HOTSEAT- On the ball: Williams reports from the best seat
Jed Williams knew early on that if he was going to have a career in sports, it wasn't going to be as an athlete.
"I played ninth grade basketball on the B team," he says, "and at the end of the season, after the coach had given us the General Patton speech about tryouts the next fall, he pulled me aside and said, 'You've meant a lot to this team, but I don't think it's worth your while to try out next year.'"
Fortunately, the spurned shooting guard soon discovered he could talk a good game. By the end of high school, Williams was working at the biggest sports talk radio station in his native Dallas. By his third year at UVA, he was the voice of UVA women's basketball on radio station WINA. Within months of his 2002 graduation, he took over for Mac McDonald as the station's sports director.
It's a dream job for Williams, but he says his love of sports goes far beyond what happens in a game.
"What makes sports interesting is the stories," he says. "In 20 years, nobody's going to remember the UVA-NC State game from mid-January. But people will remember who these players were as personalities, what this team was like, how they were coached, what they meant to people. And I love unpacking those stories and going deep into them."
Sports fans can hear Williams do just that every week night from 6-8pm on his talk show, "The Best Seat in the House." In its 18-month history, the show has attracted regular contributors like Washington Post writer and ESPN personality Michael Wilbon and best-selling author John Feinstein and has featured such high-profile guests as North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams and Bobby Bowden, all-time winningest coach in Division-IA college football.
After "Best Seat" was named Best Talk Show Editorial among all radio programs– sports or otherwise– by the Virginia Association of Broadcasters in 2006, it's safe to say Williams is one of sportscasting's rising stars. But no matter what accolades he wins, for Williams it will always be about the sports fan listening at home. And in Charlottesville, he's playing to an audience that looks for more than the final score.
"This is a community that's proud of being smart," he says. "So we try to look at sports on a deeper level. How do people reconcile their iconic image of Ralph Sampson as an athlete with his off-the-court troubles? If something like the Duke lacrosse case happened here, what would it show about how our university and our community get along? This is an audience that's not afraid to put on its thinking cap.
"I love doing that smart kind of show."
Why here? The setting is beautiful, and the culture is smart. Plus, it has the Cheers line going for it: "Everybody knows you name."
What's worst about living here? A little "smallish" for a big city boy, but the minute you get stuck in gridlock in Dallas, Charlottesville seems pretty darn nice.
Favorite hangout? My friend Myron Ripley's couch. Many a day has been spent there watching UVA games and screaming at the TV.
Most overrated virtue? Patience. Some is nice, but I'm a believer that if you truly want something, you should go out and get it. "No" isn't an acceptable answer.
People would be surprised to know: I still bite my fingernails after all these years (sorry, Mom).
What would you change about yourself? A little less stress and a little more balance. I get pretty wrapped up in things. I'm a renowned worrier.
Proudest accomplishment? Chasing my passion, building a talk show from scratch, and not settling for mediocrity
People find most annoying about you: Talk too much... talk too fast... talk talk talk talk talk (guess I'm in the right profession).
Whom do you admire? Katharine Graham (former Washington Post publisher). She did a remarkably stressful and difficult job with unparalleled grace, dignity, and resolve, and was a model for all to follow.
Favorite book? All The President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Subject that causes you to rant? Too many to count, but the journalist idealist in me always goes off on declining media ethics. I just can't watch these cable news networks any more!
Biggest 21st-century thrill? I've never had much of a road compass, so my GPS is pretty sweet, and a life-saver!
Biggest 21st-century creep out? MySpace. Never had it, never wanted it! My space is just that– my space. And yours is yours.
What do you drive? Lexus GS 300
In your car CD player right now: The Ramones' "Do You Remember Rock ‘N Roll Radio" (I'm slightly old school like that)
Next journey? Well, I'd love to name some exotic locale like Crete or Monte Carlo, but it's Shreveport for a little riverboat gambling and a friend's wedding.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Oh, boy, I frequented the principal's office often in high school. Those were some of the more creative nurse's notes you'll ever find. I got kicked out of 12th grade Government class in the first five minutes, and barely finagled my way back in.
Regret: I'm sure many "Hot Seaters" say this, but travel. In my mind, I have journeys to the Far East, the Amazon, and South Africa all planned out. Oh, and I'd like to go to a World Cup. Now, if I only had the time and money to do it!
Favorite comfort food: Coffee
Always in your refrigerator: Coffee Heath Bar ice cream
Must-see TV: Seinfeld re-runs (my life bears keen resemblance at times)
Favorite cartoon: I've always been a Simpsons guy.
Describe a perfect day: Gargantuan cup of coffee, a stack of newspapers to plow through, feet up and all day to read, relax, and think
Walter Mitty fantasy: Move to Santa Barbara, run on the beach every morning, and wad up my car payment and toss it in the blue waters
Who'd play you in the movie? Edward Norton
Most embarrassing moment? I'm a real klutz. I remember a trip to Clemson with the UVA women's basketball team. It was an icy mess, so we ordered some wings to be delivered to the hotel. Well, I go outside to get them, slip on the ice on the road and slide down a hill until my leg gets stuck in a gutter. Yep, that's me: Captain Coordination.
Best advice you ever got? "Laughter is the best medicine"– nothing makes me feel better, even if I'm laughing at myself or they're laughing at me.
Favorite bumper sticker? Not a fan of them– they clutter the car and usually shove ideology or cheap humor down your throat.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO