Long time WNBC’s Long Island correspondent Greg Cergol has been working in the journalism industry since before he graduated college. With a highly decorated career, including six Emmy awards and two Cable Aces Awards. Just this past June, he was named to the Press Club of Long Island’s Hall of Fame.

You are a graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, where you received a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast Communications. After college, what were some of your first steps into the Journalism world?

I began with a summer internship at a LI radio station- WGSM/WCTO in Melville (no longer in existence). This was a time when radio news was flourishing on LI. There was a staff of 5 or 6 news people and reporters went into the field and covered what was happening. After graduation, I landed a job at a tiny radio station in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a resort community between Milwaukee and Chicago. Four or five others turned down the job before I was hired! The pay was so low, I had to moonlight as a waiter at the Playboy Resort, also in Lake Geneva. By night, I actually waited on folks whom, by day, I was interviewing for local news stories. Some interesting stories broke during my first months on the job- the assassination of Egyptian president Sadat, the marriage of Diana and Charles and the untimely death of LI singer Harry Chapin. Harry had been a favorite of mine because of his dedication to the cause of poverty and I wrote one of my first news editgreg cergol 3orials urged our listeners to continue Harry’s work of aiding the hungry.

From the early to late 80s, you worked at WGSM/WCTO Radio, NBC Radio Network News, WOW Radio in Omaha and WBCS Radio in Milwaukee. What were some of the things you learned at those networks that helped you become the reporter you are today?

Most of my early career was in radio and it was a great training ground. At WBCS in Milwaukee, I worked as a traffic reporter in the AM, then shifted to working as a field reporter (my first such experience), covering Milwaukee’s mayor and City Council meetings. From sitting in those long and often tedious meetings, I learned a valuable lesson: how to recognize a story, then dig for the facts. Advice from more experienced colleagues often helped me survive the many growing pains. At one of my first mayoral news conferences, I noticed the front row of seats closest to the podium was empty. When I went to sit there, a veteran reporter warned me against being so close to the aging Mayor because he spits a lot when he talks. I moved to a rear seat. At WGSM, I spent a good deal of time anchoring hourly newscasts and that

improved my writing dramatically because I was punching out hundreds of stories every day. It also helped my organizational skills because we aired a 15 minute newscast every afternoon and often, I was left to put that together on my own. Radio also afforded the opportunity to be reporting live constantly and while I made more than my share of mistakes, I became more comfortable with a live mike thrust in my face. The best advice I ever received, however, came during a two day stint as a fill-in host on WMCA radio (now defunct) in NYC. I was in way over my head that Thanksgiving weekend, trying to do something for which I was totally unprepared. My co-host was a legend, a former NBC TV network anchor who had covered the assassination of President Kennedy live on Nov. 22, 1963. At one point during our brief time together, Jim Ryan turned to me and said. The most important thing you can do as a journalist is LISTEN! That has stayed with me for my entire career.

You worked at News 12 Long Island for nine years, what are some of your fondest memories from working there? Do you have any favorite stories from that time?

News 12 will always have a special place in my heart because it’s where I cut my teeth as a TV reporter. Whenever anyone asks what I miss most about that station, I respond, the people. We grew up together as journalists. We helped build a network that changed the face of local news around the country. The management at News 12 fostered an atmosphere where we could explore and grow. They rarely said no to our story or series ideas and the result was work for which I will always be most prod.

With almost a 15 year career at NBC 4 New York, what advice would you give to up and coming journalists?

Working at WNBC-TV continues to be the most rewarding and most challenging experience of my professional life. Every time I walk under the NBC marquee at 30 Rockefeller Center, I still get goose bumps. I have had the opportunity to work and learn from local TV news legends, from managers like Dennis Swanson (the man who gave Oprah her first TV show) to on-air reporters like Gabe Pressman, Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons. Each day, I compete against and work with some of the best journalists in the nation. Getting there took hard work, patience, a thick skin and a lot of luck. Young journalists seeking to progress in their careers need to do the same- work hard, build up strengths, eliminate weaknesses and have fun. You should constantly seek advice from others and have people you respect assess your work. Then, just go after that dream job with a vengeance. Don’t give up. It doesn’t always happen right away. At one point, I did throw in the towel in my pursuit of a TV job in NYC. I was not represented by an agent. The feedback wasn’t encouraging. It seemed like the impossible dream. I just stopped pursuing openings that arose. But after a while, I decided I didn’t want to wake up one day with regrets and I began the pursuit again. A short time later, I landed the job at WNBC-TV.

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greg cergol 2In your career you have earned six Emmy Awards, how does it feel to be recognized not once, but six times for your excellence in the television industry?

Receiving an Emmy is a wonderful recognition of your work and I am thankful for that recognition; but I have done many, many stories which were never recognized for which I continue to be most proud.

You have reported extensively on the local impact of the war in Iraq, including Long Island Vietnam amputees reaching out to help their brothers and sisters in arms who also lost limbs in Iraq. What are some of the reasons that you like covering the war in Iraq?

I am most proud of my stories involving veterans. Many of these World War two, Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan vets have never been able to verbalize what they went through to family members and friends; yet, they spoke to me. I have been honored to tell their stories, to give voice to their experiences, their pain, their sacrifices.

Over your entire career, what has been your absolute favorite piece that you have covered?

My absolute favorite was a one hour special we completed at WNBC-TV in 2008 on the history of Yankee Stadium. I am a baseball fanatic and a diehard Yankee fan with a wealth of, in my wife’s words, useless facts and figures that I was able to pore into the show. I hosted the program, wrote it and along the way was able to interview baseball legends like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and countless others.

In 2005, you were named the most Outstanding Long Island Journalist by the Press Club of Long Island, and just a few weeks ago you were named to the Press Club of Long Island’s Hall of Fame for your excellence in journalism. How does it feel to be recognized for all of your accomplishments?

Being a part of the first class inducted into the LI Journalism Hall of Fame was a humbling and most gratifying honor. To be in any kind of Hall of Fame means you produced good work over an extended period of time. Consistent excellence is what it’s all about. As Vince Lombardi once told his team, we will pursue perfection knowing full well we will never attain it; but along the way, we will achieve excellence.

Being an outstanding journalist on Long Island, what do you think is the key factor to being a great reporter?

I have long said that reporters must have compassion for those they cover. To tell their stories, you must try to understand what they are experiencing. I learned that lesson the day I covered a 15 car pile-up in Cold Spring Harbor. A runaway pick-up truck smashed into a line of cars, backed up at a red light. The first car got stuck under the grill of the truck, becoming a kind of battering ram. That old station wagon was crushed like a can. Right before I went on the air with a live report at noon, I discovered my dad was in that station wagon. Luckily, he survived and after that day, I began to see people involved in accidents and tragedies as folks just like me, just caught up in an experience they never expected and didn’t plan on.

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