Through a couple of mutual friends, I've known Nick for a few years off and on. I saw his former band, Clearmotive, play shows around town, and even spun their CD at UB while working for WRUB. We talked about writing, and about Big John's Pasta House in Tonawanda, one of his favorite restaurants, which happened to be in our former shared neighborhood. I knew that he worked for WGR, and I kept an ear out for him whenever I was on that part of the dial. I also started following him on Twitter when I read his tag line: "What are you doing to make the world better than it would be had you not been here?" I became interested in interviewing Nick when I learned he was also a partner in the FC Buffalo Blitzers, an amateur soccer club recently created for the city. So we sat down for a talk.
Mendola, with his trademark smile and love of the Cubs, is warm and focused when we talk, actively listening throughout the whole exchange. We talk a little about sports, the recent Sabres disappointment, and the job transition. Then we get more personal, and we talk about family, and naturally, the city. He and his wife Lacey are expecting their first child soon, and he beams with excitement when I congratulate him. "I could have moved anywhere," Mendola says when I ask him why he chose to root his family in Buffalo, "but we want to be here." His love for the community shows in each project he takes on, beyond his day job. The Blitzers, to him, are more than just an excuse to play soccer with some friends, it is also a source of unity and multicultural pride in the city. "Part of FC Buffalo is that I love soccer," Mendola begins. "There are tons of Immigrants in the area...We've got players from London, via Canada, and Rwanda via France. I'm a Buffalo-raised Catholic, and people here are building mosques, and are Buddhists...it would be great if everyone could hold up a scarf, and help breakdown our stereotypes."
He insists that it isn't a misconception: Buffalo is a good sports town, but "people need examples, positive examples," he adds, "in order to combat the cynicism that's crept into our culture." Mendola admits he was a longtime supporter of former Bills quarterback JP Losman, probably too long even, but he was influenced by Losman's commitment to the city; even if that commitment overshadowed by Losman's performance on the field. Then Mendola starts talking about former Buffalo Bills linebacker, Chris Draft. During Draft's tenure here, he was visibly giving back to the community in a number of ways, including working with the Chris Draft Family Foundation and Erie County's Be-A-Friend Program earlier this year, bringing kids to a local salon for a day of haircuts and discussion. "He realizes he makes money tackling people and playing a game, and he wants to give back to each community he plays for, including Buffalo."
These are the kind of examples Mendola looks for, people who consistently use their microphones and celebrity to benefit the communities they serve. The responsibility that comes with this kind of profile, whether a pro athlete or media host, is something Mendola takes seriously. When I asked about his show on WECK, he explained: "When you have a mic in front of your mouth, you have to be grateful people are listening...I want my show to satisfy people from an entertainment standpoint, keeping people informed sports-wise, and to set an example that you don't have to be a cynic and you can tutor a kid." He sets that example off the air as well, as a Big Brother for Erie County. "Giving isn't about handouts," he explains "it's about giving someone the means and opportunity [to help themselves]."
Tuning in to his first airing of "The Late Nick Mendola" in early May, I heard some tracks from Sloan and Bruce Springsteen (one of Mendola's favorite artists) amongst the sports talk and discussions about the format of the new program. The music I heard reflects in the sound of his current band Tuco, which released their debut album "No One Leaves Easy" in February. On the air, Mendola's wit and warmth shine through in each interview and discussion--it has a different tone than other talk radio shows. It is positive without being corny, and authentic without theatrics, unassuming, and down to earth. About halfway through the first hour, Mendola was explaining the format of the program going forward, when he said, "I want to be beneficial." I can't imagine him being anything else.
Tune into "The Late Nick Mendola" on WECK, most weeknights at 7pm.
Scheduling and ticket information for the FC Buffalo Blitzers can be found at www.fcbuffalo.org.
Finally, listen to Tuco on their site, or check them out live at Mohawk Place on June 9th, when they open for Marah.