings to his new job in sportscasting: play-by-play announcer for Cook Brothers Broadcasting in Evanston, WY. Poling will broadcast radio, Internet and video streaming play-by-play of high school football, basketball, volleyball, soccer and more.

He learned of the opportunity through STAA less than one month after joining the organization.

“I had friends in the Marine Corps who are from Wyoming and they raved about the place,” he recalls. “I sent my application, demo and resume just to see what would happen. Turns out, it was definitely the right move.”

Preparation

Poling served in the Marines from 2016 through 2019. Afterward, he earned degrees in multimedia journalism and communication studies from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI. During school, Poling worked as a newspaper and radio sports reporter, a radio board operator and a play-by-play broadcaster. After earning his diplomas, it was onto the job market.

“I just graduated from college this past spring and was looking to get my foot in the door of the broadcasting world. [Cook Brothers Broadcasting] is a unique opportunity to call sports for a living and live in a place that I may have never traveled to without this job,” Poling smiles.

Practicing & mentors

Practicing job interviews proved especially helpful to Poling. “I did not knock every interview out of the park but I was able to learn from my mistakes.”

Poling also sought mentors to guide him and to minimize the stress of landing a job. Minor League Baseball broadcasters and former STAA members Marco LaNave, John Kocsis, and Garrett Greene all pointed Poling to STAA.

“Trying to get my foot in the door was super stressful. I talked with a few broadcasters and they were able to help guide me in the right direction,” Poling recalls.

A zero percent failure rate is an unreasonable expectation in sportscasting. Still, Poling’s Marine training, discipline and drive will help him excel while calling games around Evanston.

Mackey joins Va Tech as Director of Broadcasting

Just four years after graduating college, Zach Mackey is the new Director of Broadcasting at Virginia Tech.

“I’ve long admired the success of Virginia Tech athletics and can’t wait to get involved in the momentum surrounding the department,” he says.

Mackey will be the voice of Hokies men’s basketball. He’ll also participate in various media projects such as podcasts, feature stories and emceeing events. Mackey will also be the sideline reporter for Virginia Tech football broadcasts.

Mackey’s rise through the sports broadcasting ranks has been rapid. He is a 2018 graduate of the University of Iowa. During his time in Iowa City, Mackey earned First Team STAA All-America honors, recognizing him as one of the nation’s six most outstanding collegiate sportscasters. He’s been an STAA member since 2016.

Mackey moves to Blacksburg after three years as a broadcaster at Montana State University. He’s also been the voice of Iowa Hawkeyes baseball since 2015 and has called games for the Big Ten network.

“Zach is an award-winning broadcaster, who has done exceptional work early in his broadcasting career. We are thrilled and proud for him to join our local Virginia Tech LEARFIELD team,” says Virginia Tech Sports Properties General Manager Kyler Pilling.

Drew Celli joining WBKB-11 in Alpena, MI

A pipeline is developing between the sports internship program at WPRI-TV in Providence, RI and WBKB-11 in Alpena, MI. Two previous interns at the Providence station have launched their sports anchor/reporter careers at WBKB. The latest is STAA member Drew Celli.

“When [WBKB] announced they had a new opening, I was able to get my application and demo out before they even posted the job on their career page,” Celli recalls. “I got a great head start in the interview process.”

Celli graduated from Bryant University in Rhode Island this spring. “[WBKB] is a good career move for me because it allows me to be on air right after graduation.”

Change of plans

Celli wasn’t always set on being a TV guy. He was the play-by-play voice in college for baseball and women’s volleyball. He also called games one summer for the North Adams SteepleCats of the NECBL. The shift in Celli’s interest from radio to TV was a result of his WPRI internship. “It was my first real work in TV after years of college play-by-play. It also was a better path to having full time work right after graduation.”

Celli joined STAA this year after learning about the organization through the Sportscasting Summit STAA hosted in Spring 2020. Celli recalls, “During the pandemic, a Q&A was held with legends like Jim Nantz and Bob Costas on Zoom. Attending that event allowed me to see the connections STAA would provide.”

Tightening up

One of the first things Celli did upon joining STAA was to reformat his demo and resume. “I was able to make my resume much more concise through the STAA tips. A lot of my content was just not needed. For my demo, I restructured it in a much more clean and organized way.”

Those efforts, Celli’s hard work in college, and the pipeline from WPRI now have Celli on his way to Alpena and WBKB.

“I feel it puts me on a great starting path towards my goal of being on air in a major market.”

Lucero returning to WIBW two years after Covid layoff

Dan Lucero has missed the bar-b-que and craft beer at the Blind Tiger, the gourmet grilled cheeses at The Wheel Barrel and the carnitas soft tacos at Tacos El Mexicano. Those stops were among Lucero and his fiancé Abbey’s favorite stops when Dan worked at 580 WIBQ in Topeka, KS.

They can now once again revisit those destination eateries. Lucero is returning to WIBW almost two years after the pandemic forced his departure.

“I had been at WIBW longer than I’d been almost anywhere else in my radio career,” Lucero reminisces. He worked a WIBW from 2016 to 2020 after shorter stints in Worland, WY, North Platte, NE, Wichita, KS and Sterling, CO. Lucero been an STAA member through much of it; he joined the organization in 2012.

Pandemic layoff

Lucero’s prior stint at WIBW ended through no fault of his own. “Alpha Media (WIBW’s parent company) announced furloughs a month into the pandemic in April of 2020,” he recounts. “Unfortunately, I was one of the unlucky ones. We were all hopeful that it would be temporary but as the pandemic persisted, those furloughs were changed to lay-offs in August of 2020.”

It took less a month for Lucero to find his next opportunity. He moved west to Colby, KS for an operations manager/play-by-play position with Rocking M Media. All the while, though, Lucero stayed in touch with WIBW Sports Director and fellow STAA member Jake Lebahn. “Back in March, when an non-sports on-air talent at the station announced her departure, I let Jake know that if that departure created any kind of an opportunity to come back that I would be interested.”

Groundwork for a return

When Lucero was laid off, he did his best to depart with dignity and on the best possible terms with everyone there. “Those relationships are what made me want to come back if it ever became a real possibility.”

Lucero’s sportscasting duties in his WBIW return will be many. “I will be co-hosting afternoon drive sports talk from 3pm to 6pm, basically the same time slot I had back before I left. The station is expanding from one four-hour sports talk show into two three-hour shows, and I’ll work with [fellow STAA member] Brendan Dzwierzynski on the heritage ‘580 Sports Talk’ program. I’ll also be involved with coverage of local high school and Washburn University athletics, do some on-site reporting from college and pro games, and assist the sales department in selling segment and guest sponsorships on our family of sports talk shows.”

Lucero’s fiancé Abbey is a native Topekan and teaches school in her hometown. It was an emotional moment when Lucero told her he is returning to the city. “We’d hoped and prayed and dreamed of such an opportunity for over a year and a half so when the chance finally arrived it felt surreal,” he recalls. “I will never forget the day I FaceTimed her with the good news. She was driving and had to pull off into a parking lot. I’m not ashamed to say there were tears on both ends of that call.”

Now Lucero and Abbey can celebrate their good fortune with a trip to The Blind Tiger or Tacos El Mexicano.

10 more STAA members eager to start new baseball play-by-play jobs

When you visit a minor league or summer collegiate ballpark this summer, there’s a good chance an STAA member will be broadcasting the game.

In addition to the 18 members we wrote about in April who will be with new teams this summer, at least ten more will also be taking the microphone for new clubs.

Here is a partial list.

John Vicari, Lake County Captains No. 1 (High-A, Cleveland Guardians)

Vicari moves into affiliated baseball after spending last summer as the Director of Media Relations and Radio Broadcaster for the Wisconsin Rapid Rafters of the Northwoods League. The 2022 Ithaca grad started in baseball in 2019 as an intern for the Albany Dutchmen of the PGCBL.

Brennan Mense, Billings Mustangs No. 1 (Pioneer League, independent)

Mense brings solid experience to Billings. His resume includes broadcasting assistant positions with the Gary SouthShore RailCats and Bowling Green Hot Rods.

Mense is a graduate of Kansas State.

Tanner Hoops, Sioux Falls Canaries No. 1 (American Association, independent)

Hoops started his broadcasting career at ESPN UP in Marquette, MI. From there it was onto the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.

Hoops is also the University of Minnesota volleyball play-by-play voice and football halftime show host on Learfield and KFAN. “As of now this job and the powers at be will allow me to continue my work with the University of Minnesota football and volleyball teams in the fall, which I’m very excited about,” he smiles.

Matthew Will, Evansville Otters No. 1 (Frontier League, independent)

Will is a Wichita, KS native finishing his senior year at the University of Southern Indiana.

He was the media coordinator for the NBC World Series in Wichita in 2019 and social media manager in 2020.

Justin Velazquez, Rochester Honkers No. 1 (Northwoods League, collegiate)

Velazquez is one of, if not the first, graduate of the Dan Patrick School to land a job in summer collegiate or professional baseball play-by-play. He graduated from Patrick’s program last year.

“I couldn’t have done it without [STAA], Velazquez enthuses. Thanks so much for all of the help and resources you provide!”

Joey Miller, Casper Horseheads No. 1 (Independence League, collegiate)

Miller is a 2021 graduate of the University of Missouri. His broadcasting career started at an early age, making occasional guest appearances on his grandmother’s talk show on 630 KHOW in Denver.

Rich Ray, Fremont Moo No. 1 (Independence League, collegiate)

Ray has worked as a radio sports director in Nebraska for 25 years and is respected throughout the state. The Moo is based in Fremont, NE.

Gareth Kwok, Frederick Keys No. 2 (MLB Draft League, collegiate)

Kwok graduates this month from Arizona State University and has considerable experience broadcasting ASU baseball. He is one of the lead TV and radio voices for Arizona State athletics on Pac-12 Network Digital and KASC Blaze Radio.

Kwok won “Best Baseball/Softball Play-by-Play” awards from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) this year and last. He is an equally talented TV sports anchor/reporter.

Spencer Boehme, Des Moines Peak Prospects No. 1 (MINK League, collegiate)

Boehme is a former voice of basketball, baseball, and softball at Henderson State in Arkansas.

“Cold contacting has gotten me all four of my post-college broadcast opportunities to date,” he says.

Boehme is a graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.

Derek Decker, Chillicothe Mudcats No. 1 (MINK League, collegiate)

Decker is graduating this month from Indiana University. He was the nation’s 17th most outstanding collegiate sportscaster in STAA’s 2021 Jim Nantz Award and All-America program.

Decker’s experience as a youth league and high school umpire lends a unique perspective to his broadcasts.

Many other STAA members are returning to teams for whom they have already been working.

Best wishes to everyone for a great season!

Toledo grad Caleb Gill joining KJAM Radio in South Dakota

Caleb Gill started watching football when he was 10 years old. “Not just watching football but following it almost religiously,” he recalls. “I would stay up to date with all the free agent signings, coaching changes and draft prospects, and I fell in love with doing that.”

As Gill got older, he decided he wanted “to at least try to make a career out of it and see where it goes.” Where it’s going first is Madison, SD. Gill is the new sports director/play-by-play broadcaster at KJAM Radio. He’ll also host a daily air shift.

Head start

KJAM is an opportunity for Gill to look forward to after he graduates from the University of Toledo this month. “I have been in the job market looking for something for when I graduate for a while,” Gill states.

He admits he wasn’t expecting much when he submitted his application. “I thought maybe at most I could get some interview experience. But as we went through the process I realized this could end up being something legit for me.”

Now, Gill is moving to South Dakota to start his career a little bit higher up the ladder than he initially thought he might.

“Instead of getting out of college and taking a part-time job as a board operator somewhere, I feel that I am taking a bigger leap and instead get the ability to work a full time job as a sports director,” he enthuses. “This experience can only benefit me and potentially put me on track to get to where I want to go faster than anticipated. Not even being 22 years old yet and having the ability to say I am the sports director of a radio station was too good for me to pass up.”

Finding STAA

Gill is a mass communications major at Toledo. His experience includes play-by-play and production of sports programming for radio and TV. It was also at Toledo that he learned about STAA.

“I found out about STAA from [fellow STAA member] Garrett Jones, who does radio for Houston Baptist University. HBU came to Toledo to play the women’s basketball team in the WNIT. Garrett traveled with them to call the game. There he introduced himself to me and we got to talking a little bit before we exchanged information. I then reached out to him for some advice and he told me about STAA.

“So far my membership has helped me get advice about the industry. I have reached out to a LOT of people because of the membership and have learned a great deal from the people I have talked to. Also reading the different comments and posts [in the private STAA Member Community] from other people in this industry has helped me to get, not just a sense of what it is like, but also again more advice.”

Gill himself has wisdom to share, especially about the sportscasting job market. “Staying positive and hopeful helped me personally during my pursuit of a job,” he recalls. “I applied to a couple jobs a week, and sometimes multiple jobs in a day. I feel being persistent in my search lead me to this point. But also me taking advantage of everything that I could while in college helped me to land a job like this. I did radio and TV, and did some live sports productions too. I tried to do everything I could while at Toledo and that has certainly helped me.”

Now the young man who started following football religiously at age 10 will be covering sports for a living.

Nick Klos to broadcast for Queens University of Charlotte

Nick Klos wears suits to work. “Dress for the job you want,” he says.

His favorite ensembles are a light blue suit with a white shirt, “And a power move with a pink tie,” he adds with a grin. He also favors a dark navy-blue suit with a white and purple patterned shirt and a purple tie. “Both are professional with a bit of personality,” he explains.

Klos is taking his colorful wardrobe and personality to Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. He’s joining the Royals as a Digital Media/Broadcasting Assistant.

Queens is an NCAA DII program featuring 32 varsity sports. Klos will be broadcasting many of them. “[It] will allow me to call multiple games in a variety of sports which will be a great foundation for future opportunities and freelance work.”

Laying the groundwork

Klos will earn his degree from the University of South Carolina next month. He’ll graduate as a broadcast journalism major with a minor in sports and entertainment management. In Columbia, he worked for the Student Gamecock Television channel as an associate producer and reporter for Capital City Sports.

He also built relationships.

“It is critical in this business,” Klos states. “As a sophomore, I began looking up ‘play-by-play’ on LinkedIn. I found people doing what I wanted to do who were at a variety of career levels. I would reach out and ask for a phone call. My motivation was to get great advice from those who were working in the field. How did they start out? What did I need to do to prepare myself? Those kinds of questions. People were so supportive. That effort helped me to build a good network while in college which led to a lot of opportunities and amazing people who were willing to support my job search.”

Help from STAA

Klos saw the Queens opportunity in an STAA Job Leads email. “I am also friends with Brett Williams who held this position a few years ago before his current role at Western Kentucky University.”

Like Klos, Williams is a South Carolina graduate and an STAA member. Klos joined STAA this year.

“So many people referred me to STAA I could not even pin it to one person,” he recalls. “A lot of my friends in professional hockey and college sports highly recommended it as a great organization to join. I knew it was something I had to be a part of – even in college. That is saying a lot when you are a student and do not have any extra money, but it was definitely worth the membership fee.

“The membership has benefitted me by providing a greater network of people in my field. I appreciate the way that STAA provides a heads-up about open positions. I wouldn’t have known about this opportunity without STAA. I expect that STAA will be a valuable part of my entire career.”

Dress for success

Back to Klos’ suits. He knows what he wants to be in life and what he wants to look like. “I want to be a TV broadcaster. My goal is to be an NHL and college lacrosse broadcaster like Joe Beninati. Joe Beninati always looks professional in a suit and tie, so that’s what I do.”

A challenge that Klos has encountered is people responding negatively when he shares his play-by-play goals. “There are a lot of people in the broadcasting/media industry that will immediately shut you down because it is not the easiest route,” Klos explains. “Let’s face it, there are more jobs in news. I have learned to take the good and helpful but ignore the negativity.

“The truth is you can be successful in this industry. Yes, it is extremely hard, but it is not impossible. Someone is going to be the next broadcaster/play-by-play guy in the NHL, or on ESPN. Why not me?”

You’ll recognize Klos when he reaches the NHL. He’ll be wearing a suit. And for the next 12 months, you’ll recognize him at Queens University of Charlotte athletic events the exact same way.