Finding His Voice

Z104 radio host Aaron Rogers traces a curving path to chasing his dream of being an out professional on-air personality.

It all began back when I was in third grade. Me, my Super Nintendo, and the Madden NFL franchise. In general, I was quite the shy kid, with few friends. However, after rushing home from elementary school to pop in this video game, you’d have never guessed. I would begin a contest, select my team (the Packers, of course) and mute the volume. Why didn’t I want to hear the cheering fans in the background of my TV after scoring a touchdown? The reason was simple: I was providing the play-by-play, all while vigorously hitting the “X” and “Y” buttons on my controller. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to talk for a living.

I grew up in small-town Plymouth, Wisconsin, right in the center of Sheboygan County. Most of the people I grew up with moved back home after school, pursuing careers in many different occupations from plumbing to nursing to working at the cheese factories to, well, farming. But in all seriousness, I knew none of those career paths were my cup of tea. I wanted to do something different, utilizing all the tools and pockets of information people had put in my head growing up and turning that into my own product.

I left for college and attended UW-Green Bay for a semester before transferring to the local community college. Although I enjoyed the campus life, living with peers in a dormitory, and constant partying, I wanted to focus all my attention into my work. So I moved into a cheap apartment and started attending classes at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College for…wait for it…law enforcement. “Law enforcement?” said my parents. “Well, I need a degree in something,” I said. My parents (my mom especially) were baffled by the idea of me becoming a police officer. Needless to say, after graduating and spending a year and a half as a community-service intern for the Green Bay Police Department, I decided it wasn’t the career for me.

Fast-forward to summer of 2008, and I’m not only struggling with my parents accepting me as an openly gay 21-year-old, but also struggling to figure out what to do with my life. Around the same time, I befriended a man by the name of Mark Turner who worked at WIXX-FM Green Bay (Northeast Wisconsin and Fox Valley’s Top 40 station). The station happened to be a block away from the police department, so it was convenient for me to come over around 11 p.m. and shadow him. I found myself actually getting home around 3:30 a.m. I was fascinated by everything I observed while shadowing Mark. The soundboard, the selection of music, the tone and conversations he was sharing with listeners live on the radio. I remember thinking to myself, “I can do that!”

My creative juices started flowing. I can recall wanting more. I shadowed Mark well into the summer, and was inspired to move to Milwaukee and complete my bachelor’s degree at UWM for communications in mass media.

In the fall of 2008, while in school, I landed an internship at 99.1 The Mix (WMYX-FM). After a few months of interning at one of the stations I grew up listening to, my boss called me around 11:30 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving to fill in on sister station 103.7 KISS-FM. Let’s just say I ended that phone call and nearly passed out. KISS-FM? I couldn’t believe it. I was a few hours away from going LIVE on the air at one of the biggest Top 40 stations in Milwaukee.

After a few years sharpening my on-air skills and studying the ins and outs of the industry, I wanted to take my new life to the next level and become a full-time on-air personality. I ended up back in Green Bay and started out overnight live on the air, quickly becoming the nighttime personality, taking over a shift previously held by someone for over 10 years at WIXX-FM. Everything seemed to have fallen into place between work and my personal life until the day after seeing Lady Gaga in Milwaukee in September 2010. I walked into my program director’s office only to find that the station had decided to go in a “different direction.” Frustrated, feeling as if I had failed, I immediately called all of my old contacts and got back on my feet doing part-time work for a few weeks until I landed a full-time gig again, this time at Z104 in Madison. Merely three weeks had passed, and I already networked my way to a new opportunity and a breath of fresh air. Little did I know this move would be the one that would change my life.

When I moved to Madison I was broke, clueless, and missing a sense of community and family. My relationship with my parents had improved, but it wasn’t the same love and affection you get from peers in a territory foreign to your comfort zone. It wasn’t long before I began to call Madison my home. From getting involved in the Out Professional and Executive Network to emceeing Fruit Fest, I have been blessed with all of the open arms this community has presented me with. For me, having a successful radio show as an openly gay man is merely a fragment of who I am and how the public perceives me. I enjoy spending time at area shows, festivals, hanging out with friends, exploring small communities around southern Wisconsin, and spending time with my boyfriend, Michael, who continues to inspire me to achieve new heights. Nevertheless, I’m still blown away by the love and generosity of this community.

Since living here, I’ve learned how vital it is to find mentors. These are people who may have walked in your shoes, provide you with opportunities for personal growth, and connect you to people who share the same values that you do. I can honestly say I’m not sure I would be the person I’ve become without those key individuals in my life.

Being someone in the media, I continually try to integrate our station’s brand into the lives of individuals both adolescent and adult. In addition, I find it extremely valuable in a world of syndication to have someone local who walks, eats, breathes, and experiences the same aspects of the community that you do. There is something so powerful and unique in knowing that you can listen to your favorite station, attend a station event, participate in community fundraisers or organizations, and develop a special connection with the personality you’ve grown accustomed to listening to. That in itself is a good feeling beyond words. I am sincerely fortunate and never do I take a single day for granted.

Through all my personal and professional fluctuations, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve figured out that if you truly believe in something, you are the only one who has the ability to affect whether it happens. You alone are responsible for the energy you bring into the room. If you want something bad enough, work hard, and you’ll be rewarded with many exceptional things. It’s never an easy journey, but the reward outweighs the complications it takes to get there. You hear that phrase now and again from people as you mature, but seriously, it’s true. I’m in the heart of doing what I had always dreamed of accomplishing since I was that third-grade boy playing Madden—talking, sharing, and imagining.

To be honest, I’m actually off to pick up this year’s copy of the game.