Raised by a military mom, this WREX morning show anchor has lived in many places, but he’s finding himself quite at home here in Rockford.
Growing up, Aaron Wright dreamed of being a fighter pilot, dentist or maybe a lawyer, but never a journalist.
These days, he can’t imagine doing anything else. The easygoing and soft-spoken Wright is co-host of 13 News Today, the 13WREX television morning program that airs Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 a.m.
“We’re covering what could be the absolute best day of someone’s life, or the absolute worst,” he says. “It’s important to be caring, sensitive and in the moment. Our job is to convey that feeling to the people watching at home, whether it’s a tragedy or a high school football player bawling his eyes out because of a great victory. To be able to share those moments with others, that’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
Wright has bounced around during his 26 years, due, in part, to his mother’s career. She served in the Air Force and retired as a decorated major. In the basement of their Spartanburg, S.C., home are several military honors on display, including one that Shirley earned for her part in a rescue operation, after a military helicopter crashed during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
“I’m a military brat,” says Wright, who was born at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La. From there, he and his family moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, and then to Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, N.M., before Shirley retired and moved her two boys back to her hometown of Spartanburg, when Aaron was in third grade.
Wright and his older brother, Martin, who works for an engineering firm in North Carolina, stayed grounded thanks to their mother, who always required accountability from her two sons.
“Serving in the military, my mother has always been a very tough person,” Wright says. “She had certain expectations of my brother and me, and wouldn’t let us get away with anything. For example, anything less than an A on report cards was unacceptable. We always knew to do what we were told. I’ve always had an inherent respect for my mother.”
Shirley raised her boys as a single parent after separating from their father when they were young. “One of the toughest things I had to learn is that there are some things in life you can’t change,” Wright says. “You just have to accept it and move on. My life’s not hard. Everyone has a unique set of circumstances that they’re born into. The question becomes, how can you make the best out of a bad situation?”
Athletics were an outlet for the Wright brothers. During high school, they participated in football, wrestling, and track and field.
Following graduation, Wright attended Hampton University, a private college in Hampton, Va., where he once again encountered plenty of discipline. There were student curfews, no co-ed dorms and a business dress code that didn’t include wearing jeans to class. While his high school friends who attended other colleges were out socializing, Wright was spending most of his nights tucked away in his dorm room, deep in homework. “I had friends who hated it,” he says. “It wasn’t for everyone.”
But Wright didn’t mind playing by the rules. In fact, he thrived at Hampton. Wright fell in love with his surroundings, especially the journalism program. His mentor was Tony Brown, longtime host of the syndicated television show “Tony Brown’s Journal,” and dean of Hampton’s journalism program.
“Dean Brown was eloquent and powerful whenever he spoke,” Wright says. “He always preached to his students the importance of reading, writing and editing. ‘If you can do those things, you’ll go far in television, newspaper or public relations,’ he said. That really stood out to me.”
During college, Wright got a chance to ply his trade through television and newspaper internships. He even did a postgraduate internship at the Baltimore Sun. “That’s when I caught the bug for the news business,” he says. Wright graduated with a major in broadcast journalism and a minor in political science.
Thanks to a professor at Hampton, Wright landed a job as a desk assistant with the NBC News Bureau in Washington, D.C. Among his duties were answering phones, taking lunch orders and delivering mail to news correspondents. Wright eventually moved up to weekend duty at the White House, where he took notes during important speeches and shot video at news conferences.
It was also a chance for Wright to hone his craft by studying some of the best journalists in the business, many of whom were willing to give him advice and critique his work.
“I saw journalism performed at the highest level,” he says. “I was in editorial meetings where Brian Williams and producers from every major market were on the phone during conference calls. It helped prepare me for when my time came.
“This business is all about preparation and execution. If you’re not prepared, you’re going to stumble through everything. It’s an unforgiving job. The mistakes you make are on live television.”
In 2011, Wright was hired as a reporter by WREX. These days, he co-hosts the 13 Morning Show along with co-anchor Hannah Welker and meteorologist Greg Bobos.
“Aaron is an outstanding journalist,” says Welker. “He genuinely cares about every topic that he covers. He gives a voice to people who may not have one. He has a passion for what he does.”
Wright enjoys the variety that comes with putting together a morning show. Not only does he package the first news of the day, but he interviews a wide range of guests. “Viewers want to smile and be entertained,” Wright says. “It’s a good time. If it wasn’t fun, it would be that much harder to get up at 3 a.m. every day. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s not natural to get up that early. The hardest part of my day is getting out of bed. The rest is easy.”
In his spare time, Wright enjoys hanging out with friends, playing video games or touch football in the backyard. He works out at the YMCA five times a week, in an effort to maintain his weight, which, he says, is a struggle for every news anchor working in a fast-paced environment. His days of feasting on three fast food meals a day are over, he adds.
Lately, his passion is cooking at home. Just ask to see his smartphone, where he stores photos of some of his latest creations: quiche, shrimp, kababs and mouth-watering ribs.
“Aaron is pretty laid back when it comes to most things in his life,” says Welker, who describes her co-anchor as a big brother. In fact, it was Welker who helped the southern-born Wright make his first snowman just last year. “He likes to joke around. He can also take criticism and turn it into a learning opportunity. That speaks volumes about the type of person he is.”
One day, Wright hopes to return to the South, to be closer to family and more desirable weather. But if it doesn’t work out, he’ll be fine. Life has always been about adjustments for Wright.
“In this business, you never know where the next call might come from,” he says. “But I’m prepared for anything.”