As a child growing up in Wisconsin Rapids, Dick Knapinski recalls hearing paper mill jets soaring overhead.
“It was always kind of intriguing,” says Knapinski, who now — perhaps not ironically — is director of communications for the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, a position he has held for the last eight years.
But his tenure at EAA started long before that. About 26 years ago, Knapinski was working for Wisconsin Public Radio out of Lawrence University in Appleton when he heard about an opening at EAA.
“I’d always been an airplane nut; it just fell together,” he says.
With a degree in broadcast communications from Brown College in Minneapolis, Knapinski understood he’d be working with or in the media — one of his first jobs out of college was working at a radio station in Park Falls, in “up north” Wisconsin. “I broadcast to a few people and a lot of trees and deer,” he says.
He has extended his reach quite a bit since then. Today, as a “one-man band” of communications who also works with marketing and editorial teams, Knapinski is the main media contact for the EAA. In addition to handling internal and external communications, he has the daunting task of prepping for the onslaught of tourists, media, pilots and the other 600,000 or so who descend upon AirVenture every July.
“My season really starts in March in earnest,” says Knapinski, who also happens to be a licensed pilot.
“It’s like a rock rolling downhill … it just starts going faster and faster; in July, it’s every day,” he adds, noting that 16- to 18-hour days are common during that season.
“AirVenture and the weeks leading up to it are the most exciting,” Knapinski says. “There is no other event like this in the world — of this size, of this scope. It’s got all the emotion in it; it’s thrilling; it’s exasperating. This year, we had almost 1,000 media people on the ground.”
But if anyone is up to it, it’s Knapinski, who keeps his broadcast chops intact through his work with Spectrum Cable. For the past nine seasons, he’s been broadcasting high school sports. He also does webcasts for all Lawrence University NCAA Division III home games for the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“It’s a lot of fun; the enthusiasm of the kids, the fan base,” says Knapinski, who worked for The Post-Crescent in Appleton as a part-time sports writer for many years. His years of experience covering games combined with his broadcasting experience make him the ideal color commentator, says Joe Vanden Acker, Lawrence’s director of athletic media relations.
“He just became kind of a natural to do the webcasts … for us, having him be a part of our team is amazing because he has professional experience that many webcasters do not have,” he says. “He knows the conference; he’s covered it for so long. He definitely does his homework, and he definitely has a great affection for this place.”
From fingers on keyboard in print journalism to the prep school airwaves to feet on the ground at EAA, Knapinski has rounded out his impressive communications career doing it all. But he insists all those gigs really play well off one another.
“It really helps me in this job to remember what it’s like to be on deadline … the clock is sacrosanct,” Knapinski says.
As the clock runs out on EAA 2018 and planning begins for 2019, it’s also the time for prep sports.
But Knapinski doesn’t mind being busy. In fact, he says the level at which he does all his work now is “just about right.”
“If you would have told me at age 21 this was what I’d be doing, I’d say, ‘No way.’ This wasn’t on the radar at all,” he says. “Life takes twists and turns, and it’s turned out pretty well.”