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Vince Vitrano ’99 at the desk in his new studio.

A New Microphone for One of Milwaukee’s Own

Vince Vitrano ’99 has covered it all: championship celebrations, community tragedies, grand openings and solemn memorials. In spring of 2022, he took over the lead microphone of Wisconsin Morning News on WTMJ 620-AM radio, after more than 20 years as a reporter and anchor for TMJ 4 News in Milwaukee, Wis. It’s a welcomed change to share more of himself and connect with his community. Vitrano says, “I like to move people. I like to make them laugh. I like to make them feel emotional or nostalgic.”

A familiar and important voice for the Milwaukee community, Vitrano takes his job seriously, especially when it comes to sharing the experiences of others. But the moments can be heady: “I’ve had to literally knock on the door of some person who’s endured a tragedy and ask, ‘Do you want to be on TV today?’ 

“I’ve sat in living rooms of someone who’s lost a military family member or endured some other tragedy, natural disaster or from crime, and they, in some cases, find it cathartic to tell their story and honor their loved one. … In the interview, I’m not there to try to break someone, to make them cry for effect. I just try to let them steer the interview in a direction that they’re comfortable,” he says.

A new point of view
While he feels grateful and empowered to share difficult stories, Vitrano is drawn to the joyful stories that allow him to share his sense of humor. He says, “My favorite thing in the world is to make people laugh. If there’s a funny take on a story, I’ll look for that. I also love characters. … and [telling] the story through their eyes.”

It’s one of the reasons why Vitrano felt compelled to transition to more of a commenter and community advocate as opposed to a straight, unbiased news reporter. “On the radio side, I need to be fair, but I can have a bit more of an opinion, which has been fun. … The expectation now is that people will know where I’m coming from on most of the stories we tell,” he says. Wisconsin Morning News has a straight news portion, an opportunity for callers and plenty of casual conversations with community members.

Knowing one’s audience
A Milwaukee native, Vitrano takes great pride in his relationship with the area. And says he owes much of his success to the strong connections he’s formed with its members: “You can do this job anywhere in America, anywhere in the world, but I grew up here. I think it means more to me to do this job here where the issues matter to me and my family and my friends. That connection to the community is something I value deeply. And I use that to better connect to the listeners. You want to hear good or bad news from one of your own, and that’s served me well in my career.”

He says his recognition of the audience was formed about 120 miles north on the St. Norbert campus – though he didn’t enroll at St. Norbert thinking he would ever work in the media, let alone be on TV. That dream started when he worked with media services on campus, where he learned how to edit and fell in love with telling stories. “Something you’ll learn in the communications department at St. Norbert: audience first, always know your audience. … What is they’re thinking, what is it they want to know,” Vitrano says. 

Thanks to strong mentors in his communication and media professors Carol Cortez, Jim Neuliep and Kevin Hutchinson, Vitrano got off to a fast start with an internship in the WFRV newsroom as a weekend producer during his senior year. “A lot of writing specifically for media I learned on the job, and I find that’s the case even for people that have a more intense journalism education. You have to learn the ins and outs. That’s why the internship was so critical,” he says.

One day at a time
He acknowledges that it may seem like everyone in media is under fire daily, and the hours can wear you down. Reflecting on his own experience he has some thoughts for anyone looking at a career in local news: “Get ready to work Saturdays and holidays and weird hours. I’ve been doing this for a career, I get up at 2:30 in the morning. There are times when I think, ‘What am I killing myself for?’ ”

But for him, the rewards are plentiful and worth the grind. “It’s a real honor when somebody, for whatever reason, lets you tell their story. Maybe it’s a victim of a tragedy who trusts you enough to say, ‘Ok I’ll speak with you.’ It’s a big responsibility they give you,” Vitrano says.

“As a kid who grew up here, I hope that people will appreciate as I do, the people who’ve stayed in Milwaukee. Anybody who’s achieved any sort of level of success in a market of our size is good enough to go somewhere else. … I hope that’s my legacy.”

June 22, 2022