Today I’d like to introduce you to Aaron Sharpe, someone I have known and respected since he first came to work at WNKU 16+ years ago and I was working on the publicity for the Appalachian Festival. Aaron is the director of development of WNKU, however, if you have ever heard his voice, you know it is one that seems perfectly made for broadcast.
And, a little known fact about Aaron is that he is also the man behind the music played in the Greater American Ballpark. He has been the Cincinnati Reds deejay since 2000. Let’s get to know more about him and where his inspiration comes from.
Lisa: Do you recall when it was when you first knew you wanted to get into the radio business and where your inspiration came from? Was there a person who inspired you? If so, who and how?
Aaron: Music has been my passion since I was 12 or 13 years old. Like a lot of people, I would lay on the floor of my bedroom on Sunday mornings listening to American Top 40 with my fingers resting on the record button of my Panasonic boom box…waiting for my favorite songs. I never claimed to have good taste in music back then, but my taste eventually evolved and I learned to appreciate music outside of the mainstream. That’s what eventually landed me at a station like WNKU. But it wasn’t just the music. My stepmother is an actress, my father is a minister, and they were both involved in community theater when I was kid. I was never a stranger to public speaking, but I do recall the first time it occurred to me to put it all together and think about going into radio when I grew up. I worked the drive through at a McDonald’s in high school and a day seldom passed that a customer didn’t say to me, “you’ve got a great voice. You should go into radio.” I figured if people were telling me I sounded great over a drive through speaker, there must be something to it.
Lisa: Tell us about your journey to WNKU.
Aaron: As a kid, I played piano, trumpet, and guitar. I also caught “the show bug” being around community theater and the church. By the time I got to college, however, I had actually let go of the idea of radio as a career. Mainly, it was because I had become disenchanted with what I was hearing on the radio. It no longer interested me, frankly. Plus, I wanted to make money, so I was pursuing a different path at UC. My summer job, however, was as an audio tech at a conference center in North Carolina where I worked with about a hundred other college students from all over the country. I still loved being a part of “the show,” and the mix of students whom I worked with provided for a veritable petri dish of music discovery.
When I came home, I was even more frustrated with the homogeny of commercial radio. Then one day, I was digging around on the low end of the dial in the hopes of finding something different. That’s when I found WNKU playing much of the same music I had been turned on to in North Carolina. Suddenly, radio was interesting again. After some time off from UC, I transferred to Northern Kentucky University, became a member and volunteer at WNKU, and graduated a couple of years later with a degree in Radio/TV. I was offered a job at WNKU before I ever graduated, and I’ve been here ever since.
Lisa: How did you your job with the Cincinnati Reds come about?
Aaron: I had a great advisor and mentor at NKU by the name of Russ Jenisch. He also happened to direct the Reds’ scoreboard operations at Riverfront Stadium during baseball season. Midway through the 2000 season, they were in need of a new DJ and wanted someone who could freshen things up. Russ knew my interest and expertise were in music and audio, so he asked if I’d be interested. I’ve been with the Reds ever since.
Lisa: How do you pick what music to play when in the course of a game?
Aaron: I get asked that a lot, and there’s no easy answer. I easily play a hundred or so audio cuts throughout the course of a game, and they’re all motivated by different things. There are the players’ walk up songs. Those are easy. The players pick those themselves. Other times, it’s a song about pizza because we’re doing a feature on Strike Outs for LaRosa’s or a song about trucks because we’re featuring the Toyota Tundra Home Run Challenge. Sometimes I choose a song to make people laugh. Late in the game, if it’s a close game, I’m choosing music that I hope will pump up the fans and the players. There are good songs for close games and different songs for not so close games. Songs for when we’re in the lead and songs for when we’re behind. There’s “big powerful moment” music and “just plain fun” music. 99% of the time, the music selections are motivated by something. Of course, there are times when I’m not trying to affect the crowd in any particular way, so I just play something I think people will like.
Lisa: Can you provide a couple anecodotal stories of experiences during your tenure at the Reds?
Aaron: I was just reminded of one in particular this past Mother’s Day. We had about a two hour rain delay, which brought back memories of Mother’s Day 2012 when we had a four hour rain delay followed by a game that went into extra innings. The game, which was scheduled to begin at 1:10 in the afternoon, was still going on after 8:00 that night. I don’t recall a better game for Joey Votto – a double, three home runs, and 6 RBI’s weren’t even the best part. In extra innings, more than seven hours after the scheduled first pitch, Joey hits a walk off grand slam. Instead of the normal “Unstoppable” by Foxy Shazam that we play after a win, I opted for the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. That’s not a piece of music to be tossed around haphazardly for just any win, but it certainly seemed appropriate in that moment.
Other highlights were the two Civil Rights games we hosted, primarily for the ceremonies that took place on the field beforehand. The same holds true for the time we honored the “Great Eight”. I’d say my favorite musical moments with the Reds have taken place during these special pre- or post-game events and ceremonies. The music selection is SO important in these big moments. My goal is to choose music so appropriate that you don’t even really notice it, and yet, it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Of course, it goes without saying that our playoff appearances in 2010 and 2012 are at the top of the list of memorable moments, but nothing tops the 2015 All Star Game.
Lisa: What stands out to you as a few or the most memorable moments during your work with the All-Star Game?
Aaron: The nine days leading up to and including the All Star Game were one amazing roller coaster ride. It went by so fast, and much of it was a blur. But, it was also a great thrill. What I will always cherish most about the experience was working with the best scoreboard crew in sports to put on the biggest show in baseball. And not just the scoreboard crew, but the entire Reds organization. I can’t say enough about the people I work with at Great American Ball Park.
Of course, the most exciting moment on the field was Todd Frazier winning the Home Run Derby on his home field in such dramatic fashion. My little piece of that moment was playing “My Way” by Frazier’s favorite, Frank Sinatra, as everyone celebrated on the field. It was cool to learn later that Chris Berman of ESPN took notice and mentioned the song selection on National TV.
Outside of work…
Lisa: What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Aaron: So, my father is a Presbyterian minister. Every Sunday at the end of the church service, he would deliver the benediction. At some point during my adolescence, he began using essentially the same benediction every week. He still uses it today. The exact wording varies slightly each time, but it’s something along the lines of, “When life deals you a bad hand…when you feel broken down…when you feel like giving up and you just want to throw in the towel….don’t do it. Instead, reach back, dig a little deeper, and do the best you can.”
There’s a bit more to it than that, but you get the gist of it. I heard that every Sunday for years, and it’s stuck with me.
Lisa: Please tell us about an accomplishment for which you are proud, and why.
Aaron: It’s still pretty early in the game being that they’re just 11 and 13, but I’m incredibly proud of my boys. They’re compassionate, polite, considerate, loving, open-minded, and just…well, good. I keep waiting for something to go horribly wrong, but so far, I couldn’t ask for better kids. Honestly, I’m not sure I should be taking credit, though. I sometimes wonder if they’re not from another planet. They’re that awesome.
Lisa: Have you had an experience that changed your life? If so, what?
Aaron: The easy answer is a cliché, but by itself, what could possibly be more life changing than the birth of my children? The real answer though is, I have experiences every single day that change my life. Don’t we all? Had I not married my wife, I would not have the children I have. Had I not asked my wife out, I would never have married her. Had I not decided to take a summer job in North Carolina, I would have never met my wife. And so on, and so on. So, what I really believe is that we make decisions and have experiences every day that change our lives, no matter how seemingly slight. Not to get overly philosophical about it , but the very act of answering this question is, in some small way, changing my life.
Lisa: Tell us about an act of kindness that you witnessed or were a part of that truly inspired you.
Aaron: I see acts of kindness every day. At least I try to. They happen all around us. You just have to look for them, and then you have to allow them to inspire you.