NEW YORK CITY – At the end of his senior year of high school, Jamison Coyle was at a crossroad. He had two options to consider: leave his home in New England and head to Embry-Riddle University in Florida to become a commercial airline pilot or head to Syracuse University in upstate New York to pursue his other passion, broadcasting.
“If I went the broadcasting route and went to Syracuse, I could have a Communications Degree and a couple years into that business if I didn’t like what I was doing I could go back and get my pilot’s license.” Coyle said.
Jamison admits, 12 years later, he still has an itch to be a pilot, but he’s not regretting the decision by any means. On the journey to hosting NHL Tonight, he honed his craft back home in New England and covered college hockey for the New England Sports Network focusing on the Hockey East Conference.
“That was my first real taste of covering hockey full time. I was working at NESN. When I was hired, they told me I was going to do the NESN highlight show, but I was also going to do the Hockey East package, which meant doing pre-game and intermissions and post-game coverage.,” noted Coyle while discussing cutting his teeth in hockey broadcasting. He also went on to say, “I covered guys like Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau. One of the cool things about where I’m at right now is seeing the guys I covered in college make it up through the ranks.”
Coyle’s success with NESN was his springboard to the NHL Network fulltime in 2015. He admits there were butterflies during his first show.
“My first show was with John Tortorella. I’ve never had butterflies like that. I’ve always had them at certain levels, but not to that degree,” Coyle recalled. “To date that was the biggest opportunity I had in my career so I trusted in my skills and I trusted in my knowledge of the game itself. I just remember being next to ‘Torts’ and I’m like this is a guy who is notorious for crushing the media. What if I say the wrong thing? He was incredibly gracious and one of the nicest guys I’ve had a chance to work with here at the network. One of the things that settled me down was when we were on our first commercial break, I looked down at my phone and I get a text from my buddy, saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re on with Torts, what a debut.’”
NHL Tonight is completely unscripted, in the studio there are no prompters, no scripts just cameras, lights, props, the host and his analysts.
“It’s just three hours of ad-libbed live television. You go in with just a rough shell with storylines that may play out. If there’s breaking news like the other night with a couple guys from the Calgary Flames, Ryan Lomberg and Mark Giordano, getting a two-game suspension, you go with it. That was not in the show going in. We knew it could come out at any time, but all of a sudden a producer got in my ear and said, ‘breaking news we have a tweet for you. Get us to the tweet and read that and we’ll react to that’ he tells me in my earpiece. I’ll get it back to the analysts.” Coyle said.
Jamison admits it would be remarkable if they got through a show without any minor hiccups; whether it’s the teleprompter freezing, bumping their coffee off the pedestal under the desk, microphone batteries running out, or shot sheets printed out of order.
“You always have to be on your toes and be able to pivot on a dime. It’s the best thing about live TV, you can have the greatest show in the world, its fine, but you come back the next day you do it again and it goes to the other side of the coin, where you have a terrible show, and everything goes wrong. Because it’s live you put that behind you and you come back and do it the next day. You take the good with the bad. At the end of the day, it’s live TV and stuff happens.”
“Jamo” as he’s known around the studio is a family man, with two boys a four-year-old named, Jaxson and a one-year-old named, Mason. The 34-year-old talked about his workday routine from start to finish:
“I’ll get up with those guys, make them breakfast, make myself a coffee and get those guys off to school and then get to the gym. On Wednesdays and Fridays, if the schedule permits, I play pickup hockey. I go to the gym or the rink and try to get in some type of cardio. After that I get ready for work, I’m always listening to NHL Network radio on Sirius Radio XM. I’m a big fan of podcasts these days. I’m a big fan of Spittin Chiclets, 31 Thoughts with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, and the BobCast with Bob McKenzie. I’ll throw those on throughout the day, while I’m driving into work. Then when I get in, we have an incredible research department and they’ll have a research packet that they do every day for the slate of games that night. My routine is, I’ll go through it, pick a highlighter for each team. We have a pre-production meeting three hours before we go on live and in that it’s the producer, the coordinating producer of the show, director, graphics, highlight supervisor, the host, and the analysts. The producer kind of takes us through the rundown of the night. The analysts will go through what their themes are and what they want to look for in certain situations.”
Coyle added, “Once we get through the pre-production meeting, we all scatter off to our offices and prepare for the show. I’ll take the notes I took down in the meeting as far as what the analysts are looking for and I’ll put those more into an organized format for myself. Usually, there is some time before we have to be in makeup so I’ll try and grab a bite to eat. A lot of time it’s just hanging out talking to the analysts. About a half an hour before the show, we walk across to the other building and get our suits and make-up on and then we’re in our chairs and we’re rocking and rolling.”
Coyle’s primary job as host is to set up his analysts and put them in a position to relay useful information to the viewers.
“My job as the host is to get them in the best position possible and tee them up with what they want to talk about,” Coyle says. “If I can’t get them to where they want to go, I haven’t done my job as a host.”
One the best compliments you could give the show is “It seems like three friends just sitting around talking hockey without cameras,” Coyle said. “What we want it to feel like is the viewers hanging out with us. We pretend like the cameras aren’t there. We’re just hanging out watching and talking hockey. When NHL Tonight comes on it’s just a little bit more formal, we have to wear suits and there are cameras.”
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) December 7, 2018
Who said you can’t have fun at work? Recently, Coyle donned a horse head mask on air. He shared the story behind it, “The horsehead has been there for two years. The other night it was superhero night in Pittsburgh and the rink-side reporter, Dan Potash, was dressed up like Batman and he was interviewing Kris Letang and then he had Conor Sheary so we showed the Sheary interview and he didn’t break stride, he didn’t react to Dan Potash like he was wearing a full-fledged Batman suit. So we come out of that and I grab the horsehead and throw it on and I’m like how do you not react to a guy that’s wearing a costume? Alex Tanguay and Kevin Weekes just started losing it!”
Outside of the studio, Coyle lives a normal life. He takes his kids to the local rinks and explores New York City.
“My life outside of work is based around the kids. Jaxson is getting into activities. We’ve become hockey parents, we’re at the rinks on Saturday mornings with learn to skate. This morning Jaxson wanted to go public skating. They love New York City. We try and get into New York City with those guys whenever we can. We’re always out and about.”
The majority of the time we have people that influence us, that help propel us to be successful in our careers. Many times, it’s our parents that play that influential role. Jamison is no different thanking his parents, Kim and Kevin Coyle.
“Working those first couple of gigs out of school, where you could barely make rent or pay for your phone because the TV industry is incredibly unglamorous when you’re starting out, just the support and reinforcement from them saying, you’re good at this, you were meant to do this means everything. I have to thank my parents for moral support and financial support when I was first starting out,” said Coyle.
Coyle also was quick to mention that he is always willing to help someone out who is starting in the industry.
“Now I’m paying it back as far as people in college or people in smaller markets reaching out to me, saying would you mind looking at my resume reel? I always have time for people seeking advice or seeking help, because I was one of those people. I need to do for others what people helped me with.”
Given Coyle’s on-screen talent and his on-air resume, his dream of becoming a full-time commercial airline pilot is a dream of the past.