Journalism student making a name for himself with sports talk show
Although Penn State sophomore Zach Gershman admires the professional athletes making highlights on the field, he finds the most inspiration from the legends in the broadcast booth.
Gershman is a broadcast journalism major in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications who has already built himself a solid sports talk resume. He has the voice, the delivery and the opinions of a seasoned sports pundit. More importantly, he has a show.
Gershman has interviewed more than 25 sports personalities on his YouTube series “ZachOnSports,” including broadcasters, executives and coaches. The show dates back to 2014 when he invited Philadelphia comedian Joe Conklin to be his first guest.
“In the beginning, I used my cuteness as a tool, because not many people are going to be able to say no to a 12-year-old,” Gershman said. “I told (Conklin) I was a huge fan and that he would get to be the first person I interview.”
Conklin accepted. Gershman is also from Philadelphia (“actually from Philadelphia, not outside of Philadelphia,” he’ll have you know) and he and his dad would listen to the comedian on 94WIP radio on the way into school.
“He was the nicest guy,” Gershman said. “He came to my Jewish middle school and I interviewed him there. He started cracking jokes. …They were not kosher.”
Since then, Gershman has interviewed Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas, ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi, Super Bowl champion Brent Celek and many other famous names in the industry.
Earlier this year, with many sports leagues shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gershman, like many of his guests, was homebound. He could interview them from their kitchens and living rooms via Zoom.
“I was supposed to have a job in Minnesota this summer, but once the pandemic hit, it was canceled,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t sit on my butt and not do anything. When people ask me what I did when the pandemic hit, I didn’t want to say that I learned how to play Fortnite.”
Fortunately, “ZachOnSports” was already well established. Gershman used his situation as an opportunity to reach out and connect with potential interviewees. He says the “cuteness factor” doesn’t work anymore, so he relies on building relationships, cold-calling and showing potential guests that he puts in the work to conduct solid interviews.
Gershman said he goes into interviews with prepared questions, but to make it great he employs a tactic that ESPN’s John Buccigross shared at a virtual event last semester hosted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.
“You can talk really well. You could be a really good speaker. You can have the voice of God,” Gershman said echoing Buccigross. “But if you don’t listen, you’re not going to be very good at this.”
Gershman said listening, improvisation and being conversational are all key attributes that he seeks to improve with each interview.
“Nobody wants to see a robot,” he said.
Gershman takes the role of interviewer seriously. He spends a lot of time researching and preparing for each conversation. He defines a successful interview as asking questions they’ve never heard before and getting them to think a little differently.
Gershman is a sportscaster historian, too. He drops legendary names like Marty Glickman, Adrian Wojnarowski and Vin Scully like most sports fans mention Johnny Unitas, Lebron James and Joe Montana.
“I love the history behind sports broadcasting,” he said. “All my history papers back in high school were all sports broadcasting or sports television-based. I obviously love the sports as well but working with people who are in the business gives me a sense of what it’s like and what it means to the world.”
Gershman said he’s identified a handful of mentors, but his father, who used to work in marketing for sports radio, is his number one inspiration. It was those rides to school with his dad that sparked his interest in sportscasting.
“It was always 94WIP with Angelo Cataldi and the morning team,” Gershman said. “I remember asking my dad if his radio was broken, because it never left that channel.”
Gershman was 8 years old and thought sports talk was boring. He preferred rides to and from school with his mother who played music. But then something happened in Philadelphia that changed all that. The Phillies made the World Series.
“That’s what really brought me into sports,” he said. “And in Philadelphia, we’re very passionate about sports, and I wanted a place to talk about Philadelphia sports.”
With his mom holding poster boards and counting down “3-2-1…action,” “ZachOnSports” was born. It started as recaps of sporting events and opinions on games but transitioned to an interview show as Gershman honed his craft. Today, it’s a full-fledged series with big-name interviews and swag — including shirts, banners and COVID-19 masks.
“I am excited to see the show grow,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in the show. It’s become my baby.”