Quick as a fox

Thursday, September 28, 2006

There’s no truth to the rumor that Fox Sports North (FSN) will be changing its corporate colors to red and black. But the Twin Cities-based sports network may want to form its own SCSU alumni chapter, as it relies on the talents of so many graduates of the university’s nationally-renowned mass communications program.

UTVS:Springboard for Professional Success

Bryan Pitt, Tyler Bieber and Anderson, Neenah in UTVS-TV studio on campus.

Today at FSN, the television home for the Twins, Minnesota Wild, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gopher hockey (hey, it’s part of their job), SCSU graduates are prevalent from the production room to the press room.

The connection began when 1978 mass communications graduate Dick Bremer went to work for what was then the Midwest Sports Channel. The St. Michael native who cut his on-air teeth on campus radio station KVSC FM 88.1 has been the Twins’ primary television announcer at FSN since 1993.

The association was strengthened when 1987 graduate Matt Hoover, White Bear Lake, became coordinating producer for live and local FSN productions. Hoover also had great broadcast experience during his college years with SCSU’s fledgling Husky Productions.

FSN’s behind-the-camera crew also has a strong Husky presence. In addition to Hoover, SCSU alumni in the FSN control room include associate producer Chris Withers ’03, production assistant Nicole Kunkel ’05, technical director Jason Clemens ’03, Timberwolves director Dave Dittman ’84, and Twins/Wild director Matt Gangl ’95, all residents of the Twin Cities area.

Withers is an associate producer for FSN coverage of the Twins, the Wild, Gopher hockey and high school hockey. During his undergraduate days he worked on Husky Productions coverage of SCSU men’s hockey, and with FSN during his last semester at SCSU. In fact, the day he graduated, Withers left the commencement ceremony, got into his car and went to work at a Minnesota Twins game that night for FSN.

It’s the depth of experience that gives SCSU mass communications/broadcast students the edge in landing prestigious jobs like those at FSN, and keeps them coming back to recruit more graduates. “Every student with Husky Productions gets a chance to do a little bit of everything, and that includes on-air and behind the camera, so they know how each part of the business works,” Hoover said. “No question about it, my training and experience at SCSU got me a job in television. Now, whenever I look to hire someone, I go straight to St. Cloud State. They’re the best trained.”

“Very few students in college have the chance to do what SCSU students do with Husky Productions,” said Hoover, who helped produce the university’s first-ever sports television broadcast in 1986, a men’s basketball playoff game between the Huskies and Delta State. “They’re doing live games that go on television, and they’re getting that real world experience.”

On-air FSN personality Ron Johnson is another mass communications alumnus at FSN who cites hands-on experience as the SCSU program’s biggest advantage. “The classroom component is important at SCSU, but the program also puts a big emphasis on actually doing the job you hope to get,” said Johnson, St. Paul, who’s been in front of the camera at FSN Live since its inception last year.

Johnson was uncertain of his career path when he began college, but a campus connection with KVSC staff members led him to the basement of Stewart Hall. There he had a variety of roles before serving as KVSC’s sports director and working on-air with the Husky Magazine sports show and the campus television station UTVS.

Johnson also regularly covered the Huskies’ NCAA Division II football and basketball programs, an opportunity not often provided by other mass communications programs.

Johnson secured his first professional job with Media One, St. Paul, where he covered the St. Paul Saints and small college and local prep sports, then went on to be a sports anchor at the FOX affiliate in Johnstown, Penn., and covered major college football for the NBC affiliate in Mobile, Ala.

“In the jobs I’ve had since graduation, I’ve seen that we had a lot more of that training at SCSU than at other schools,” Johnson said.

An important part of the SCSU advantage comes from the mass communications faculty. The guidance provided by faculty advisor and professor Mark Mills was invaluable, Johnson said. “He put a real emphasis on how to get a job and what you need to do to prepare for that job. I was really able to learn from his experience in the industry.”

“You learn by doing at SCSU,” Withers said. “I think that’s why you see so many SCSU graduates succeeding in the business.”

- Tom Nelson

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