How I Got Started In TV

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Many viewers ask me how I got into this business. The route I took probably shouldn't have worked, but it did.

I'm a little more than a month away from 20 years in commercial TV News.  I started my first job at KXII-TV in Sherman, Texas, on August 1st, 1989.   Wow did that go by fast.

As a teenager in Colorado Springs I remember watching TV news and thinking, "I could do that."  When it came time to leave Doherty High School and head off to college I had considered journalism, but I didn't know how to I dismissed it.

I had 5 or 6 different majors in my time at CU, Boulder.  I finally settled on English (I'd always been an avid reader, and a willing writer, the two most important criteria for  BA in English)  I didn't really want to be a teacher and the options seemed limited.  So after graduation in May, 1988, I came back to the Springs and went to work as a doorman at The Dublin House just off Academy at Lehman.  I was a huge St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan ( this was before the Rockies) and I thought if I worked at a place that had satellite, I could see all the St. Louis Cardinals games. It was a good short-term plan.  

At the same time my sister and her husband were living in St. Louis.  They had seen commercials for a place there called Broadcast Center.  It offered a 1 year course in all aspects of broadcasting, and guaranteed a job in broadcasting to anyone who finished the program.  I signed up and moved in with sister and brother-in-law.  Again, I thought I could see some St. Louis Cardinals games! Broadcast Center did offer a lot, especially in terms of voice training and writing specifically for TV news.  Some of these skills do seem a little lacking in some new college grads from J-School programs, especially the voice work, so BC really did help me there.  Here's a strange twist.  My co-anchor on 11 news at 4, Betty Sexton, also went through the program at Broadcast Center, not at the same time I was there.

I finished the program in 9 months and was ready for a first job in TV news.  The BC wasn't particularly helpful with that, so I was kind of working on my own.  I had managed to snag a hosting job on a community affairs program for the biggest cable company in St. Louis. Using some of that, and some of the stuff I'd done at the school, I was able to put together a tape to send to TV stations.  At first I wanted to be a sportscaster, but someone wise told me there would be about 10 jobs in news for every job in sports.  News it would be!

I must have cold-called news directors at 75 stations all over the country, and I probably sent out 50 copies of that first tape.  Finally the news director at KXII-TV, Sherman, Texas, called me back. (It is such a big deal when a news director calls, they are notoriously busy, and almost never make calls or take calls, especially from beginners)  He said he liked my tape, realized I had some "real potential" and might be interested in giving me a shot. The Catch-22 - he couldn't hire me over the phone, and he wouldn't pay to fly me down.  Ball in my court.

I got some help from my parents for a plane ticket, called him back and told him it just so happened I was going to be in Sherman the following Friday.  I met with him, and some others at the station, went through a grueling 3- hour grilling (still the toughest I've ever had) and was told they'd be in touch.  A few days later he called and offered me the job of bureau reporter at the stations office in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  I was thrilled, I accepted immediately, agreed to the very small salary and started packing that day! 

The more traditional door into the business is through a broadcast journalism program in college.  It's probably easier to break in that way.  But I got in somehow, and I haven't looked back since.  I wouldn't recommend my route, but the fact that my degree is in English helped (you've most always got to have some degree), and the fact that I've always had a pretty natural ability to talk was a big factor.  I worked hard to finish that program in St. Louis and I worked even harder to get someone to give me that first chance.

Now I can't believe it worked, and that it was almost 20 years ago!

We'll talk again soon.







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