Jessica Charman joined the world of MLS expansion team Charlotte FC months ahead of its debut as part of the newest radio crew, preparing to call all the action for its inaugural season on RADIO ONE Sports WFNZ-A-W273DA/CHARLOTTE.
She, alongside host and team reporter Will Palszczuk, now lead 30-minute to one-hour segments before every match to inform and entertain fans before transitioning to a traditional match broadcast once the referee blows the first whistle. Palszczuk calls the play-by-play, as Charman breaks ground as commentator.
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Charlotte FC’s newest voice kicked off her fascination with the sport as a young goalkeeper, playing with local boys teams in England up until 12 years old.
“I wanted to play. So when the coach put their hands up, they were like 'who wants to be the goalkeeper?' I put my hands up because I thought it was guaranteed playing time. Once I ended up as a goalkeeper, my dad was like 'well, you're not going to be rubbish because, I don't want to be the parent of the rubbish goalkeeper' so he put me into a lot of coaching, played with the boys until I was 12, 13, then played with a local women's team. Eventually, [I] started to get noticed for being pretty good in goal. Watford, I started in their academy ranks 14 to 17, made my senior debut with them,” Charman explained exclusively to 90min.
“And then my last year in England, before I moved to America, I got my dream move to play for Reading, which is the club that I supported. So, that meant everything. The last game I ever played with them, I got to play in the Madejski Stadium, which was huge. After that, I ended up in America on a soccer scholarship, obviously not something that's really available in England. I was able to have my whole university paid for me while getting to play soccer, so I did that down in Atlanta and that's where I fell in love with commentary as well.”
Once at Clayton State, Charman divided her time between featuring for the women’s team and calling out the action for the men’s team. Years of experience on the pitch, and four years from the commentary tower prepared her well.
After graduation, Charman began working freelance with Jason Longshore, the current voice of Atlanta United. She furthered her career by driving across state lines to call any and every game she could, before eventually reaching Major League Soccer.
But launching a career in radio wasn’t always the plan for Charman. There was one defining moment that led her to one day sport the Charlotte FC colors.
“My freshman year I got injured. And I had a full knee issue and I had to make a decision at that point, 18 years old, 5,000 miles from home," she explained. "I had to decide, was I going to stay here and not be able to play for a year, go through a surgery away from home, or was I going to go home? And I had a university place waiting for me back home. I could have gone home. I probably could have gone back to Reading and play, but I made that conscious decision to stay in America because I thought that's where I really could find my place to be. So making that decision has changed my life.
“If I'd have gone home, perhaps I would've kept playing to a high level, but I'd never have had the opportunity to find myself as a commentator. So I think that was it really, you kind of have those crossroads and staying in the States as an 18-year-old and going through a massive knee reconstruction surgery - it showed the love for my game because I knew I didn't want to give up on that dream.”
Now, she’s paving the way for women in sports radio, one broadcast at a time.
“I want to be that pioneer and that voice that girls can feel like, this is something that I can do," said Charman. "When I was growing up, there was barely anyone, at least when I was a kid. And then eventually, Jacqui Oatley made it quite big. Rebecca Lowe, she's not a commentator, but she's a pivotal female in the game. I had those to look up to, but I didn't really have too many commentators. So I think it's really important that I want to inspire boys and girls at the end of the day, because I want them to look at me, not because of my gender, but because of my ability.
“But I do think it's really important to me as well, to set a tone and show that I belong here, whether I'm a male or a female, but I have a daughter now and I want to show her that it doesn't matter what she wants to do as long as she's good at it and she works hard and she dreams and believes she can break down those boundaries and belong.”
Five months after Charlotte’s historic Major League Soccer debut, Jessica Charman continues to bring to life all the action for listeners with the same hope of transmitting excitement and her passion for the sport.
“I want to be that voice that represents what this team is about and represents what this club is about.”