Northwest Business Magazine

To Eric Wilson, Rockford Feels Like Home


Television viewers have come to know Eric Wilson as a dependable news anchor, but away from the camera, Wilson enjoys his family activities and many hobbies. He’s plenty busy, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

When he’s not on the air, Eric Wilson’s greatest pleasure is spending time with his wife, Marla, and their daughter, Allison. (Rebecca O'Malley photo)

A few years ago, Eric Wilson and other on-air personalities at 13 WREX took part in a station campaign, touting their passion for living and working in Rockford.

Filming the spot hit home with Wilson, a native of Chicago suburb Oak Forest, who, like many local broadcasters, assumed he’d spend a short time in Rockford, getting his feet wet, before moving on to bigger opportunities.

That was 17 years ago. These days, Wilson can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Rockford is where he met his wife, Marla, at a March of Dimes fundraiser. It’s where the couple’s daughter, Allison, 11, was born. And it’s where Wilson has developed a number of business and personal relationships. Why, he asks, would he go anywhere else?

“I love this city,” he says. “I like my job and people have been really nice to me. When you put your time, effort and investment in a community, it just feels like where I’m supposed to be. Things have worked out the way they’re supposed to. It’s a great situation.”

Wilson moved to Rockford in 1994, to work part-time as a deejay at radio station WZOK FM. A year later, television came calling, when he was hired by WREX to do weekend weather and occasionally host the morning and noon news. He was up for the challenge of dual media roles. “I had people tell me I couldn’t do both,” he says. “In the back of mind I wanted to prove those people wrong.”

In 1997, he decided to step away from radio for good and pursue TV full-time. “I figured it was a small market, I would do it for a couple of years and move on,” he says. “But the station has given me plenty of opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten somewhere else. I never saw a reason to leave.”

Wilson is a favorite among viewers for his dependability, friendly disposition and solid delivery. “He’s dedicated and passionate, but also likes to have fun on the job,” says Wilson’s co-anchor, Katie Nilsson. “Eric can do it all too – weather, sports, live shots, you name it. I like Eric’s personality; what you see on the air is what he’s really like in person.”

Wilson deflects praise, opting to give credit to the entire news team. “I think chemistry and personality are important,” he says. “Our station shares in that philosophy. Viewers want to watch news that makes them comfortable. Viewers can tell if the anchors don’t get along.”

Over the years, Wilson has reported on plenty of memorable stories, among them the tragic shooting at Northern Illinois University, the train derailment in Cherry Valley, and several weather-related events. He’s profiled an array of people – from a couple who’s been married for more than 50 years to Ed Viesters, a Rockford native and well-known mountain climber.

What makes a good story? “It has to be something that people relate to,” he says. “There has to be a human element – something that affects them or their wallets. There needs to be something in there that emotionally draws them in.”

He’s rubbed elbows with celebrities, too. He nabbed an interview with Pat Sajak and Vanna White, hosts of the Wheel of Fortune, a show Wilson was a guest on as a teenager. He talked with actor Steve Carell, who once served as a substitute instructor at Second City in Chicago, where Wilson took improvisation classes after graduating from Lewis University as a broadcast major.

His favorite story, however, was the time he flew with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in what he calls “a childhood dream come true.” In high school, Wilson applied to the Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy, and was even appointed by his congressman to the Air Force Academy. But due to vision problems, he had to turn down the opportunity and attended Lewis University in Romeoville, instead. In 2003, he earned his pilot’s license, and these days he gets his flying fix at Poplar Grove Airport, where he occasionally rents a plane.

“If I could, I would fly every day,” he says.

When he’s not working, Wilson embraces a healthy lifestyle. A former track athlete and soccer player in high school, he runs marathons and triathlons. In fact, he ran nearly three miles just to get to the interview for this story. “I’m a workout nerd,” he says. “If I don’t work out each day, I feel like a load. I’m more competitive with myself than others.”

What may surprise some TV viewers is the fact that, in his free time, Wilson is a realtor for Dickerson Nieman. Selling homes is in his DNA. He has relatives who work in the home sale industry and he earned his real estate license four years ago.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “A majority of my clients are first-time homebuyers. That’s exciting to go through the process with them and get them into a house.”

Of course, Wilson gets an occasional stare whenever he works an open house. Potential home buyers aren’t quite sure what to make of the familiar-looking guy greeting them at the door.

Frank Wehrstein, president of Dickerson Nieman, says there are similarities between Wilson’s two careers. “People watch him on the news because of his presence; he’s trustworthy, informed, and that’s how people pick a realtor,” he says. “Eric always carries himself extremely well and professionally. He’s very thorough, caring and compassionate. He’s a wealth of information, asks the right questions and always has customers’ best interest at heart.”

Over the years, Wilson has volunteered for a number of charities including March of Dimes, Rock River Valley Pantry, Crimestoppers and Children’s Theater Project. One of his pet projects is the popular Airfest held every summer at the Chicago Rockford International Airport.

“I try and do things that are worthwhile, whether it’s volunteering or spending time with my family, in the area,” he says. “Rockford really has become my home.”

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