In elementary school, Grant Paulsen was making regular appearances as a sports reporter on WUSA. In middle school, he was covering the Super Bowl for David Letterman. And in high school, he was wondering whether his sports-media career was already on the decline.
TV producers weren’t calling as often. PR staffers stopped pulling Paulsen aside for exclusive interviews. The fast track toward broadcasting superstardom took a brief detour to George Mason journalism classes.
“I never for a minute said to myself that I wasn’t going to be able to latch on somewhere, but I definitely doubted for a few years whether I would be able to get back to where I was as a child,” the 25-year old Paulsen recently told me. “There was definitely a time where I worried, what if the best has already happened? What if I’ve already peaked in this business?”
So he set about reinventing if not his approach, then his public perception. Paulsen, a native of King George County, had achieved fame – the Letterman appearances, the Sports Illustrated write-up – thanks to his precociousness and likeability around athletes. He would forge his adult career through hard work and credibility.
In truth, he had always wanted to ask hard-news questions of athletes; he went to his childhood interviews armed with stats and formations and analysis, asking the TV producers if he could do a few real questions before getting to the gags. While still in high school, he launched a show about baseball prospects – Minors and Majors – on satellite radio. He asked one local outlet after another for work, picked up a gig assisting on Redskins and Wizards coverage for 106.7 The Fan, and managed to get a one-on-one interview with John Wall a few hours before the 2010 NBA draft by approaching Wall as he played with his phone.
He graduated to the Redskins beat on that station, starting a few days before Mike Shanahan’s first training camp. He went to all 81 games of the Shanahan era, continuing his streak of working at every Redskins home game since 1999. He slept on radio stations floors, ran the board for shows, cut audio in newsrooms, worked more than a few 17-hour days, and went from asking players their favorite flavor of ice cream to regularly breaking news, like Trent Williams’s bar altercation before the 2013 Pro Bowl and countless roster moves.
After four years as a beat reporter, Paulsen will progress this week to the next step: studio host, paired with Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan’s 10-2 midday show. Despite everything Paulsen has done in a career that started in fourth grade, it’s his first job hosting a daily show.
“I just think it’s the natural next step, but leaving beat reporting’s gonna be hard,” Paulsen said. “I love football. I love learning about football, I love talking to coaches about concepts and schemes, I love talking to players about their past, I love being in the locker room, I love being at practice. There was nothing about beat reporting that I didn’t like, other than the pressures that come along with it.”
Paulsen still wants to go to games and practices, will still lean on the countless relationships he’s built at Redskins Park. He doesn’t want to become a talking head, someone who “doesn’t get out into the locker room and field and learn what they’re talking about.”
And he hopes to convince unfamiliar local listeners that he’s not just a Redskins guy. He will continue hosting at least two baseball shows a week for SiriusXM MLB Network Radio, regularly goes to Caps games as both a media member and a paying customer, and closely follows every local team.
“I think initially people are going to say the Redskins guy is talking about the Capitals right now, or the Redskins guy is talking about the Nationals right now. Anybody who knows me knows that’s not the case,” Paulsen said. “Within the first few weeks of the show starting, people will understand that the Redskins was what I reported on; it’s not all I know or all I care about.”
Media peers – who describe Paulsen as the most well-liked reporter on the beat by both colleagues and players — showered him with praise after his promotion was announced. “He’s going national by 30,” longtime local columnist Rick Snider wrote on Twitter. “He will be one of the best ever,” wrote Holden Kushner, Rouhier’s former co-host, who continues to work at the station.
Indeed, Paulsen hasn’t wavered from his longstanding desire to become a national play-by-play voice. In the meantime, he appears to have emerged from any mid-career doubts just fine.
“I knew the whole time, as a kid, that there was a shot clock involved. I understood that,” Paulsen said. “When I wasn’t getting those chances anymore, I realized how lucky I was, how cool it was to do that. And that’s what drives me now.”