As a freshman at Southern Illinois, Marc Silverman failed to get a job at WSIU, the professional radio station on campus.
It’s not exactly Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team. Of course, that turned out to be a myth anyway. So maybe Silverman’s story is better.
But the fact is, Silverman wasn’t good enough to be on the air. So he asked the sports director how he could improve. The man gave Silverman a tape recorder and told him to cover high school football games on Friday nights, cut up the tape and write a script for the person doing sportscasts Saturday morning.
“I did that my whole first semester,” Silverman said. “Every Friday night, I would get in the car, I would cover local southern Illinois football games and I got better.”
The station put him on the air in the second semester. As a junior and senior, Silverman was sports director for WIDB, the student-run station on campus.
That might be a footnote in the 47-year-old Silverman’s story, but the work ethic he showed as a novice broadcaster still exists today. And it has helped him achieve longevity and success as co-host of the “Waddle & Silvy” show with former Bears wide receiver Tom Waddle on ESPN 1000.
The station launched 20 years ago Friday, and Silverman was among its first hires before it went live. ESPN 1000 will celebrate its anniversary with a daylong broadcast from Austin’s in Libertyville from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. “Golic & Wingo,” “Kap & Co.,” “Carmen & Jurko” and “Waddle & Silvy” will be on hand. But Silverman has seniority over all of them as the last man standing from that original group.
“Anytime you have sustained success, I think the fundamental characteristic is talent,” said Waddle, who has partnered with Silverman since 2007. “And his talent may be surpassed or equaled by his work ethic. I’ve never been around anybody regardless of the occupation that worked any harder.”
Silverman was a typical sports-crazed kid growing up in Skokie. He’d fall asleep listening to Cubs games on a transistor radio. When he woke up, he’d pore over box scores in the newspaper. He’d listen to Chet Coppock talk sports at night and Red Motlow give sportscasts during the day.
In seventh grade, Silverman called several local sports broadcasters to ask whether he could shadow them for a career-education day.
“I called Channel 9, and I asked Jack Brickhouse if I could come in, and he said very nicely, basically, no, kid, you’re bothering me,” Silverman said. “And I called Tim Weigel, and he said, ‘I’d be happy to talk to you on the phone, but I can’t have you come in.’ ”
The one person who agreed was then-Channel 5’s Mark Giangreco, who gave Silverman a behind-the-scenes look at his work. Giangreco, who’s also under the Disney/ESPN umbrella at Channel 7, has made regular appearances on “Waddle & Silvy” for a decade.
Silverman found his calling when The Score came on the air in 1992. He wanted to host a sports talk show.
“I knew that’s what I was going to go to college for. I always knew,” Silverman said. “It takes a lot of luck, but if you put in the work, I think I’m a good example that you could achieve what you want.”
Silverman’s first professional job was at KILR in Estherville, Iowa, where he spent 18 months earning $900 a month. He had a great experience learning on the job, but he wanted to work in Chicago. He figured no one was going to come find him in Iowa, so he had to go find work back home.
He took a three-month internship at WGN Radio in February 1995, earning $900 total. He moved back in with his parents and took a part-time job doing morning-drive sports updates at the Illinois Radio Network. He’d head over to WGN in the afternoon and cover a game at night.
“I tried to get my foot in the door in the big city by proving that I would outwork everybody,” Silverman said. “That’s why I took the chance. I would basically show up at 5 in the morning and I would get home at 11:30 at night because I wanted to do this.”
Some good fortune helped him make a name for himself at WGN. Silverman offered to cover Bulls and Blackhawks games because no one else at the station did. And when rumors began to swirl about Jordan coming out of retirement, WGN sent Silverman to Bulls practice at the old Berto Center for the stakeout.
His coverage of Jordan’s return earned him a trip to Indianapolis for Jordan’s first game back. It also earned him regular work. The next season, after a chance encounter with Jordan in the locker room led to an exclusive interview, Silverman became a full-time employee.
But after grinding through 60- and 70-hour weeks with no chance to fulfill his dream of being a talk-show host, Silverman left WGN for the new ESPN Radio flagship. Former ESPN program director Mitch Rosen, now the longtime PD at The Score, allowed Silverman to host weekends while continuing as a reporter.
“No promises for anything else,” Silverman said. “The rest was up to me.”
Twenty years later, Silverman has one of the most successful sports-radio shows in the city’s history. But he hasn’t lost his humility.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a natural in this business except for my hard work,” Silverman said. “I don’t have a voice that people say, ‘Boy, that guy sounds like a talk-show host.’ I got a nasally, whiny voice sometimes.
“I put more hours into the show off the air than I do on the air. My hard work at night is putting on my television, having a notepad in front of me, reading stories about my favorite teams. It’s always hard work, but it’s fun hard work.”
The Bears-Dolphins game Sunday will air on Fox-32 and be called by play-by-play voice Brian Custer, analyst Greg Jennings and reporter Doug Gottlieb. Jennings, a former wide receiver, spent seven of his 10 NFL seasons with the Packers.
• Kelly Crull, a regular on NBC Sports Chicago’s Cubs broadcasts, is the new in-game reporter for the network’s Bulls home broadcasts. She’ll make her debut in the home opener Oct. 20. She replaces Vincent Goodwill, who left to cover the NBA for Yahoo.