My public life as a “cause” guy in Baltimore

June 13, 2020 | Nestor Aparicio

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti once called me a “cause guy” – and as an evolved sports radio talk show host, media pundit and civic leader – I still take it as the highest compliment ever offered my way.

Despite being a serial entrepreneur, FCC license owner of an AM radio station for more than two decades and a storied career as a Baltimore (and one-time nationally syndicated) sports broadcaster, local marketer and champion of small local business, I always describe myself as “a writer” when people ask my vocation.

I still read and write books – two of them with a parade full of purple reign happy endings if you are a Ravens fan like me. I began my career as a newspaper journalist, sportswriter and rock music critic before I was a radio host.

(So, I suppose this bio better be a “good read” or else, huh?)

I am a dreamer, a worker and a follow through guy. I start with an idea, give it a deadline and give it all I have to make it happen.

My love and interest in Baltimore sports came naturally – my cousin was a Hall of Fame shortstop on the 1966 World Series champion Orioles, which is how my family immigrated to the USA from Venezuela. This passion for sports begat a radio show that became a business pursuit that led to my vision for WNST-AM 1570, which I founded in July 1998 and purchased the following year. My “Free The Birds” book from the summer of 2006 tells the family story of my life and childhood adoption in East Baltimore and my Pop who worked at Martin’s during World War II and at Bethlehem Steel until his retirement.

I’ve been in the radio and media business for 29 years, and I am proud of my career. I am proud that I created the first all-sports AM station in Baltimore.

Those 20th century tales of legendary road trips with the Orioles, Ravens and Terps and the “GET NASTY” van are the vivid memories that have powered my lifer career as a local advocate of all things Baltimore sports and marketing and bringing our citizens together for worthy causes.

But as the owner of the Baltimore Ravens said: I am a cause guy…

And the cause has always involved something that said “Baltimore” on the wrapper.

I have made local charities and uplifting my hometown the centerpiece of everything I’ve ever done since I dreamed of a sports media career growing up in Dundalk.

I once ran through the streets of downtown to celebrate the Ravens coming to Baltimore to benefit the Ed Block Courage Awards. Maybe you attended a “Nasty Nice Guy” Awards event? Or my “Free The Birds” passion campaign of Orioles fan advocacy in 2006? Or perhaps you participated in our 2013 Super Bowl march through the streets of New Orleans with 10,000 Ravens fans storming Poydras Street en route to the Superdome or the legendary Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Super Bowl event in 2001 when the bar ran out of beer and my future business partner Brian Billick would lift the Lombardi Trophy to the sky.

I like bringing people together. It has been the story of my life – collecting good people and trying to bring them closer even when it can be a little awkward or unique.

I even managed to once get John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin together on a stage in Baltimore for our leukemia warriors at There Goes My Hero in 2016! And I even brought Brian Billick along and Larry Hogan to help me officiate!

At heart, I like to make people happy.

I also seek to collect intelligent people to have conversations with – and then ask questions and seek knowledge. And if they’re a willing subject and a great guest sharing quality information and (hopefully) deeper wisdom, I try to have them on again later in my journey and learn more.

What good is all of their wisdom if I am not employing and sharing it? It’s the only way to improve!

We also try to laugh along the way.

I collect people and ask questions. And challenge my own beliefs, truths, desires and initial observations.

My business card says: INTELLIGENT CONVERSATION.

It’s not just a goal. It’s a demand and where I set the bar for my listeners, followers and community. It’s also where I set the bar for myself – personally and professionally.

I ask a lot of questions. And I usually continue asking until such point when it all makes sense to me and I could explain it to someone else. Educators would call it learning and the growth of the human spirit.

I call it: fun.

And the more I learn, the more I am challenged to know more.

I want to deliver to my audience the result of my eternal obsession with asking questions to people who are smarter than me – and learning something along life’s journey. And then figuring out how that can be useful…

I do podcasts and videos and radio and social media and sell the story of local brands while keeping a lifelong audience informed, entertained and engaged.

Over 30 years and 20,000 hours of radio, there are now more than 100,000 people glued to my social media threads all over the world.

And if you are an old friend, you know that I am eternally and passionately involved in continuing to grow WNST.net and AM 1570 and all of the Baltimore sports news, local conversation and expertise we’ve delivered to fans and citizens over the years.

We have always kept it real and local and honest.

WNST was the first sports radio station in the Baltimore market with a fully integrated website in 2006. We were first adopters to social media in 2008. We have the largest text service and daily digital newspaper subscription in the market. We still cover the Ravens, Orioles and Terps better than anyone!

I’ve covered 27 Super Bowls, 14 All Star Games, a dozen World Series and seen virtually every sports event in the world that’s caught my interest from the World Cup to French Open, NBA Finals and Final Fours. I have even hoisted the Stanley Cup on the ice with my lifelong friend Barry Trotz, whom I covered as a reporter in the 1980s.

After running the legacy standalone AM station with a traditional host/producer live format and making large payrolls for 17 years – with a staff of 18 employees and a $1 million annual payroll at one point – I changed the radio format to a one-host, Howard Stern/Sirius inspired “podcast” format of intelligent conversations in August 2014.

After retiring from a daily show in 2005, my local sponsors clamored for nearly a decade for me to come back on the radio more frequently but I was passionately involved in running the business of WNST to grow the brand. In the spring of 2014, I finally made a decision to come back on the radio with better conversations than the angry phone callers and anonymous message boards and chat rooms that I left on my own accord a decade earlier.  I thought it was a dreadful, unlistenable radio format for listeners stuck in traffic – and still do.

The past decade of my journey has created real life challenges that have moved my work and cause beyond local sports.

In March 2014, my wife Jennifer was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia stemming from her post-911 WTC service on Wall Street in New York City – and has since had a pair of battles with cancer and a bone marrow transplant from a very special man and now-genetic twin in Germany. Much of this played out quite publicly in our lives and social media. We did a Major League Baseball tour of 30 ballparks in 30 days and swabbed more than 10,000 people for There Goes My Hero along the way to her survival between her battles in June 2015.

I can assure you that I learned more about hospitals, insurance companies, drug companies, lawyers, government and the inside of trying to keep my best friend alive than I ever wanted to know.

Yes, she’s alive and doing well after her second leukemia diagnosis in September 2015 – a tribute to science and doctors and nurses and so many people including her amazing German donor hero that it takes our breath away!

The daily miracle and gift of her life has further inspired me but finding the power and unity of our own community ­­– publicly and privately, and meeting and collecting new awesome people along the way – moved me to step up to further use my brand, platform and celebrity for a larger cause.

In the aftermath of my wife’s survival after 155 nights at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore from 2014 through 2016, nothing has been more important in my world than the future of the city and my home. I have lived downtown for 17 years. I am fed up with the demise – real and perceived – and reputation of my community and I want to do something about it.

I want to make it better.

In the fall of 2018 when my lifer friend Don Mohler (who was my 10th grade guidance counselor at Dundalk High School in 1982) was serving as the Baltimore County Executive, I was inspired by his service and leadership in the aftermath of a civic and political trauma and asked him to partner with my vision for creating a radio and podcast conversation about positive change for Baltimore. I was feeling the trauma of trying to list and sell my home amidst the reputation of my city so we sought to create a platform to begin discussing these important civic issues about crime, education, employment, taxes, corruption, the decay of urban business and tourism that, quite frankly, I cowardly ignored in the ugly aftermath of the 2015 unrest.

Silence wasn’t working.

So in April 2019, Mohler and I birthed the Baltimore Positive platform, which is a video podcast and radio format that now features hundreds of thought leaders and civic achievers in a longer conversation discussing tough issues facing our community.

I’m proud of the body of my life’s work and the causes that I have stood up for over the years. There are literally thousands of hours of videos with evidence on YouTube and the WNST Audio Vault of intelligent conversations with hundreds of people you have heard of and some you haven’t but need to. There are also 15 years of blogs and books available at WNST.net.

In 1984, I was a 15-year old boy with a pregnant girlfriend who got my big break as an inglorious intern in the sports department of the long-defunct but fondly remembered The News American. That was when Baltimore was a two-newspaper town. All I ever wanted then was to retire with a gold watch like John Steadman or Oscar Madison. That led to six years and a few thousand more sports and music bylines at The Baltimore Sun and a buyout at age 23. At the invitation of Kenny Albert, who was calling Skipjacks games and doing a sports talk show when I was the beat reporter for the minor-league hockey team, I began a sports radio career in 1991 that has led me on a journey around the world with sports, media, music, politics – attempting to serve the world with a unique passion, energy and love of life, science, progress and happiness.

Beginning in 1999, I turned a fun monthly “Nasty Newsletter” marketing fanzine into a daily nationally syndicated radio gig in Chicago with One On One Sports and then Sporting News Radio for three years. “Nasty Nationwide” was heard on more than 300 affiliates around the country.

Since entering the Skipjacks locker room in 1984 with a reporter’s notebook as a 15-year old, I have interviewed virtually every legend I ever grew up chasing a ball or a puck. My business partner, Brian Billick, is a Super Bowl-winning head coach and one of the finest people and mentors I could dream of having in my life. He joined us on behalf of the Living Classrooms Foundation in 2008 because of his commitment to wanting to improve education and safety on our streets. We still share that passion and partnership.

I feel that resiliency has been the story of my life. With the help of others, I find a way to overcome challenges.

Hence, #TogetherNes…

Wherever we’ve met, or however you’ve come to find me or my work or our story, I’m happy that you’re here and hope you stay awhile.

I hope to be here a long time. I hope we can make Baltimore and our community better in the aftermath of the pandemic and protests.