It is not quite 800 miles from Boyertown, Pa., to downtown Ottawa. But even that lengthy journey doesn’t stack up to the 1,200 miles Sean Frey drove from his first real radio gig in Reading, Pa., to Redwood Falls, Minn., in pursuit of his dream to be a play-by-play broadcaster.
Frey is quite familiar by now In the Illinois Valley — at least by voice — having been the sports director and assistant program director at Ottawa’s WCMY-AM 1430 since May 2014. But landing here required a few leaps of faith along the way.
He was the sports anchor for his high school’s morning television show, but headed to Penn State University expecting to prepare for a career in print journalism. While there, he got involved with campus radio, bonded with the station’s sports director over a mutual love of hockey and soon began to see the appeal of a play-by-play career.
“I was a really opinionated teenager and I was fond of saying what I thought regardless of whether anyone asked for it,” Frey recalled — prompting me to mention we’ve got a lot in common. “I probably needed to have given it more thought because nobody goes from being a college student to being Andy Rooney. I lucked out and stumbled into what I should have been doing all along.
“I’d play sports video games as a kid and do the play-by-play as I played. I never really made the connection that that was a real job. If I’m being honest I still catch myself doing it now sometimes!”
In early 2009, Frey emailed maybe a dozen Pennsylvania radio stations looking for work after college, eventually landing a part-time gig at WEEU-AM in Reading a few months later, then transitioning into full time. It was quality experience, but working in sports would have to wait.
The opportunity came in November 2012 when KLGR-AM in Redwood Falls, Minn., needed a farm broadcaster with play-by-play chops. An odd combination to be sure, and Frey admits now he wasn’t quite ready for the agricultural side of the role. But the community was welcoming
“I packed my whole life in my Chevy Cavalier and drove out there,” he said. “Twenty hours, about 10 both days of the trip.
“I had never been west of Sandusky, Ohio, prior to that trip so it was a brand new experience. I drove through Chicago and was really wide-eyed the whole time. When I finally made it I sat in the car for about 15 minutes trying to figure out what I had just gotten myself into, what was I thinking, and I can’t remember being more terrified. It was a deep dive.”
Yet he’d already experienced a different kind of soul-searching: wondering if a play-by-play career would ever materialize or how else he might be able to apply a journalism degree. He threw himself into freelance work or found quiet spots at Reading Phillies games to bust out the scorebook and digital recorder and “broadcast” the game just for practice.
It wasn’t practice to make perfect — Frey will happily explain where he feels he can improve — but honing his craft for next to nothing lit the fire that forced that terrifying trip.
“It was necessary,” he said of the move. “I had to see if I could make a career of it, I needed to know the answer.”
So far, it’s a resounding yes. Coming from Minnesota to Ottawa was another leap. It was a mere 500 miles, but demanding no less self-confidence or willingness to start all over. Again.
Pulling up stakes, he observed, “put me in the positions I needed to be in when I needed to be in them, so I could get to where I was supposed to go.”
A veteran broadcaster at only 31, there’s a lot of career ahead. But Frey’s journey already has endowed him with wisdom for anyone needing some inspiration to follow a dream.
“There are maybe some jobs where you can do them even if you don’t love them. But because of the time you spend and the sacrifices you have to make to be successful in any industry, and especially journalism, you have to be committed to it. So my advice is to find a career you can be all-in with, and then be all-in with it and see where it takes you.”
It took Frey from Eastern Pennsylvania to Southwestern Minnesota to North Central Illinois and who knows where else.
Where can going all-in take you?