Aaron Blackwill, a Lewiston High School grad, works as a freelance broadcast television technician for NBC, CBS and Golf Channel on the networks’ PGA coverage.
Blackwill, now 29 and living in Meridian, reflected on the path he took to his unique career, recalling how a class he took in high school gave him his start.
BYRON EDELMAN — What led you to work in broadcast journalism?
AARON BLACKWILL — When I was in high school, I took a video production class at Lewiston High (where he graduated in 2008), and that got me kind of interested in video and TV and film.
BYRON EDELMAN — How did you get hired by NBC, CBS and Golf Channel?
AARON BLACKWILL — I went to Northwest Nazarene University and studied in their film and television production program. That’s the degree I graduated with, and just through me making contacts in that program, I got introduced to somebody that does a lot of hiring of freelancers. ... A few of the people I worked with gave me a good recommendation to their manager, who asked if I’d be interested in coming up with them (to a tournament) the next week. ... And that kind of sprung into getting regular calls and regular work from Golf Channel. ... which is sort of synonymous with NBC — the crewing and the management are all the same.
BYRON EDELMAN — What’s your job?
AARON BLACKWILL — ... I kind of assist with any part of the broadcast that needs to be done, particularly with building the show. The semi trucks come in, you unload them and build all the production. ... Run all the cables across the golf course. ... And, with Golf Channel and NBC, I still do that job fairly often. Other jobs I do, I sometimes work as the lead in the utility position. ... Starting about the end of last year, I really started to get my break as far as operating a camera — so I’ve been running camera a little bit in 2018 and 2019 for Golf Channel and NBC. And also last year, in 2018, I started working for a company called Toptracer. ... There’s a camera angle from the perspective behind the golfer, so when they hit it, it traces the ball path to where it’s flying on the screen. ... Through my work with Golf Channel, I interact with that company fairly often, and they asked me if I wanted to come along and help out on the CBS television broadcast.
BYRON EDELMAN — What do you love most about your job?
AARON BLACKWILL — It’s pretty fun to go see a lot of places around the country, and Canada and Mexico. ... But what I love the most is just getting to work on these big broadcasts — for someone who studied in that area, it’s really exciting to work with a lot of the latest and greatest television equipment and technology.
BYRON EDELMAN — What’s one of the less romantic aspects of your job?
AARON BLACKWILL — As I said, the travel’s one of the best parts, but it’s also pretty exhausting. There are four- or five-week stretches at a time where I’ll go from city to city to city ... without a day off.
BYRON EDELMAN — What’s something people wouldn’t expect about what you do?
AARON BLACKWILL — A lot of people think we just show up to a golf course with a camera and a tripod and start filming. It’s a lot more than that. It’s a lot of physical and manual labor.
BYRON EDELMAN — What’s your favorite event you’ve gotten to cover?
AARON BLACKWILL — I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s an event, but a location. .... One place that I really, really, really love going is a golf course just outside Branson, Mo., called Top of the Rock. It’s a beautiful golf course ... on this hill that overlooks ... Table Rock Lake. .... It’s indescribably beautiful. Unfortunately, they cancelled that tournament, so it’s not going to take place anymore. But if I could recommend to anybody one place to go and see, I would definitely recommend that place.
BYRON EDELMAN — How many days a year are you on the road for work?
AARON BLACKWILL — This year I think was the most. I spent about 35 weeks on the road.
BYRON EDELMAN — What other sports do you cover?
AARON BLACKWILL — When I’m at home (in Meridian), I still work in the Boise television market, working college football and basketball games for Boise State University. (I also do) professional bull riding when it comes through town, X-Games qualifiers, Idaho Steelhead (minor league hockey) games (and) sometimes one-off things.
BYRON EDELMAN — What’s the best story you can share from behind the camera?
AARON BLACKWILL — At this same event that takes place in Branson, Mo., they have a lot of the older legends of professional golf come, and that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. I got to see Arnold Palmer play and we (also) sat down with him and shot a bunch of interviews.
BYRON EDELMAN — What was your impression of him?
AARON BLACKWILL — Everyone had always told me (Palmer) was a really nice guy and he definitely was. Definitely the kind of person who would not be afraid to talk to anyone in the room; didn’t (act) better than anybody else.
BYRON EDELMAN — What other celebrities have you come across at your job?
AARON BLACKWILL — I think the most famous, if you want to put it that way, (would be) Bill Clinton. The Clinton Foundation used to sponsor a tournament down in Palm Springs, Calif., and he was there one of the years I went there — I didn’t actually meet him, but I walked past him, so I don’t know if that counts. I’ve seen pretty much all the big-name golfers — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and I won’t say I’ve necessarily met them or shook their hands. As part of the TV crew, it’s not necessarily appropriate for us to just walk up to them and start talking and try to get a handshake or anything. But I have been in close proximity with pretty much all of the most famous golfers, though I haven’t actually met them.
BYRON EDELMAN — What interactions have you had with Joel Dahmen — you both being L-C valley boys on the PGA Tour?
AARON BLACKWILL — I mentioned that it’s not necessarily appropriate for us to just walk up there and introduce ourselves, but he is the one golfer I did walk up to and introduce myself to. I introduced myself to him, I think it might’ve been his first year when he earned his PGA Tour card, at a golf tournament in Jackson, Miss. (in late October 2016). I was assigned to be the walking audio person for his pairing for the day, so I just took the opportunity to introduce myself first, very quick, right at the first tee. We talked a little bit about Lewiston, etc. It’s been years, and I’ve seen him many times since. That said, I don’t know if he remembers me or would recognize me. I’ve thought about going up and saying hi again, but it might be in the middle of his round, he might be at the driving range practicing, so you’ve really gotta kind of feel the situation out. That’s his job, he’s working, and I don’t want to go up and interrupt him and say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy from Lewiston.’ But from what I can tell, he’s a very nice guy. I’ve seen him interact with a lot of fans and he really enjoys what he does out there.
BYRON EDELMAN — How long have you done this and how long do you think you’ll continue?
AARON BLACKWILL — I started my first year with Golf Channel in 2013, so I think that makes it like six years. And right now, my plan is to keep trying to go as far as I can. My goal is to be operating a camera full-time for any of the networks that will take me. It’s a long, slow process to get there, but it’s getting there, and I’m hoping this year I’ll see a lot more opportunities to be behind the camera. As far as right now, I’m trying to keep it going as long as I can.
BYRON EDELMAN — What advice would you give to local kids trying to follow in your footsteps?
AARON BLACKWILL — ... A lot of the jobs you get in television, at least in my experience, it’s all word of mouth, who you know. So just that being considered ... your work ethic and your attitude are what’s going to help sell you. ... I think the most important thing that you can do for yourself, as far as trying to move up, is just to make those connections with people you work with, stay humble and just try to put forth your best effort and best attitude, no matter what’s going on. Always volunteer to do the jobs nobody wants to do and people will see that and recognize that.
Edelman may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2277.