Alumnus works (and networks) as he crafts career in sports broadcasting

July 14, 2014

It’s not an easy road for an aspiring network-level sports play-by-play personality, but not much deters Jacob Wilkins.

He only knows one way to pursue his dream job -- with passion and persistence.

Wilkins, who earned his broadcast journalism degree from Penn State in 2010, works as a sports update anchor for WFAN-AM (the nation’s first all-sports station), CBS Sports Radio and Sirius XM Radio. Based in New York City, he also handles play-by-play duties for Stony Brook University women’s basketball.

Just four years after leaving the College of Communications, where he stayed busy in a variety of roles with ComRadio, Wilkins has already handled play-by-play duties for a short-season Class A baseball team and completed assignments for, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, MSG Varsity, CBS Sports and YES Network.

“There are just so many opportunities out there,” Wilkins said. “So far, New York has been a great place. It’s where I’m from, not that I’m tied to the city, but I’ve been able to stay busy.”

As if balancing several jobs was not enough, Wilkins created more work for himself last fall, launching a regular podcast titled “Let’s Talk” that recently welcomed College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock. Previous guests include New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, Fox Sports play-by-play man Kenny Albert and YES Network host Bob Lorenz. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Wilkins has also interviewed Penn Staters for the show, including Carmen Finestra (Class of 1971), the co-creator of “Home Improvement” and former supervising producer for “The Cosby Show,” and Mitch Lukevics (Class of 1976), director of minor league operations for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Wilkins, 26, had pitched an interview-style show to a few outlets but found limited interest. After brainstorming with a family friend, he decided to do the show himself, hoping the podcast would eventually draw interest and wider distribution because of its quality.

“The toughest part was getting the first guests. It was sort of streaky,” Wilkins said. “Fortunately, we got a couple of good ones early, and it’s found a rhythm. It’s still not easy -- and I spend more time working on the podcast, just lining up guests and scheduling, than the other jobs -- but it’s worth it.”

As Wilkins pursues his network dream job, his commitment to networking, with a sincere interest in getting better and getting to know people in the industry, provides an unmistakable calling card. He’s driven and sincere about meeting media and sports personalities. He’s authentic, not a schmoozer or someone simply collecting contact information.

“I’m constantly learning and networking is something you try to improve on,” Wilkins said. “It’s about developing relationships and learning how to better present myself as well as really listening to people. I’ve tried to be fairly ambitious and find people who support that ambition.”

Without any background or connections in sports media before he came to Penn State, Wilkins passion has been driven with a tinge of pragmatism. Despite strong support from his family, his father’s connections in the financial planning industry and his mother’s role as a teacher in Brooklyn did not transfer into even superficial connections in the competitive sports media world.

So, Wilkins has gladly shouldered the necessary networking duties. He’s leaned heavily, and successfully, on College of Communications and Penn State connections, and he said those networks have contributed greatly to his success. At the same time, he embraces the work associated with networking.

“My approach is I’ll talk to anybody and even if they’re not the right person they might know someone,” he said. “Once you open one door, you can open others. A lot of it is trying to be tactful and the adage that you don’t ask for the job. But, you might ask for advice that leads to a job.”

Still, he stays busy as a sports update anchor for the three outlets, balancing his schedule between WFAN and CBS Sports Radio because both are located in the same building. Also, the WFAN schedule comes every month and the CBS Sports Radio schedule every three weeks. After that, Sirius XM shifts round things out. It’s a process Wilkins compares to completing a puzzle. “My bosses deserve a lot of credit, too,” he said. “They’ve all been willing to be flexile and work with my fluctuating schedule.”

He then tracks down guests for “Let’s Talk,” and prepares for those interviews in what time remains. “I really do love the craft,” Wilkins said. “It’s busy, but it’s supposed to be.”

Last Updated July 16, 2014