Thursday, December 15, 2011

So You Want To Be A Television Sportscaster? Part Three

Those who want to be doctors choose their colleges carefully. So do prospective lawyers, accountants and engineers.

And so it is for those dreaming of becoming sportscasters.

Just as the football and basketball polls differ in their opinion of who's best, so do the various lists of top college broadcasting programs. But it's a pretty good bet you'll find what you are looking for on the following list, in no particular order:

  • USC - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
  • ASU - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
  • Missouri - Colombia School of Journalism
  • Syracuse - S.I. Newhouse School
  • Northwestern - Medill School of Journalism
  • Washington State - Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Texas
  • BYU
Graduates of these programs are a literal 'Who's Who' All-Star roster of the finest television anchors and reporters in the U.S. Focusing exclusively on the sports people, you find names like Keith Jackson, Mike Tirico, Erin Andrews, Jenn Brown, Rachel Nichols, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Brent Musberger.

In most cases, it won't be as easy as just getting accepted into the university and declaring yourself a broadcast major. You will have to apply and be accepted as a major in almost all of these journalism programs. Grades will be important, but the really good news is, practical experience and portfolios will almost always trump GPAs here, unlike most other majors.

Did you write for your high school paper and take journalism classes? Good, find your clippings. While you were managing the local Walmart by day, did you do any freelance sports writing for the area prep teams, or even better, did you ever sit behind the mic calling play-by-play or analyzing high school sports for the local 500-watt AM radio station? Awesome.

Any and everything you can do to get practical experience in sports media will pay-off in spades when you apply to a broadcasting program. And here is an insider tip, hot from a top college broadcast program news director: when you are interviewed for admission and they ask you WHY you want to be a broadcast journalism major, do NOT say anything like, "because I want to be on TV" (the cast of Jersey Shore wants to be on TV - aim higher) or "it looks fun" (of course it is, that's unspoken) or "I want to travel." (flight attendants want to travel - I have first hand knowledge here)

Responses like that will immediately hoist red flags in the minds of your interviewers of whether you are just going through a phase or really in this for the long-haul. You need to dig deeper, and speak about your passion for sports and news and how it's all you talk about with your family and friends. Tell them you know too many people who have jobs and YOU are looking for a career. Be honest and speak from the heart. It will shine through in your interviews and application letters. 

Once you are accepted into a program, while taking your introductory and lower-level journalism classes, blast-out all of your general education credits as quickly as possible. You want to keep your junior and senior years free for your upper division journalism classes - and internships.

Internships come in all shapes and sizes and are solid gold for broadcast majors. This is where you begin to network and build contacts and future references for your resume. Contacts and references are EVERYTHING in this business. What you know (experience & talent) is important, but so is who you know.

Holiday breaks and summers should be dedicated to more than friends, family and laying on a beach. Every time I was home in L.A. I would pick-up the phone and call the sports anchors there - guys like Stu Nahan, Jim Hill and Ted Dawson - tell them I was a broadcast major wanting to become a sportscaster, and ask if I could come down to the station, hang-out and watch them work. (if you are shy or timid, TV sportscasting probably isn't the best place for you) Not one of them ever told me no.

As I mentioned in Part One, before graduating, I lucked into a freelance Production Assistant (PA) job when BYU hosted the 1981 NCAA Track & Field National Championships. That weekend and those new friends from ABC Sports led directly to more PA work with ABC on NCAA and Monday Night Football broadcasts. I worked with Al Michaels, Frank Broyles and Keith Jackson. Keith would later call me personally to tell me I had come within a heartbeat of being hired as his permanent full-time spotter before being passed-over for a guy with many years of network sports experience. 

Another of my internship experiences was a summer spent at KDOT-AM radio in Provo, where I ripped the old AP & UPI newswires and re-wrote those news and sports stories for J. Robert Howe and Tom Walker to read on-air. This led to being named the first-ever Sports Director at KDOT, which led to a week in San Diego covering the 1981 Holiday Bowl against Washington State - the second of many Holiday Bowls I would cover as a media member.

The broadcast journalism students I am mentoring at BYU are benefiting from attending one of the top, award-winning programs in the nation. They are landing internships at places like 'Dateline NBC,' 'Good Morning America,' 'ESPN Sports Center,' and last but never least, 'KSL Sports'

Which brings me to Greg Wrubell.

I share a common heritage with the 'Voice of the Cougars.' Although separated by many years, we both came through the BYU broadcast program. We were both mentored by S.L.C. sportscasting legend Paul James, and we both eventually aspired to his job calling BYU football and basketball games. One of us actually made it.

I used a word in Part Two of this series - tradecraft.

If Greg's picture isn't next to this word in the dictionary, it should be. I have an almost inexpressible level of professional respect for Greg. He is a pro's pro. For every hour you hear and see him on KSL, there are countless hours spent preparing for each broadcast reading, researching and preparing his spotting boards and game notes. Greg often eschews the movie, music or magazine choices on plane trips to and from BYU road games, choosing instead to listen to recordings of his prior game calls in order to critique himself and get even better at something he already excels at. Tradecraft.

Like those who inspired, taught and encouraged us, Greg is now paying it forward, working with several sportscasting interns each semester.

I am a big fan of symmetry, so to bring this series to a conclusion, I say again to anyone of any age and background who would like to get paid to attend sports events and then talk about them, 

"...dream BIG, go to a top college broadcasting program, make connections and network like crazy and work your guts out.."

Remember Jimmer.

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