School of Communication alumnus Danny Hajek ’11 went from a rookie late-night jazz announcer on WGLT, the NPR station at Illinois State, to producing for NPR in Culver City, California. WGLT’s Jon Norton hired Hajek to host until midnight. When his shift ended, he would play the national newscast from NPR in Washington, D.C. “That was my introduction to the national network,” he said. “I discovered various shows, podcasts and stories NPR produced and decided I’d focus on finding my way there.”
That focus paid off as Hajek landed an internship after graduation for NPR West in California. It didn’t come right away during his job search though. “Finding a job full-time after graduation was the biggest challenge. I applied to various media companies and radio stations across the country, and it took a lot of time before I started hearing back from potential employers. It is hard to stay confident during the job hunt because not every phone call or in-person interview pans out the way you hope” Hajek stated. “But I learned to stay strong and the right job would eventually come my way.” In 2013 he was hired on as producer. And it did.
Now Hajek’s biggest challenge is managing a busy schedule that includes pitching stories, booking guests, and mixing radio pieces. He also has to the opportunity to report his own stories and cover breaking news. “When breaking news happens, we are sent to the scene no matter where in the country. I have woken up to phone calls a 4 a.m. from editors requesting I pack my bags and book a flight to help cover a story.”
Besides breaking news, Hajek has had the chance to interview inspirational and interesting individuals such as comedian Ken Jeong and Emmy award-winning actress Betty White, who he says has been one of his most interesting interviews. During some downtime while taping a show for CBS, Hajek sat with White to talk about her big break in 1949 when she was on live television for five and a half hours a day, six days a week as a talk show host.
Talking with famous names is fun but Hajek says the most inspirational person was a North Korean refugee named Charles. He learned that Charles risked his life selling boot-legged DVDs on the North Korean black market after his mother died and his father deserted him. He tried to escape North Korea, only to be caught and sent to a labor camp. He tried again, barely escaping to China and then settling down to start a new life.
The stories, the producing, and this journey for Hajek started because someone gave him a chance to stumble through hosting a late-night show. “WGLT’s talented staff taught me about the art of audio storytelling and the business of public radio, “he said. “They gave me the freedom to explore the medium, and they took the time to guide me along my career path.” He encourages future broadcasters, journalists, and anyone interested in storytelling to stay open to new experiences. “Develop a portfolio, build a website, produce your own podcast, set up interviews with people in the community, volunteer at radio stations, and listen to your favorite programs for inspiration.”