Producer/Commentator/Host/Actor/Comedian Brian Unger calls WOUB his “first love”< < Back to
Unger graduated from Ohio University in 1987
ATHENS, OH – When WOUB TV recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, former WOUB student Brian Unger ’87 posted a comment on Twitter that read “Happy Anniversary, WOUB. You were my first love.” While that might sound like a joke, coming from a guy whose media career includes working on the team that launched The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Unger meant it sincerely.
“I really didn’t date anyone in college, and I really did date WOUB,” Unger said with a laugh. “WOUB was my girlfriend. WOUB was my everything. Every connection I had of significance, the people I admired and looked up to, worked there. I lived in that building. I was really focused, and I knew what I wanted to do. I was soaking up everything I could in every corner of that place. WOUB will always be my first love.”
Unger grew up in Granville, Ohio, which is located about an hour and a half from Athens. He originally thought he’d go to college at Ohio University’s rival – Miami University. Both his dad and brother were RedHawks. But Unger eventually realized that Miami didn’t have the kind of communication or journalism program he was looking for.
“Two weeks before I was supposed to start at Miami, I changed my mind, and thank goodness Ohio University accepted me,” said Unger. “Of all the decisions I have made in my life that was the only good one. My brother and dad have never forgiven me.”
Unger doesn’t remember exactly how he learned about WOUB. But the communications major remembers meeting with WOUB Station Director Archie Greer, along with fellow student Jon Zellner, who is now an executive at iHeartmedia, to learn about the opportunities. After that, Unger knew what he needed to do.
“When I was a freshman living in Tiffin Hall, while everyone else was sleeping off their hang over on the weekends, I was going up to WOUB to make sure there were no technical issues with the radio programs – NPR’s Weekend Edition and CBC Sunday Morning. And when I look back on it, those weekends of babysitting those shows really did form the foundation of how I would go on to tell stories in my career. I sat there and listened. It was my first exposure to really good storytelling.”
Unger worked both on the air and behind the scenes at WOUB in radio, TV and traffic. WOUB TV Producers Keith Newman and David Sabbath took Unger under their wings and gave him opportunities to explore video production.
“That started the process for me of learning to be a producer and a writer,” said Unger. “I also worked on NewsWatch with people like Bill Brand, who is now the CEO at rue21, and Paul Schneider, who is now an executive producer. WOUB had magical fairy dust that gave us an advantage in the marketplace when we got out of school and the confidence to achieve the things we’ve all done.”
Unger was able to finish his degree in three years but didn’t leave Athens for another year.
“I told my mom a lie. I told her I had another year to go, and I took one class and stayed at Ohio University. During that time, thanks to help from another WOUBer, I set up an internship with David Letterman. After I finally left Athens, I found myself at 30 Rock in New York City doing all the important critical work of production and journalism like getting people coffee or getting people their lunch,” Unger said laughing.
After Letterman, Unger worked as a producer for Lifetime Medical Television and the Maury Povich Show. Eventually, he was hired as producer for Eye to Eye, a CBS news/interview show with Connie Chung. A job Unger said was his dream. But eventually, he became disenchanted with the news business.
“I think it was during the OJ Simpson trial when things changed. I started to see the mechanics of the manufacturing of news. I got to see it up close and what I saw I didn’t necessarily love anymore. After covering both the criminal and civil trial, I decided to take a break,” said Unger. “I had a little mid-life crisis. I didn’t know what direction to go, so I flew to LA and stayed at a friend’s house. I was there about six months just reading books. Then one day I got a call from someone who used to work at Late Night with David Letterman, and she said they were starting a news satire show at Comedy Central called The Daily Show. They needed someone who knew how to do news, and she asked if I would help them launch this show.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Unger moved into the entertainment side of the media industry. He served as a correspondent and producer for The Daily Show and his career started down a different path. New opportunities opened up for Unger. He worked as a satirical commentator on NPR’s Day to Day. The producer, commentator, host, actor and comedian’s other credits include: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Yellowstone, Some Assembly Required, and How the States Got Their Shapes for the History Channel. Unger just finished producing a home renovation series for House Beautiful magazine, and he’s current directing and producing House Hunters International for HGTV. But another career path change could be in Unger’s future.
“I’m thinking about exploring opportunities in news again,” said Unger. “I’d like to get back to the news world and finish my career there.”
It’s a career that Unger said wouldn’t have started without the strong foundation and support he got at the place he calls his first love.
“I think I’m lucky in a couple of different ways. I lament this all the time. In this digital media world, I tell students and young producers that the best storytellers learn how to use traditional media tools. Radio taught me how to listen. It also taught me how to write. Those two skills are in such short supply in today’s electronic age, and those things I learned at WOUB,” said Unger. “With those two things you can go anywhere in this business. There are so many short cuts, but I encourage people to embed themselves in places, like WOUB, where the opportunity to learn radio, TV and digital media exist. WOUB set me on a path, and I’m grateful.”