In the Summer of 2002 (almost exactly 7 years ago this week) I landed my first full-time, on-air, Sports Broadcasting job, in a tiny town called Charlottesville, VA. Having grown up and gone to school in the Northeast, this was to be my initial decent into “The South”. It would also represent the beginning of my climb up the TV ranks.
Located in the historic, “downtown district”, NBC29 (WVIR) is only minutes away from the University of Virginia. And though UVA may have given me access to some big-time sporting events, the resources at the station were not in the same vein.
That’s the thing about working for a tiny news organization. Somehow it seems the smaller your salary, the bigger your responsibilities. And in no other department is this more true, than in Sports.
As one of my career mentor’s used to say, “If we were to hold a newsroom Olympics, I’d place no worse than third”. Only in small-market Sports does one person play so many positions – operating a camera, editing video, writing scripts, creating graphics, producing shows, reporting stories, anchoring sportscasts – and all on the same day. I have to laugh as stations across the country slash budgets, forcing journalists to do more with less. Nowadays reporters are plied with shooting their own stories, and (God forbid!!!) working without a photographer. They call this the new “Mobile Journalist”. I call it “Charlottesville”, where I did it every day, more than a half-decade ago.
And my story isn’t unique. I have friends and colleagues who worked in the mountains of Vermont, the backwoods of Tennessee, and the lakes of Minnesota, all telling the same tale. But don’t get me wrong, the experience is invaluable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can’t climb the ladder, from city to city, and market to market, without spending at least a little time hanging off that bottom rung. It shapes your career, defines your journey, and, most importantly, weeds out those that don’t want it badly enough.
But thank goodness I was only in my early 20’s at the time, full of energy, and too young to know any better. If I had to do it now, starting all over again? Frankly, I’m emotionally and physically spent just thinking about it. The pressure is immense, the workload is tremendous, and the stress is through the roof.
As such, when that clock is ticking, and you’re 3 minutes away from the start of your show, with video still to be edited, scripts not yet printed, and a pile of tapes (uh huh, this was before the days of computer “clips”) mounting on a chair in your office, you can start to feel the quicksand rising up towards your kneecaps. It’s sink or swim time, and you’ll take help anywhere you can get it:
- A tobacco-dipping production staffer (this is the South, remember)
- A somewhat-sober, heavily-hungover, college intern
- Or, your long-distance girlfriend, with an inflated opinion of her industry skill-set
At the time I was working and living in Charlottesville, Erin was doing the same in DC, which is only about 2 hours to the North. However, due to the fact that I was the Weekend Sports Anchor, while she was a classic clock-puncher at a Monday through Friday Health Care Association, our visits weren’t exactly ideal. I’d drive up to the Nation’s Capitol on my days off – usually Wednesday and Thursday – and lounge around her apartment waiting for her to get home with the rest of the business crowd. Meanwhile, she’d bus down to Virginia on the weekends, often times sitting somewhat patiently in my office, as I frantically crafted my sportscasts. Sure, we’d share Subway Footlongs and Sun Chips prior to my shift, and sometimes grab a bite on my dinner break, but mostly her role consisted of collecting scripts, digging up scores, and suggesting it was time for me to “put my tie on”.
However, there were occasions when her duties extended out of the office, like the day I brought her to Scott Stadium for a UVA Football game, and employed her services as a “logger”. Like I said, you’ll take the help whenever and wherever you can get it in Market #186 (for reference New York City is market #1, Glendive, MT is #210).
Generally speaking, a “loggers” job responsibilities include hustling up and down the sideline alongside the cameraman (in this case, me), and jotting down important plays on a notepad with corresponding “timecodes”. This makes it significantly easier to find the critical video (Touchdowns, Interceptions, etc.) when it’s time for the editor (again, me) to begin picking out plays back at the station.
Now normally, “loggers” do not wear high heels on the sideline, or carry a several hundred dollar handbag. But again, as noted in previous Blog entries, Erin has always sorta written her own rules. Turns out, she also writes her own, unique football play descriptions. For example, when I later returned to the station, and sat down in the editing booth, here is some of what I encountered on Erin’s log:
Timecode 13:27:08 – Huge “pig-pile” on the field
“Pig-pile”? I popped in the tape, scrolled ahead to 13:27:08. It seems there was a fumble by the Running Back, resulting in a mad scramble for the loose football. Technically, yes, I guess this would constitute a “pig-pile”.
Timecode 14:08:13 – #7 has a real problem
Scroll ahead to 14:08:13.
UVA quarterback Matt Schaub (#7) has thrown an interception, which, again, would technically qualify as a real problem (especially for head coach Al Groh).
But during my time in Charlottesville, Erin’s tasks weren’t limited to logging. In fact, they weren’t even limited to the Sports Department. Case in point, the day the Production Assistant (i.e., a local high school student) failed to show up for his Sunday evening shift, thus leaving the newscast without a teleprompter operator. But like a well-prepared back-up QB, Mrs. Kurtz (then, still, Miss Jolley) dutifully stepped in, rolling that “prompter” like nobody’s business, as the News Anchor rattled off story after story of drought conditions in Central Virginia, and the economic plight of the Shenandoah Valley.
Of course, as Erin’s responsibilities grew, so too did her ego. She often fancied herself as the station’s best intern, even going so far as suggesting she should receive a paycheck, or inferring she could “run the Sports department”.
But that’s life working at small station, in a tiny town. It’s “all hands on deck”, even sometimes if it’s not your deck. Everyone sorta pulls together, sharing experiences and making memories. You spend birthdays and holidays together, grilling 4th of July hot dogs, and cooking Thanksgiving Turkeys. Your co-workers become your roommates and confidants, drinking buddies and sounding boards. And if you’re lucky – long after everyone leaves that tiny town for a bigger city – friends.
To this day, some of my best friends are those I met in Charlottesville. Some were at Erin and mine’s wedding, and I at theirs, while others are probably reading this right now, nodding and smiling.
While Charlottesville may be a tiny town, and NBC29 a small station, the impact those days had on my life, couldn’t have been any larger.