All-Star Storyteller: Bill Baer reignites his passion for talking to people

All-Star Storyteller: Bill Baer reignites his passion for talking to people

By Justin Liggin

Growing up in Chicago as the son of an English teacher in a family full of sports fanatics, Bill Baer was allowed to forfeit his perfect attendance record at school for one day each year: Wrigley Field’s Opening Day. 

“My life revolved around sports,” Baer says. “I wanted to grow up and be a professional athlete, but I was too young to know it wasn’t going to happen.”

Though he had planned to be a two-sport star like Bo Jackson, it was in fifth grade when Baer realized the magnitude of his dreams and decided to play for the love of the game, opting for a different profession — sportscasting. 

“When I came home one night and told my family I wanted to be a sportscaster, they were very supportive,” Baer says. “And like a true English teacher, my mother let me know I would have to brush up on my grammar skills.”

Upon graduating from high school in 1984, Baer set off on his dream of becoming a sportscaster with an academic scholarship to Texas Tech University in his pocket. 

“What drew me to Texas Tech was their campus radio station. It was the only station that allowed underclassmen to get on air if there was an opening,” Baer says.

With his sights set on joining the station, Baer popped into the general manager’s office every day to check if there were any radio jobs available. One day, the opportunity came.

“Before the manager even told me what the job was, I took it,” Baer says.

From midnight to 4 a.m. on Friday night into Saturday morning, Baer commanded the campus airwaves at KTXT-FM, spinning vinyl while other students were either fast asleep or out partying.

Baer’s success on air led him to the sports director position, where he did the play by play for the school’s sports team and later secured internships at the NBC affiliate in Lubbock, Texas, and 12 News — the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, where his parents retired. Armed with experience in his senior year, Baer eventually moved broadcast departments and began anchoring newscasts prior to graduating in 1988. 

“While the experience was awesome, I desperately wanted to get back into sports, which happened shortly after my graduation,” Baer says.

What came next was a whirlwind of moving that took Baer from Lubbock to Charleston, South Carolina, to Fox 10 in Phoenix, to Providence, Rhode Island, and ultimately back to the Valley in 1994.

“As a sports reporter, I got to go to all the games, talk to all the players and get the full pro experience I wanted, but unlike the players I didn’t have to deal with any injuries,” Baer says.

After 18 months of doing sports at CBS 5 in Phoenix, Baer became the station’s main news anchor, but he quickly found out it wasn’t everything it cracked up to be. 

“As a news anchor, I reported on death and destruction for 12 minutes and then turned it over to the weatherperson. I didn’t want to do that anymore,” Baer says.

Though he once enjoyed his experiences working in news, Baer felt more like a talking head and missed his days of crafting stories from beginning to end. 

“I used to get butterflies before every show, and once I stopped getting those feelings, I knew that it was time to move on,” Baer says.

Upon leaving broadcast news in the mid-1990s, Baer realized he would have to take a different path to explore his passions. Enter Baerclaw Productions, a full-service video production company he founded in 1997.

“I didn’t just want to report on the news of the day, I wanted to talk to people, find out what makes them unique, hear their story and then piece it all together. This is what I get to do now,” Baer says.

Though Baer had a Rolodex full of professional connections and the tech knowledge from editing, taping and stacking his past broadcast shows, he enlisted the help of his father, an experienced businessman, to help guide him through the business side of things.

“For the first couple years, my dad became the sounding board for my ideas,” Baer says. “I was fortunate to have him to guide me through the process.”

After listening to his father’s guidance, Baer was ready to do the talking as the company began to blossom, producing everything from 30-second commercials to full documentaries for small businesses, Fortune 100 companies and nonprofits like Partnership with Native Americans, Drug Free AZ and the Scottsdale Charros. 

It was along this journey that Baer met his wife, Susan. They married in 2005 and had Ally, now 11, and Lexi, 8. They live in Scottsdale, a city Baerclaw Productions calls home as well.

“As the base for our operations, I can’t think of a better place to be than the Airpark area,” Baer says. The concentration of vibrant businesses made it a no-brainer for me to move my business here.”

Instilling the same important values his parents once passed onto him, Baer encourages his daughters to chase their passions. 

“I always end my car rides to school with them with a mantra, ‘Respect yourself, respect others, respect the process,’” Baer says. “Though they may not understand what respect the process means now, they will someday, just like I did.”

Now, Baer looks ahead to a bright future for his daughters and continuing to do what he loves most — telling stories.

“I don’t know if this is the last chapter of my work life or not, but I love what I do and I want to keep doing it.” ν

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