The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Homecoming Game weekend took on a personal note for alumnus Ryan McGee (’93), who returned to a place that was like home to him during his time as a student at the College of Communication and Information: WUTK studios.
“It’s awesome, the great thing about being back at the radio station is that I know it’s updated, but it looks exactly the same—maybe the stickers have changed, so as an old dude, it makes me feel good, I know where I’m going,” McGee said with a chuckle.
McGee is a senior writer for ESPN.com and also the co-host of the SEC Network’s “Marty and McGee Presented by Old Trapper” television show, which also airs on ESPN radio. He has a substantial catalog of achievements that range from writing books and broadcasting, but his history wouldn’t be complete without the four years he spent at CCI. The Marty and McGee show aired from Ayers Hall during the game against the University of Georgia on Nov. 13, but McGee made time to talk to, and be interviewed by, several broadcasting students while he was in town.
“It’s fantastic, especially [to interview] someone with ESPN who’s moved so high up and started here exactly where we’re starting, and it’s promising to show us where we can maybe go one day,” said Joseph Bonanno, a CCI student who was part of the team interviewing McGee.
Getting to talk to and inspire students is one of McGee’s favorite parts of coming back to the Knoxville campus, because he remembers exactly what it is like to be in their shoes.
“I like being able to talk to them and say just do your homework and have fun and grab all your opportunities. Because if you do, you might get to do this for a living and that’s the promise, right, when we all sign on. Hopefully they’ll look at me and go, ‘OK, alright, maybe I should stick with it.’,” he said.
He has fond memories of being pushed by mentors at CCI to take every opportunity he could to get hands-on experience, which resulted in him getting a job at the Athletics Department. He and his classmate, Link Hudson (current University of Tennessee assistant athletics director for broadcasting), would lug the massive early ‘90s broadcasting equipment from the football office over to the stadium and then through Circle Park to the editing rooms.
“You think at 3 o’clock morning and sitting in the edit suite at Circle Park that, this isn’t how it’s going to be. But it’s 100-percent how it is,” McGee said. “The department always really pushed [students to go] looking for opportunities, whether it was a local radio station or local tv station or working on documentary films or down here at the student radio station. For me it was going to the athletic department and finding a job, and what I learned there, I use every day.”
Another thing that hadn’t changed at the radio station was the presence of Benny Smith, current WUTK general manager and program director. Smith was the graduate teaching assistant program director when McGee was an undergraduate student, and was thrilled to see McGee back in the studios.
“More than anything this place is about the students, and this is a great jump-off point for their careers, and Ryan is showing them, ‘This is where I started.’ To come back and show the students that, it’s almost like Christmas morning, the students are so excited about it,” Smith said. “But it’s always cool to me, to see these guys come back who started years and years ago—it’s a fraternal thing, college radio is. You may leave WUTK, but it never leaves you.”