Sports host by day. Lawyer by night. I’m not sure if this is written on Amber Wilson’s business cards, but I’m kind of thinking it should be. Being able to see every side of an issue is just one of the valuable skills Amber brings from the courtroom to her radio show. There aren’t many attorneys that also host a sports talk show in a major market. It’s one thing to practice law and do a little hosting in Sheboygan. It’s another thing to be a lawyer while also hosting a weekday show in Miami.
When Joy Taylor joined FS1 in 2016, Amber took over at 790 The Ticket. Amber now hosts middays with Jonathan Zaslow from 10am-2pm. In our conversation below Amber discusses a recent hot take from Jason Whitlock, her biggest sports radio influence, and what it was like to battle cancer.
Yeah, that happened too. I’m starting to wonder if Amber is partially an alien due to her excellent resume. This girl is flat-out impressive.
Although it was tempting to only ask Amber questions about my beloved Miami Dolphins, I behaved. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What is your sports radio resume that led to your current position at 790?
Amber Wilson: I started in television years ago. I majored in telecommunication journalism in college. My goal was always to be a sports broadcaster. That was my dream growing up. I was doing on-camera work for years. My first real full-time job was with CBSSports.com. It was CBS Sports Interactive at the time. I was their first web host so to speak at Florida. It was all on-camera work and we did a bunch of online streaming shows. That’s what brought me to South Florida. I was doing a show with Sid Rosenberg who used to host on 790 The Ticket. I used to go on his show once a week with him. That’s where I got my first taste of sports radio and I just loved it.
I always wanted to do radio but I always got pushed earlier in my career towards on-camera stuff. I think that there’s a bit of a bias with women, particularly with young women.
I was in my twenties at the time. I think everyone assumes you want to be on camera. Those were the jobs that came calling. I had a really hard time breaking into radio. I’m not sure people took me seriously that I really wanted to do radio even though it’s not as glamorous as TV. I just always felt like it would be really fitting for my personality. You can be super opinionated. The roles that I was getting on camera in my television career were very hosty. I just knew over the years that I didn’t enjoy that role quite as much. I started finding it a little intellectually understimulating, a little boring.
In my late twenties I decided to go to law school. I got my law degree. I became a lawyer. I was hosting a television show on our local CBS station in Miami that whole time alongside Stugotz from the Le Batard show. Just over the years there were multiple times I had done things on 790. Stugotz briefly hosted mornings on 790 with Marc Hochman. I had done a couple of shows there and I did a few shows in middays with Danny Kanell. Just over about a decade span I made appearances on 790 and I knew a lot of people at 790 from all those years of just being around media and working with so many people that had connections to 790.
When Joy Taylor decided to leave the morning show at 790 The Ticket, they asked me if I’d be interested in trying out. At the time my television show with Stugotz had ended because he had gone national with ESPN and they wouldn’t let him do it anymore. I was only practicing law full-time. My plan was to totally get out of the sports broadcasting business because of these hosty roles that I was getting. I had fun in my career but I just knew for me it left something to be desired. I was enjoying practicing law and I was enjoying the challenge.
I got the call that Joy Taylor left 790 to go to FS1 and I thought all right, you know what, I’ll try out. It’s the morning show. I can still practice law after the show. I loved it. They offered me the job and the rest is history. I started out on the morning show and now I’m in middays. They shuffled everything around about a year ago. I’ve been there overall for about five years.
BN: Does being a lawyer help you be a better sports radio host?
AW: 100 percent. When I was 12 years old I was watching the Jill Arringtons and the Melissa Starks of the world on the sidelines and that’s where I wanted to be when I grew up. Then I grew up and I realized that’s not at all the job that’s right for me personality wise. I knew I didn’t want to do sidelines. I knew I didn’t want to host. I’m really opinionated. I wanted to be the one giving the opinions. I wanted to be the one giving the analysis. I didn’t want to be asking other people for it.
Sports radio comes along and what’s amazing is I think if I had that sports radio opportunity on a full-time basis before I went and got my law degree, I don’t think I would have been as good at it. Since it came after I was a lawyer and after I got my law degree, it was the perfect timing because I like to think that I have a unique talent. I can argue any side of anything. I can see every side of every issue. I think that I have a unique ability to play devil’s advocate and move the conversation along and challenge people at times.
I still get to be me and I can still have fun. I can still joke around. It’s definitely not all serious. It doesn’t need to all be argument radio either. I get to kind of marry all of my skills. I think I’ve really refined those skills becoming a lawyer even more so. I think it’s a huge benefit.
BN: As a cancer survivor, what was that fight like for you?
AW: I was diagnosed with cancer eight months after I started at The Ticket in 2016. I was cancer free seven months later after a double mastectomy and numerous other surgeries to clear my margins. It came out of nowhere. I was 32 and I didn’t have any history of breast cancer I knew of in my family. I just happened to catch a lump one day and bam I have cancer.
I got diagnosed in November and I got told that I needed to have a double mastectomy and start the surgical treatment process in February. I had a few months where they were doing all of this testing. It takes a little while sometimes to come up with a treatment plan. I didn’t tell the public during that time that I had it.
I was the morning show co-host on The Ticket. At the time we were a three-person show. I did tell my co-hosts so that they were aware of what I was going through. I was obviously missing a lot of time. I shared it publicly about a week before I went to have my first surgery, which was the double mastectomy because I knew that was going to put me out for a month and a half. I wasn’t going to be able to do radio after that and so I had to explain. I was able to sit with it myself and adjust to my new reality for a few months privately. Then I was able to share my story. In doing so I hope that I helped some people and raised some awareness.
I tried to be really transparent about my journey once I was at a place where I was willing to share it with everybody just because I was so young and it was so unexpected and I was so healthy. I wanted people to know that it can happen to anybody and that you have to be aware and try to catch it early and do what you need to do to save your life. 790 was wonderful to me throughout that whole journey and just very understanding. I was very appreciative to everybody I worked with.
BN: I’m not challenging you, but what was behind you initially not wanting to reveal that you had cancer?
AW: Sometimes cancer is so aggressive or it’s so advanced that you start treatment the day you get diagnosed. But for most people if you catch it earlier then there’s a process of a bunch of testing and them figuring out what the best path is for you and what steps you’re going to need to take in terms of surgeries, chemo, radiation. You’re meeting with all of these different doctors. I was young so I was also doing fertility preservation. I hadn’t had kids yet at the time.
I didn’t really know what direction things were really going to go and how long I was going to be out of the show or if I was going to have to quit the show. I was getting treatment in Tampa that’s the best cancer hospital in this state even though obviously I was living in South Florida for the show. There was a lot of traveling and all of that. I just wanted to wait until I knew the game plan before I shared that journey publicly. I wanted to have answers because I knew there might be a lot of questions.
I had a conversation with my co-hosts and they didn’t want the show to become about that. None of us did. Through cancer I learned the importance of sports being an escape for people. I know it’s a cliché thing to say and that’s not to say that we never deal with serious issues in sports because of course those permeate into sports as well. But I do understand how people use sports as an escape because I certainly did during that time.
My life was all cancer outside of the show but I would go to work every day and I’d talk some sports. It wasn’t life or death and that was wonderful. I honestly just wanted to talk about the Heat or the Dolphins or some stuff that doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of life. That was important to me.
When I did share the news I shared it the week before I was gone for a while. The show then doesn’t take a very dark turn. It’s not like we have to sit on it for months and everyone’s always wondering what’s happening with me because I shared the news and then I started treatment. I was very open about what was happening with me on social media and allowed people to follow along that way. If they turned on the radio, we weren’t talking cancer all the time. That’s what I wanted to make sure we weren’t doing.
BN: Jason Whitlock recently shared an opinion that Maria Taylor and Katie Nolan are privileged because they’re good looking. When you hear someone express a point of view like that, what’s your response to it?
AW: There are a million — especially out here in South Florida — there are millions of beautiful women in the world and they can’t all do what Katie Nolan does and they can’t all do what Maria Taylor does. If they could, they’d be there. There’s one Katie Nolan. There’s one Maria Taylor. Every single person wants to be as successful as them.
There are quite literally hundreds of thousands of us who have spent our lives hoping to be as successful as they are and very few of us ever make it there. If all it took was looks then there’d be a whole lot of people there. Clearly it takes much, much more than that.
We never do this to men. We never look at a Kirk Herbstreit or any of these handsome men who are also on television and also incredibly successful. We never look at those men and say they’re just there because of their looks. You never hear that spoken about a man no matter how attractive the man is. We only do it to women. If the woman is attractive then she must not have anything else to offer. Generally, attractive people do better on television. That’s not exclusive to women. That is absolutely true with men as well. It’s only women that we minimize to their looks. That we assume there’s nothing else there.
Earlier in my career that used to bother me much more when I also struggled to get people to realize I had much more to offer. I do think becoming a lawyer changed that dramatically for me, but I shouldn’t have had to become a lawyer to be able to show that in sports broadcasting, which shouldn’t have anything to do with whether I have a law degree, or how many states I’m barred in, or what kind of fancy education I even have. That shouldn’t be necessary to show people that in sports broadcasting, I have intelligence, I have a lot to offer, and I know sports.
BN: Do you think that Miami has been able to enjoy its great sports year during the pandemic?
AW: Oh yeah. We are living through a really difficult time. If you’re a sports fan and you happen to be in a city like Miami or Los Angeles, if you’re in a city where your teams are making a great postseason run, it gives you that little boost.
Sports are not life or death by any means — I discussed it earlier of course when we were talking about cancer — but sports can help people. They’re not life or death, but they give you something to root for. They give you happiness and they give you hope. We have been fortunate enough to benefit from that down here during a difficult time.
I really think that has helped people. You forget when you’re watching these Heat games that we’re living in a pandemic. Even if you’re watching it without fans and even if it’s happening in Orlando and even if none of us can be there during the NBA finals. All of that’s odd but at the end of the day once the ball is tipped it’s basketball and we’re all fans no matter what virus is spreading around. I think that’s been really great for people. It doesn’t look the same as it would in a regular year, but frankly it doesn’t feel that different.
BN: Who did you learn the most from in sports radio?
AW: I am a sports radio nut. That’s also very much helped me with my job. I was a sports radio nut before I ever myself went into it. I would consume sports radio every chance I got. I’m not a person who’s listening to music often in her car. Even when I had briefly gotten out of the business and I was practicing law full-time, which I was probably out of the business for about a year, I was still listening to sports radio all the time.
All that consumption certainly helped me. The people I most listened to were local. I would say that being down here and consuming so much sports radio that I have been most influenced in my style by the Le Batard show. That to me is the best show on sports radio.
I didn’t grow up listening to WFAN. I discovered sports radio when I moved to South Florida. Really for me I discovered sports radio at 790 even though I wasn’t yet working at 790. I would say overall probably that show in terms of style has been a big influence on me. That being said I’m not sure that there’s any particular person in the industry that I would say I modeled my style after.
I hear from guys in my business like my co-host grew up listening to Chris Russo, so you’ll hear that influence sometimes when he talks. I know there are a lot of people in the industry like that that grew up listening to those guys or Mike Francesa. They have a little bit of that style in them. I don’t know that there’s anybody who’s influenced me to that depth who I ever hear in the industry where I necessarily think is like me. But I think as a show, probably the Le Batard show overall.
BN: Your partner Zaslow loves Pearl Jam. Has that made you hate Pearl Jam?
AW: Yes. [Laughs] No, he loves Pearl Jam to an unreasonable degree and I don’t find it reasonable for anybody to like any music as much as he likes Pearl Jam as an adult. I’m very judgmental of his affinity for Pearl Jam.
I liked Pearl Jam like everybody did in the ‘90s when I was in middle school listening to the album with “Black”. That was about it because I’m pretty sure that was the last time Pearl Jam was really good.
I always make fun of Zaslow. I always tell him on air he found all the music he likes around 1995 and then that was it. No more music forever. There are no artists after the mid-‘90s that Zaslow likes, knows about, cares about, cares for. He’s like ‘you know I like what I like’. It’s like he found all the music and he was like “Alright, I’m good. I’ve got my bands. For the rest of my life I’m good. I never need to adopt any more music into my world.”
BN: Is there anything in particular that you would like to accomplish going forward?
AW: I think just for me I’m a person who likes to add to my repertoire so to speak. I like to diversify. Obviously I have the lawyer thing and the sports radio thing. I recently started doing things for a site called Sports Card Investor because sports cards are really, really hot right now. I’m getting into that medium a little bit just because I think it’s an interesting industry that’s on the rise. That hobby is having a resurgence.
I have re-signed with ESPN Radio for another year. I had a regular show here on the weekends with ESPN Radio, but with the pandemic, the landscape there changed. But I’m hoping that at some point we’re able to resume the regular weekend show there as well.
For me I think in the future it’s just about being multi-faceted and seeing what opportunities come my way that interest me. It’s probably staying in radio because ultimately I really, really do love the medium. If I was ever on television again, the dream would be to be on television in a radio type of capacity, like these shows that are simulcasted. I would hope not to have to give up that format. I really enjoy having to speak unscripted for four hours. It’s a challenge and I enjoy challenges.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.