meet UWW alum & radio personality Jason Gilow

Thursday, September 5, 2013

In a career defined by twists and turns, 35 year old Jason Gilow '13 is making the most of the opportunity to finish his degree granted by UMass Amherst. Taking advantage of his prior experience as an on-air radio talent, as well as lessons learned through UWW, he has moved into a different phase of his life and career. He is currently in the midst of starting his own business (Underground Media Productions), and he hosts a weekly podcast called The BrodieNation Podcast.  This is a lifestyle podcast which touches upon a number of areas of interest and tends to have edgy humor. You can also follow his show on Twitter (@BrodieNation). On top of it all, he and his wife are expecting their first baby (a boy) in November.  His concentration: Communications and Media Management. His advisor: Connie Griffin.

Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?
After graduating from high school, I attended Butler University in Indianapolis.  It was a great experience, I had a partial scholarship, found a great school with a solid reputation, and life was good.  After my freshman year, my father passed away.  Fortunately, he set up a trust to help take care of my tuition costs.  To make a long story short, by the time my senior year came around, the finances just couldn’t make completion of my degree possible.

Alas, this isn’t necessarily a story about finances alone.  When I reached a certain point at Butler, I was more interested in attending basketball games or being a part of the band program (school sponsored bands . . . not garage bands—I was never talented enough to be recruited into even the worst of garage bands) than I was in my classes.  Looking back, I was burned out on school and the fact that I couldn’t finish was a bit of a mixed blessing.

Late in my last semester at Butler, I began my foray into the world of radio.  I was hired on as the weekend overnight guy at Rock 107 (WEDJ) in Indianapolis, and I decided that this was my career path.  While telling various members of my family that I was leaving school a few credits short of a degree, I covered up by saying, “I’m doing radio.  I don’t need a stupid college degree.”  Ah, the maturity and foresight of a 22 year old . . .

After making a nice career for myself in radio, I moved on into a career in retail and sales, where I was able to find some upward mobility.  However, something was nagging at me.  For years, I had tried to ignore the voice in my head telling me that I needed to finish school.  It was always a regret that I had put in seven semesters and didn’t finish, but I tried so hard to put that idea in my rearview mirror.  After over a decade since my last college course, I wondered if my lack of a degree was holding me back in my career.  My career path was a bit less than satisfying at this point, so indications pointed to the fact that going back to school was the way to go.  If nothing else, I knew that it would take care of a regret that stretched over a decade.  That’s what not finishing my degree the first time was for me—something that hung over my head and it was a true albatross.

Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?

Like all good men, I did it because my wife said so . . .

Ok, maybe that’s stretching the truth a bit, but she, a UMass Amherst alum herself, was instrumental in helping me find UWW.  She helped me do research and she initially found UWW.  She told me about this cool online degree program where I could take classes online and get credit for prior career experience.  Having amassed considerable career experience in multiple industries, I knew that I had to be able to get some class credit for what I had already done!

What is the best part about being aUMass Amherst UWW student for you?On my podcast, I frequently say that I call a spade a spade.  I’ve been known to tell a few brutal truths, even if they are a bit uncomfortable.  The brutal truth in this case is that the best part of my UWW experience was getting my degree and removing that decade-old monkey off my back.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the second coming of my collegiate experience.  I’ve made a few contacts that have helped me professionally and created a few new relationships that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.  My classes were enjoyable and enriching.  The convenience factor of taking online classes was amazing.

Also, there was an esprit de corps among UWW staff and my fellow students that I didn’t recognize from my first collegiate experience.  Maybe it’s because all of us students were at different phases of our lives while in UWW than the 19, 20, 21 year old versions of ourselves.  Maybe it’s just a different perspective, but it seemed like we were all in this together.  There wasn’t as competitive of a spirit in the UWW classes that I was enrolled in, which was nice.  Profs seemed more willing to help, give advice, and were generally more accessible than my profs were at Butler.  That’s not to say that I valued my time at UMass over my time at Butler or vice-versa.  They were both great, but very unique.

What was your favorite class at UMass Amherst?
I was most eager to work on my journalism classes. In my last semester, Karen List taught a tremendous journalism law class. One would imagine a law class to be boring at times. Let’s face it, learning about legal issues and challenges and lawyerlike things can be about as entertaining and stimulating as visiting your weird Uncle Festus who speaks highly of his collection of vintage ant farms. However, Karen was highly engaging, led some great discussions. It was great to see her at graduation because I was able to thank her personally for the great experience that I had in her class. I was also enrolled in another tremendous journalism class that was led by Raz Sibii. Again, the discussions were fascinating, and it gave me another perspective on the world of journalism that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It’s rather strange in some ways that my journalism classes were my favorite.  There’s a tremendous irony in the fact that I originally attended Butler to be a journalism major, then switched majors in my sophomore year due to my lack of interest in the subject.  Maybe it was because I lost my interest in writing . . . only a slight problem when one wishes to be a journalist.

What was the best part of writing the portfolio and earning credit for your experience?

Ah, the portfolio.  What wonderful memories (this is where wonderful dreamlike music plays . . . then is interrupted by heavy metal chords as a demon of Gene Simmons-like intimidation walks in). OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad . . .

Again, being totally honest, the portfolio was a total nightmare at times.  If anyone says that the experience was full of sunshine and felt like a walk in a colorful garden, they’re totally LYING!  However, doing the portfolio was a great experience, and I was better off for having completed this epic project.  It was a great accomplishment putting that gigantic document together.  While getting the 15 credits was amazing, the most rewarding part was looking back at my career and analyzing what I had done right and wrong.  I was very honest in my portfolio, as I presented what I did right in my career and even shared some regrets and ugly incidents that I learned from.  It was a challenge, and an introspective one that was not always easy to undertake.  I’m proud to have produced a document of that length, and I feel like I poured the essence of who I am into that document: sometimes great, sometimes ugly, but rarely boring.  That’s a good explanation of who I am as a person.  It’s not always the prettiest picture to paint, but it’s very honest.

One of the greatest parts of writing my portfolio (as well as my entire UMass Amherst UWW experience) was rediscovering my talents and passion for writing.  This might be the greatest gift that UWW and UMass gave to me.

What were the benefits of taking your courses online?
The biggest deal was the convenience factor.  I live about an hour away from campus, and I always thought that this was the greatest part of convenience factor. Then, I met people in my classes who were attending UMass while in the Midwest, or even on the other coast. This made me realize that I probably was not the only one who appreciated the convenience factor!

The convenience was also great when dealing with my work schedule.  I was able to get back into academia while still doing the daily grind to help gratify The Man.  This was also great because I could work at my own pace.  If I felt like banging out most of my classwork over a couple of days, I could, or I could have chosen to do a little bit each day.  The fact that I could work on school in accordance to my moods and what else was going on in my life was a total blessing.

How did you balance work, school and other responsibilities?
It’s all about balance.  Fortunately, my wife was completely behind me in this process, and I give her a great deal of credit for helping me to finish my degree.  It’s become crystal clear that I wouldn’t have been able to do this without her backing me up.  The old saying is accurate: behind every mediocre man is an amazing woman that is twice as smart as he is . . .

I found that I needed to be more organized in my approach to work, school, and just about everything else.  During previous stages of my life, I always was able to fly by the seat of my pants and take things as they came.  During my time in UWW, I knew that this approach simply could not and would not work.  I usually started the week on Monday and wrote out what was due for that week so that I could “lay out” my week with regard to my class work.  Then, I would be able to work the rest of my life around school.  It was this attention to detail and organization that helped to keep that balance.

What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?

DON’T WAIT SO DAMN LONG TO FINISH IT!  DON’T BE LIKE ME! I hold myself up as a cautionary tale. If I could go back to the 22 year old version of myself, I’d punch him in the face. While I feel very good about much of what I’ve done in my life, I have certain regrets. I’ve learned from my mistakes and hope to help other people learn from those mistakes as well.

With regard to your class load, the best thing to do is to openly communicate with your family.     Be honest with your family and keep them in the loop.  As a UMass Amherst UWW student, you are bound to miss out on some precious family time, as this is a serious time commitment. However, if you let your family know what is going on, they are bound to be a bit more understanding about the fact that you are getting more facetime with your laptop than with Junior.  When graduation comes, the stress and tension of that missed family time will be all worth it, and you can use that day to salute your family for supporting you throughout the process.   Make graduation a celebration of your family, and share the spotlight and celebration with those you love.

What are your plans for the future- professional and personally?
Well, on a personal level, the next chapter begins in a few months with the birth of my first child.  It’s going to be a boy, and we’re due in November.  I look forward to the challenges of fatherhood, and it’s going to be interesting.  Now, my focus is on creating something, a legacy if you will, so that I can have something to pass along to my son.  As of right now, I only have two shares of stock in my beloved Green Bay Packers and a 1965 Corvair (which hasn’t run in years) to pass along to him, so I want to create something that can be more beneficial.  Not that passing along my fanhood and a car that links me to my father is paltry, but I want him to have more (don’t we all want to give more to our kids?).

That’s a part of the reason why I am putting a little bit more effort into my business.  My podcast was created as a part of a greater master plan, which will hopefully pay off with me being my own boss.  I have a few things in place now, but by the end of the year I want to make Underground Media a legitimized organization (making it an LLC, reserving a web domain, creating logoed gear that I can sell, etc.).  The business plan includes three phases: the podcast, voice and audio production services, and a blog.  As of right now, I have had a few clients for voice services (i.e. writing and voicing audio commercials, narrations or providing any other kind of prerecorded voice).  Revenue can be brought in by contract work for voice services for clients, but I’m also planning on obtaining sponsorships for the podcast and blog.  Writing a business plan was a part of one of my classes, and I’m using that as an outline for my desired ideas with my company.

While this is just a part-time venture, I want to make this a full-time venture.  I want to be able to stop working for someone else and do my own thing!  I want to set my own hours, make the rules, and find an office to set up so that I can have a short commute.  In other words, I want the kind of benefits that I’ve never been able to experience in my career to date.  It’s just going to take time and money, both of which I need to work on.

Tell readers something cool about yourself that no one would guess about you?

Oh, God.  Define cool.

If I had to invent something interesting about myself, the first thing that comes to mind is that I am PROUD to have two very sweet, amazing pit bulls as members of my household.  I like to make mention of the fact that these two family members are the sweetest and most affectionate dogs I’ve ever been around, in spite of the fact that they are a part of a maligned breed.  I’ve had nothing but good experiences with pitties, and I have found myself to be an advocate for pit bulls and pit bull mixes.  I’ve also become a bit of a rescue advocate, as both of my boys were rescued from kill shelters.  There are tons of dogs that are in shelters that are just waiting to find a good home, yet people still choose to purchase dogs through breeders.  It’s nice to know that my wife and I have saved two lives!  Although, sometimes we ask the question: “Who rescued who?”

I also consider myself to have lived a pretty fulfilling life so far.  I hate to put it this way because it sounds like bragging and I don’t mean to do exactly that, but I’m appreciative of the tremendous experiences I’ve had.  My radio career allowed me the opportunity to have a platform for my opinions and to speak my mind.  It also allowed me to meet a few of my heroes like Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne), Vinnie Paul and his brother Dimebag Darrell (Pantera, Damageplan).  I also didn’t pay for a concert ticket for the better part of a decade.  After radio, I was lucky enough to work for Jerry Kramer and Mike Ditka’s charity.  I sold Harleys in Boston.  My career has offered me some great opportunities!  Also, I’ve been fortunate to do a ton of traveling.  It’s something that was ingrained in me, courtesy of my father, as our multiple road trips together created a desire to travel.  Thankfully, my wife loves to travel, too!  Having great travel partners eventually led to me setting foot in most states in this awesome Union, as well as amazing locations like Ireland, Germany, and the Caribbean.  I’m not quite the most interesting man in the world (I don’t always drink beer . . . ), but I do hope to rival some of the cool things that he’s done!

Oh, and I’m a part of an elite group of UMass Amherst UWW alumni.  As a stockholder in my beloved hometown professional tackle football team, I’m certain that I’m one of the few UMass Amherst UWW alumni that is an owner of a professional sports franchise.  It’s an honor to own a piece of the Green Bay Packers!!!