Will Kunkel learned the value of having Medill on his resume during his initial phone interview for what would become his first on-air job. Here is what Jim Shaw, who at the time was the News Director at KVRR in Fargo, North Dakota, told Kunkel during that phone call:
“I saw you went to Northwestern — so did I. I had to give you a call.”
And with that, Kunkel’s broadcast career was underway.
Kunkel spent more than a year as a sports anchor in Fargo before moving on to Toledo, Ohio, where he was the sports director for WNWO. Today he is the lead sports anchor at KWCH in Wichita, Kansas. Along the way, he’s been able to cover a wide variety of stories. Most importantly to him, though, is that everywhere he’s gone, he’s been able to be himself.
Kunkel took time to talk with us about some of the highlights from his broadcasting career, the biggest misconceptions about broadcast journalism and his advice for aspiring journalists.
You spent two years as a production assistant at ESPN before coming to Medill for grad school. What were you looking to get out of your time at Medill?
I wanted to be on air. I needed to learn the “tricks of the trade.” I had no broadcasting experience prior to my time at ESPN. I truly needed to learn everything! I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life until my senior year at St. Lawrence University. Medill is the best journalism school in the country. That’s a degree no one can ever take away from me and I am extremely proud to have earned.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about on-air sports reporters/anchors?
The “outside world” thinks we all earn a ton of money. We certainly don’t. As for aspiring sports anchors/reporters, they rarely understand the sacrifice required. A majority of the time you need to move to cities you never thought you would visit – let alone live in. You miss many family vacations and holidays. Your social life is nonexistent during certain times of the year. Remember, all the biggest events happen on the weekends – and you need to work them – not have a beer and be with your friends at the game.
You’ve been able to cover a wide variety of stories over the years. What are two or three of your favorite stories?
It will sound obvious but covering the Tigers and Royals during their respective World Series runs. It’s such a rush. You’re working from the moment you wake up to the moment you have a beer at 1 a.m. – after the game — but it’s your dream. Literally. That is why I do what I do. Covering the biggest sporting event in the world at the time. What could possibly beat that?
The NCAA Tournament is a very close second. I have followed Wichita State every year during their conference tournament into the Big Dance. It is incredible. Traveling from city to city, whether it be a 10-hour drive from Wichita to Indianapolis (Oh, yea…if you can drive, YOU WILL) or a flight from Dayton, OH to Providence, RI (with a 4 a.m. stop in Baltimore) is incredible. You meet so many great people along the way and again, you are covering the most watched event at that time of year.
You don’t get the same kind of rush covering high school sports, however, there’s something extremely gratifying covering athletes that truly appreciate it. So many kids are not talented enough to play after high school. They and their parents cherish your coverage. It’s rewarding.
What do you love most about your job?
Simple. I get to be me. The brand you create is literally based around your personality. What’s better than going to work and getting to be yourself and showing your audience who you are? Too many jobs require you to conform. If you conform in this business, you’ll never succeed – also, you will be miserable.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in sports media?
Get ready to move, and learn how to budget! But seriously, don’t ever quit. I know that’s cliché but there are going to be times when you are lugging too many pounds of gear to an event you don’t want to cover. But remember, someone is grateful you are there and it’s all worth it.
Also, remember, virtually every sports anchor/reporter you look up to started exactly where you are. Very few wake up and are on national TV — just because you didn’t doesn’t mean you won’t be there one day.