Maggie Gray’s advice for students wanting to get into the sports world: “Get Internships”.
Her hair was dyed with three different colors, but Larry Michael hired her as an intern when she was attending George Washington University in Washington DC. That would be the start of a very successful career in sports as a Production Assistant to now the host of a show on CBS Radio and SI Now.
If it wasn’t for her first internship at Westwood One, Gray wouldn’t have known what it was like to work 16-hour days. That was when she knew this was the kind of work she wanted to do for a living, but ultimately being behind the camera.
I was very fortunate that Maggie Gray accepted my interview offer on Twitter and I’m thankful for every minute of my time on the phone with Ms. Gray. Here is my interview with Ms. Gray.
Steve Rudden: Was it always a dream of your to work in sports?
Maggie Gray: You know, it wasn’t always a dream. Well, sports was really, it was my hobby. I just really liked sports when I was a kid. Growing up just like all of us. And when I was in high school … I grew up in a really small town in upstate New York … and I thought, okay, I really like sports, maybe I can try to get involved with one of the local sports teams because they were minor league teams.
So I went to them, and they said, sorry, we only take college kids for sports marketing internships and things like that. But … and you know, you’re only in high school … but if you want, the radio broadcaster for the minor league hockey team, the one that I went to, she needed someone to help her keep stats and write little press releases for after the game. So, I was like, jeez, I hadn’t really thought about that, but sure.
So I ended up sitting next to the radio broadcaster for, at the time they were a UHL team. I don’t even think the UHL exists anymore. And I sat next to him call games for a whole season, just the home games.
And, I helped him keep stats and I helped write the press releases like poorly I’m sure. I’m sure he probably couldn’t use any of it because I was like 17 and didn’t know what I was doing. And, the last game of the season, he let me come on the air and give like the out of town scoreboard. And, that was the first time I ever spoke into a microphone and I was absolutely just mesmerized by it. Like major adrenalin rush, and really just, it was unlike anything else I had ever done.
So I was kind of like hooked at that moment. I’d never really thought about broadcasting, and that was sort of like in April or May, April probably the minor league season would have ended. I went to college that fall, and I went right to the radio station, and I was on the air like a few weeks later, doing radio shows and then eventually doing play by play for men’s and women’s basketball teams.
SR: Where did you go to college?
MG: I went to George Washington. So I know Rockville, Maryland very well actually. I worked the DC sports scene. One thing I didn’t really understand coming from upstate New York was just how incredibly robust it is. People who aren’t from the DC area have no idea just how rabid the sports fans are there. I know if a football team will obviously understand … Maryland basketball was at its peak. When I was at GW, my best friend when to the University of Maryland, so we were both very far away from home, but we’re close to each other, so I was actually on Maryland’s campus the night they won the championship in 2001. I swear to you, I’ve never seen a couch go up in flames faster in my life. It was a wild scene.
Very, very cool, and besides the couch burning, it gave me a lot of respect for DC sports fans, and I was lucky enough from my freshman year at GW I was involved in the radio station. I went to the GW basketball team’s media day and I happened to meet this man by the name of Larry Michael, who, if you follow Washington football, you know Larry. He’s the voice of the team. He was working for Westwood One at the time. He was one of the vice presidents or president. Larry was very high up, and I feel like he was almost calling GW basketball games as like a favor to somebody because the team was not good at all. I met Larry Michael and I probably just straight up asked (and I don’t remember), but I probably asked, “Hey, do you need an intern?”
I started interning for Larry and for Westwood One CBS Sports Radio the second semester of my freshman year. My hair was three different colors, which is a credit to Larry that he even hired me. I was away from home for the first time and thought it would be really cool to dye my hair this really funky way. It was not cool. I realize that. But Larry hired me and I became their intern.
I ended up working for Westwood even through college and after. I went to two Olympics with them working behind the scenes. They took me to Athens and to Torino. I was a Production Assistant. I did everything from like cut tape to get lunch for everybody and did it with a big fat smile on my face. I had some tremendous experiences there. I was also working the radio board.
I did that for the men’s basketball games and also for the men’s USA hockey games (at Athens the men’s basketball and hockey for Torino). I had the pleasure and distinction of being able to run the board, and the men won the bronze medal if you recall that debacle. We went through a lot of changes and eventually the Redeem Team in 2008, but 2004 was a pretty ugly scene. Larry Brown was the head coach and the US lost to Puerto Rico and Argentina.
Those were some shocking, shocking results, but inside there was a good learning experience because it was really the first time that I worked behind the scenes for Westwood One. We were in the NBC radio area but it was for Westwood. That was the first time I ever worked a 16-hour day, and that was really valuable, so I really had never done anything like that before. I watched everyone else work a 16-hour day, no problem. I thought, “Wow, this is really what it’s like.”
Then when I got out of college and graduated from GW, my first job out of college was I was a production assistant for NBA Entertainment in Secaucus, New Jersey. When the finals came and when the playoffs came and we started working like 80-hour weeks, I was like, “Okay.” Some of my other colleagues I had were like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re working this many hours.” I was like, “No, no, no. I get this and I know this is like the Olympics.”
It just showed you and showed me really early on like, this job takes that kind of … you have to be able to grind. It really separates the people who really are just happy to be there and the people who really won’t do it because it’s not pretty after a 16-hour day, and you really gotta have something that keeps you there, whether that’s your own personal motivation or whether that’s just a greater goal you have in life. My goal was obviously to then get in front of the camera and in front of a microphone … something’s got to keep you there, because when you’re in, it is not glamorous in any way, and all of that is really stripped away.
SR: So you are the lead anchor for all of Sports Illustrated’s online content, video content and also a co-host of a CBS radio show on Saturday mornings. So, I have to ask, do you have any days off?
MG: Sure. Sunday technically. This is funny. When people ask me about that, I kind of come back and tell them I have a lifestyle job. That’s kind of how I chose to describe it. Please don’t get me wrong. I understand we’re not curing cancer here, we’re entertaining people and it is a fun job and it’s very rewarding for me personally. So I have a great time doing it. But I call it a lifestyle job because it’s not a job where you sort of check in at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 and you kind of like go home and you leave work at work. It’s sort of constant all the time. Not just following sports kicking up on the news, but you never know what’s going to happen. But also we’re constantly picking up segment ideas.
I’m out thinking about I’m interviewing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Monday. I’m thinking about that days before. You don’t just show up Monday morning and think, “Huh, what are we going to talk to Kareem about?” He’s got a book he’s written. I got to read it. It’s always constantly thinking of stuff. We’re already workshopping a lot of things for the NBA draft. We have been for weeks.
You know the NFL draft before that is lots of prep, so that’s why I call it a lifestyle job because it kind of never stops. Even on a Sunday, which is technically my day off, during a football season, I’m watching like 12 straight hours of football. For me, it doesn’t feel like a burden, but it is something that is always on my mind. I am always looking for inspiration and for things and ideas of what we can do. A good thing is I really like it, so on my free time, I actually do listen to other people’s radio shows. I’m listening to people’s podcasts. I’m watching other people’s video content whether it’s on TV or on the internet. It’s almost like I don’t mind being in it as much as I am.
SR: What would have to be your favorite aspect of your job?
MG: My favorite part of SI.com and hosting SI Now is definitely interviewing people. I am so lucky that I have been able to interview the type of people that I have. I mean it’s been one of the great honestly pleasures of my life. I mean when you get to sit down across from someone who and really pick their brain, to question them, and find out what makes them tick, to hopefully to get some type of genuine moments. Something you know that makes them think or something that they reveal. It doesn’t have to be salacious, just something personal. It really brings an incredible joy just because you feel like you connected with somebody and on top of that it’s usually people that have credible athletic achievements.
I am so in awe of what they have been able to do, the sacrifices that they have made in so many ways that for me to be able to sit down and talk with them is so incredibly fulfilling. And so I am thinking obviously of my audience, so sitting down talking, I’m trying to put myself in the viewer’s shoes that if I was a viewer and I was watching this interview what am I hoping to ask, what am I hoping to get asked? And it’s a constant challenge like, it’s something that can never get old because it’s always new and always different and listen. Some interviews go better than others, some people you connect with, some people you absolutely do not and it just seems like a press obligation and they come in and they leave. But, when you get those real moments and you feel like just giving something to the viewer and you’ve got something rewarding for yourself, it really doesn’t get any better than that.
SR: Did you look up to anyone in sports, growing up, that made you want to work in the broadcasting industry?
MG: You know, I was just really a fan. In terms of looking up, I was definitely in awe. I grew up a tennis player. So the people for me, like I grew up right in the Agassi, Sampras, like they were rivals. That was so amazing to me, and I absolutely loved that. So to me, that was a real sort of golden era of tennis. Like Steffi Graf was incredible. I was sort of in a … When Jennifer Capriati made a comeback. You know years later after she had all these drug issues and stuff like that. This was incredible for tennis. So to me, that was a real source of inspiration.
And I just love the NBA, which was I mean gosh, I’m trying to think, like sort of growing up this was kind of like the very end of Jordan, and then into like the next phase. Like you know Jordan but also in the Gary Payton, Karl Malones, and John Stockton. The New York Knicks of the 90’s. And so growing up in upstate New York, we got MSG Network. So it was a lot of Lattrell Spreewell, Marcus Camby, and John Starks, and it was a lot of fun. Those battles with the Indiana pacers. I mean in our house, we hated Reggie Miller. It was great and we always wanted to stay up late. Our parents wanted to stay up late and watch a lot of those games. And then being from upstate New York my uncle was a Buffalo Bills fan, still is, diehard, and had season tickets when I was young. The Jim Kelly Era.
SR: Four Straight Superbowls
MG: Yeah, you know I was a little young for those, but the heartbreak stays with you for your whole life, as it turns out. And I would say about being a Bills fan, is that you don’t choose that, you’re born into it. So the Bills is really the only sort of fan affiliation that I’ve kept through the years. You know I went to go work for the NBA, so you know a Knicks fan, I don’t call myself that. I grew up a Knicks fan, I grew up a Rangers fan, and those have sort of fallen by the wayside. I grew up in a Double-A town. So the Binghamton Mets were the Double-AA affiliate. But I ended up working for MLB.com so those kind of affiliations I let fall by the wayside, but the Buffalo Bills really have never left me. So, unfortunately, it’s been a pretty agonizing lifetime, but they’ll turn it around one of these decades.
SR: I’m pretty sure they will.
MG: We’ll see. If the Cubs can do it, geez. If the Cubs can do it, and the Cavaliers can do it, then there’s gotta hope for the Bills.
SR: Well I mean, it’s definitely odd that they fired their GM right after the draft.
MG: Oh well on the list of odd Bills moves, that like doesn’t even really scratch the surface. I mean if you really are like a Bills fan, you’ve seen much, much weirder things than that.
SR: Now that you’ve been in the business for a while do you still get starstruck by athletes? And if you don’t anymore, who were you most excited to talk to when you were beginning your broadcasting career?
MG: When I began it? I don’t know. I think I used to get nervous to meet the athletes, absolutely. Oh, God, yeah. I used to get nervous and starstruck to meet them.
I used to have that sort of, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m meeting the person that I used to watch.” Obviously just went through how I’m such a Bills fan so Jim Kelly, interviewing Thurman Thomas and interviewing Andre Reed. Seeing Bruce Smith at a Super Bowl party. These things still were very exciting to me. I’m happy to say actually that that has gone away. After you do this for a while, there isn’t anyone that gets me starstruck anymore. And that’s a very good thing. Because the athletes don’t wanna feel like they’re being interviewed by a fan unless they’re actually being interviewed by a fan.
If they walk into Sports Illustrated, they don’t wanna think that they someone is fanning out. Their whole life has been surrounded by fans, probably since they were 10 years old. So you really have to approach it in an incredibly professional way. And I’m very happy to say that after the first couple months that whole starstruck thing really went away.
So now I feel like anyone can walk into the studio and be fine. What happens is, though, is something unique. The pressure starts to come from a different way. So, for example, Carmelo Anthony walks in. I don’t feel starstruck to be around or to meet Carmelo Anthony. But I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to get a good interview from him and to hopefully get him to say something that is newsworthy.
So the bigger the person, the more newsworthy thing they could say because they’re a bold-face name, but yet the more media-savvy they are likely to be. So sitting down into a TV studio, which is basically the most unnatural setting you could possibly have to interview someone. The lights, the camera people, there’s nothing normal about sitting at a TV studio or a digital video studio as it is for us. The challenge is there to try and get them comfortable enough to trust you to say something that would be deemed newsworthy or that people would find interesting enough. And not the old, well-worn cliches. So while not starstruck, I do feel this immense pressure to deliver, if you will, for SI, for our show. And you always feel like there’s a lot riding on it.
SR: Where do you see yourself in five years from now? Do you want to be on the radio more?
MG: Yeah, sure. Listen, I think anyone who tells you . . . any broadcaster right now tells you exactly where they’ll be in five years, I admire the confidence. Because you just saw the layoffs at ESPN, and being at Sports Illustrated. There have been rounds of layoffs that have been well-documented in the news. The reality is that the business is changing a lot.
So when I got on at J-school, journalism school at GW, I never would have thought hosting a daily live show on the internet was a thing. 6:00 p.m. Sports Center was like the only thing you really . . . or be a sideline reporter for a major league were about the only two jobs you could think about. Thankfully now things have changed where there’s a whole bunch of other jobs that you can get.
So while the industry is going through this sort of a change right now, I’m hoping that in five years, there’s a lot more jobs for all of us out there. It is pretty devastating to see people, especially friends or people you know or people who are really good at what they do to lose their jobs. But things are just changing so much. So in five years, I guess I hope I’m still talking through a microphone is what I’ll say. I don’t know that that microphone, what it’s going to look like. I don’t know where you’re going to be watching this video, or is it going to be like through some kind of augmented reality in like a pair of glasses or is it going to be on your phone? I’m not exactly sure, but I hope I’m still interviewing sports still and still talking into a mic in five years.
SR: What would you tell those students in college trying to break into the sports/broadcasting field?
MG: I think what I would tell them is get internships because you really want to figure out whether or not you like it. A lot of times, it’s not what it seems on the outside. You don’t get into this business for the money or the hours. Like I said, when you’re coming up, it’s not a very glamorous job. It can be a lot of … I guess now there are more opportunities because people can have their own personal YouTube channels and blogs and stuff like that. That really wasn’t a thing when I was coming up, but realize first if you actually want to do it.
One of my first jobs that I was so happy to get was working for WFAN, which is here in New York City. It was the country’s first 24-hour sports talk radio station. And I wanted the fans so bad when I got to New York and it took me several auditions. I finally got a job position as an update person. Every 20 minutes past the hour they give the scores, etc. I did it from midnight to 6:00 AM, and I did it on Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and too many Saturday nights to even know. And a lot of my friends at the time, that was not their life.
It was “difficult” … It wasn’t being-a-paramedic-in-a-war-zone difficult, but it was something where if you’re not into it, that doesn’t seem like a great trade-off for you because you’re not spending the holidays with your family, and you’re not spending your weekends with your friends. So that would be my first piece of advice. See if you actually like it, because if you don’t, it’s a long haul and a kind of a grind to get to the top, or where I’m not even there, and I hope I’m still rising up. So that would be my first piece of advice – see if you really like it.
And the second piece of advice is just keep writing because no matter what … People ask me, “Do you work for the magazine?” And I’m like, “No, I don’t work for the magazine, but I write every script that I read, and I write every interview that I do.” So in a way, I’m writing constantly. So I would say, keep writing and figure out if this is actually for you, and you’ll be set.
Maggie Gray gives great insight on how she got started in the business and what college students should do to get into the business.
I’ve been fortunate enough to intern at a lot of places just like Ms. Gray. Getting an internship in the industry you want to work in in critical because the more experience you get, the better it is for your career. It will also get you inside so you can see what it would be like to work in that field outside of college.
You can hear Maggie Gray on CBS Sports Radio as part of the Moose and Maggie Show on Saturday Mornings from 6am-10am ET. You can also catch her hosting a show on SI.com at www.si.com/watch.
If you have any questions or want to follow Maggie Gray on Social Media, you can follow her on Twitter @MaggieGray and on Instagram @maggiegraysi.