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Kusnierek becomes sports voice

Muskego grad takes high-profile position at WTMJ radio

May 2, 2011

Muskego — Trenni Kusnierek has long conquered the homesickness that plagued her as a child - the reaction so intense that she felt sick to her stomach even while visiting her family's cabin or traveling with her family to Disney World as a child.

She has demonstrated as much with her years in the Pittsburgh TV community, a stint living in New York as a reporter for a national television network and her intention to climb Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest.

Yet, in the midst of perhaps her most intriguing adventure, a three-week visit to India to teach English, Kusnierek was thinking of home just a bit.

"While I was gone I realized how much I missed the business," said Kusnierek, a 1995 graduate of Muskego High School. "Everything was going on with Packers, and I couldn't watch it. Something inside me was telling me how passionate I am about local sports. Not that I'm not passionate about all sports, but Milwaukee and Wisconsin stuff is something I love being a part of."

She had been in sports television her whole professional life, but had left behind a gig with the newly created MLB Network and was looking for a re-invention. Roughly a month after her return from overseas, Kusnierek would be making arrangements to join the state's largest radio station, Milwaukee's AM-620 WTMJ, as the co-host of its regular sports programming.

In the dark

Kusnierek, 33, received a call in February from WTMJ with a vague job offer.

"They said they were looking to add some people and wanted some people with a reporting background," Kusnierek said. "I thought I would be a reporter on Bill (Michaels)'s show. It wasn't until they made an offer that they told me what the job really was."

Michaels, who had been the primary 620 sports anchor for a decade, and WTMJ could not come to terms on a new contract. Kusnierek was added to the staff and paired with Greg Matzek in the capacity previously held by Michaels.

"I thought maybe down the road if I proved myself, they would put a show together for me - that was my mind set," Kusnierek said before she learned all the details. "I was going to take the job anyway because it was full time and with WTMJ - it was exactly what I wanted. I couldn't tell anyone because of the sensitivity (before the announcement of parting with Michaels). I really only told my parents four days before it was announced."

Kusnierek is on hand for the station's drive-time program with first-year host John Mercure, providing sports updates throughout the afternoon. She then works with Matzek on the popular "Sports Central" show in the early evenings.

"When you're taking over for someone who's been in the market for over a decade, you don't know how you're going to be received in the building or outside," she said. "So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive."

Outside of the Fabulous Sports Babe, a Tampa-based radio personality who has been syndicated in the past, female sports-talk radio hosts are few and far between.

Lights, camera, action

Kusnierek said radio has several dissimilarities from TV - notably the free-form, ad-libbing style that differs from the structured, script-friendly TV environment. Though Kusnierek has taken several turns as a guest host and fill in on 540 ESPN Radio program "The D-List," her primary background has been with the cameras on.

She credited internships at local TV stations during her years at Marquette University as a crucial starting point but said she had to beg for a job in Eau Claire nine months after graduation. She said she wasn't the athlete her sister was but was captain of the poms squad at Muskego and loved sports.

By 2002, she was a member of the fledgling Fox Sports Network in sports-crazed Pittsburgh.

"I was hired there to travel with the (NHL) Penguins and (MLB) Pirates," she said. "To say my first year in the NHL is a disaster was an understatement. I didn't understand hockey and was so overwhelmed. I was reading books and spent all summer working to learn about hockey.

"When I went back, one of their defensemen, Steve McKenna, pulled me aside and said, 'You really worked hard at learning hockey.' That was a good reminder that if you don't know what you're talking about, guys will know."

She shifted to the (NFL) Steelers once the NHL experienced a lockout and covered a Super Bowl champion. She was the only female reporter covering the team, and earning credibility was one of her tasks.

"The hardest is not the athletes you cover, because they know you know what you're talking about," she said. "It's fans. They have a perception you're getting a job because you're a woman, not because you know sports or you're a hard worker. A lot of people think you put a skirt on and low-cut top and get into a clubhouse no matter what you ask.

"Which is why I wanted to do radio - one area where you're forced to talk on the fly and ad lib everything and talk for a long period of time about sports. That's a great way to prove you know what you're talking about."

New York state of mind

When it became clear she wasn't going to advance any farther up the Fox Sports chain, she moved back to Wisconsin and found herself living with her parents again at age 30. She took occasional reporting jobs on a freelance basis before connecting with the Fox Sports affiliate in Wisconsin covering the Brewers during the 2008 playoff run.

"It was probably one of the best summers of my life," she said.

Still, she couldn't turn down the offer when her agent informed her that she had been offered a reporting position with the first-year MLB Network. She fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to New York but never got fully comfortable.

"I don't know what it was," she said. "I'm a huge (New York-based TV show) 'Sex in the City' fan and I'd used to cry when I'd see New York in the movies because I wanted to live there so bad. I just think the circumstances and timing were wrong."

She moved back to Wisconsin and based herself out of Milwaukee for her second year with the network.

"MLB didn't put as much time and energy into reporter and feature stories, and I wasn't working a lot," she said. "I kind of knew they'd want me to come back and work in a studio, and that wasn't what I wanted. I made it clear to my agent that I didn't want to do updates out of a studio, and if that's not what they see for me, then I can understand if they want to part ways."

Instead, she worked at The Knick, a Milwaukee restaurant, and plotted her trip to India before thinking about her next move. As it turned out, the next move found her.

Now, Kusnierek is home for a while.

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