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 type...so 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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