By Mike Smollins
PIX morning news reporter Jill Nicolini paid a visit to the Ammerman campus, the place where she learned her craft, to talk about her career and provide inspirational words to students, last Wednesday in the Broadcasting Studio in the Riverhead building.
Nicolini originally went to Stony Brook University to become a doctor, but decided to come to this College and change her major to broadcasting. Soon after, she met Bill Terri at WBLI and started working there in promotions. “They call me Networking Nicolini,” she joked, “The broadcasting business is all about networking. You need to make contacts and keep in touch. Internships are very important.”
Nicolini has had internships with Nickelodeon in casting and also with the soap Opera One Life to Live stapling scripts. She’s also worked for the New York Islanders as a host asking trivia questions in the crowd. She was a dancer and announcer for the New York Dragons and even did voiceovers for Lucille Roberts Commercials.
Nicolini grew up in Farmingville and got her masters at NYIT after completing her time on campus, where she graduated with a 4.0 GPA while staying at Suffolk from 1997-98. She then did the on air traffic report at Metro Traffic and Weather. She cites the broadcasting program at Suffolk as one of the best out there.
“This program has more equipment than others I’ve seen. It’s exciting because it’s real,” she said.
On WBLI, she went from working promotions to getting an on air role in a show she came up with called “Hersday” which aired every Thursday morning for about three years. She eventually got a job with PIX Morning News shooting and producing a segment called “Around the Town.”
After that, she went up on the PIX traffic helicopter to report the morning traffic.
“It was a good experience for me and it showed them that I had the ability to take risks and that I was willing to volunteer to participate,” Nicolini said.
Nicolini then began a segment entitled “Dance Friday” in which she’d go up to random people in New York City and dance with them in the streets. After that, she began a series called “Just Jill” in which she’d go out and experience many things. She did a three part series on the New York Mets and even skated with the New York Rangers.
“I injured my calf on Monday doing a jump roping feature,” she said with a laugh stating how much fun she gets to have on TV.
Nicolini is now the features reporter for PIX news and she said she likes having the ability to see and experience different things. Though not everything goes smoothly on the live television show, she doesn’t mind.
“I think the mistakes are what make it fun. It makes me laugh.” Nicolini isn’t the only one who laughs. Her cameraman Tony Mazza also enjoys filming for her. “Though there are a lot of funny moments, Jill is still a very good reporter,” Mazza said.
Perhaps Nicolini’s toughest task was her trip to Iraq this past Christmas with fellow reporter Marvin Scott, a 30 year traditionalist in broadcast journalism to film “A PIX Christmas in Iraq with New York Soldiers.”
“It was a fun experience because we were two total opposites. He was a traditionalist, and I just loved to have fun,” Nicolini said, “We brought out different sides out of each other.” Nicolini stated that the two didn’t know they were going to be spending Christmas in Iraq until two weeks prior to the event.
Though they were opposites, the two instantly clicked on the trip. Alan Pernstein, the man who was in charge of this assembly and who runs the broadcasting department, noticed the clicking of the two very different reporters. “I was taken by their on air chemistry,” he said.
Nicolini missed Christmas with her family and slept in a tent in Kuwait for a day.
“It was an amazing experience. When I called my family to say Merry Christmas, I was so tired because we didn’t get much sleep on the trip,” Nicolini said. From there, Nicolini and Scott went to Baghdad and flew to the green zone with armed men on each side of the helicopter. They visited Saddam Hussein’s palaces.
Nicolini said she was surprised at how high the soldier’s spirits were. “They find ways to have fun. They were very welcoming and friendly and they were fed incredibly well.” Nicolini also stated that they hold dances and events, including something called Hip Hop Night. From there, the two went to Al-Anbar and taped some stuff while also doing live reports on three hours of sleep. Nicolini didn’t mind though, “If I had to do it again, I’d do it in a heartbeat. When you’re passionate about something you don’t need sleep.”
This trip was the first time that Scott ever had to take someone along with him on his yearly Iraq trip, and it was his wife’s idea for him to bring Nicolini as she felt it would make for entertaining television. Nicolini took the light news while Scott handled the hard news, which led to a some clashes.
“We were so proud of the final project that we put the clashes behind us in the end,” Nicolini said. Nicolini learned to balance the seriousness with the silliness and stated that she doesn’t like to do hard news as it doesn’t fit her personality, but she still knows when to act professional.
Though Scott was very serious about the project, Nicolini brought out a silly side of him. “I had him do five pushups on the air and it got him in the Daily News,” she said providing a laugh at the memory. Lars Hedstrom, who also runs the broadcasting program on campus used to be in the military. “I was tearing up watching that special,” Hedstrom said proudly as Nicolini explained that she dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out gifts to the soldiers.
She recalled a lot of great moments from her holiday trip to Iraq, but one in particular stuck with her.
“Just looking at the soldiers’ faces light up when they got their presents and saw their families for the first time in a long time made the entire trip worth it,” she said. She also added a humorous spot in which it took Scott a half hour to do one of his scenes and she was doing cartwheels in the background to lighten the mood.
Nicolini is 31 years of age and really wants to have a family. “If it came between my career and having a family, bye-bye career. I love talking to people and I love my job, but I’m at the point in my life where I’d love to have a family.”
Nicolini has dated such popular figures as Anthony Cumia from the Opie and Anthony radio show and Garth Snow, the General Manager of the New York Islanders, but the relationships didn’t last. She said in the future she hopes to find the right guy and also hopes to maybe have a reality show entitled “Finding Nicolini.”
Pernstein announced something very important to the audience in attendance, “It is with great pleasure that Jill will be the alumni dinner honoree on May 7.” This was the earliest time ever that the announcement of who would be honoree was made and it led to a huge round of applause from the audience.
Nicolini wakes up every day at 3:15 AM and goes from Farmingville to New Jersey. Her morning show is wrapped up at 9 AM. “It’s a crazy schedule and you learn to nap,” she said. Though she loves working in the city and New Jersey for PIX news, her heart stays in Long Island. “I love Long Island. I went to Sachem High School and I just love the suburbs.”
Nicolini no longer gets star struck when she’s around celebrities. “Celebrities are just like us, I sometimes get overwhelmed but if you just talk to them they are usually easy going.” Though Nicolini has already done a three part feature on the Mets, she hopes to one day throw out the first pitch.
Nicolini and the PIX news are up for an Emmy for Best Morning Show and she is keeping her fingers cross that they will win. Mazza, her cameraman, has already won an Emmy. “I won it for my camerawork and it was such an honor,” Mazza said.
Though Nicolini isn’t certain what the future will hold, she still loves what she’s doing right now despite all the mistakes. “I was once hit with a camera light outside during a pre-open for the morning traffic report,” she said with a smile, “Reasons like this are why I love my job.”