Broadcasters make their mark in the Cleveland market
By John Walsh
Many Northeast Ohioans spend part of their mornings with Chris Tye ’98 and Pat Butler ’01. Their voices are familiar. Tye, a TV news anchor for WKYC Channel 3, and Butler, a traffic reporter for WTAM, inform viewers and listeners alike. They’re examples of the many alumni who work in the media.
“JCU has a stellar reputation in this field,” Butler says. “The bottom line is your talent. The JCU degree is something people regard highly. People equate you to what prior graduates have done.”
Seizing an opportunity
“Meet the Press” fellow reflects on her time at NBC
By Kristen Jantonio ’11
What would you like to know about him?” he asked. The question resounded in my head a minute before I responded. What would I like to know about Tim Russert ’72? I thought about everything I read and watched of Tim’s, but I couldn’t capture a person’s essence that way. So I responded, “Tell me about your experiences with him.”
Then a half-hour conversation started with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. We talked about Tim’s love of his family and faith, his personality, his passion for his job and the possibility of the fellowship. Just by listening to Brian’s account, I could tell how much he and his colleagues admired and respected Tim. This was my way of connecting with him even though I never knew him.
The conversation rekindled my interest in working at “Meet the Press” and following in the footsteps of Tim, who exuded the Jesuit mantra men and women for others. I didn’t think three weeks after talking with Brian I’d receive a phone call on my birthday from Betsy Fischer, MTP executive producer, offering me the position of fellow. I don’t think any birthday will measure up to that one.
Torrential rain and winds from Hurricane Irene might not have been how I would’ve pictured my first day at MTP, but after interning in news for three years, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Within five minutes of being in the NBC D.C. bureau, I was welcomed by the show’s moderator, David Gregory. “John Carroll fellows have a great legacy here,” he said. I promised I’d do everything possible to continue the legacy started by Andrew Rafferty ’09 and Joe Toohey ’10.
During the next nine months, I tried to take on many tasks and tackle new challenges. My special project was producing the weekly “Meet the Press Political Minute,” which is sent to affiliates and featured on the MTP blog. The minute consists of David’s political analysis for the week, and my job involves choosing footage and editing the piece. Plus, I’ve been able to work alongside the seasoned journalists on the MTP staff, who remind me why I love the fast-paced news environment. They helped me refine my writing, editing, and shooting skills.
Everything leads up to the highlight of the week – Sunday. I focus mainly on working in the green room and attending to guests. I’ve been able to witness history with our 64th anniversary show and Sen. John McCain breaking the guest appearance record. But I enjoy interacting with guests more. My favorites include: Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, comedian Bill Cosby, and NBC special correspondents Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw. The first time I was introduced to Tom Brokaw as the JCU fellow he said, “This is a great program. This is what Tim would have wanted.”
I’ve been privy to all the Decision 2012 coverage at MTP through our “Meet the Candidates” series and the first MTP Republican candidate debate held in New Hampshire. While some might think this election process has been going on forever, I’m excited it’s just starting. It’s been fascinating to watch the campaign evolve. This is the first election in which I feel well-versed and informed. I’m anxious for the conventions and November to come.
Being a fellow includes perks. I was able to work at the Pentagon for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and traveled to New York for our remote show at the Education Nation Summit, when 30 Rockefeller Plaza is transformed into a learning center for a week during which all NBC News platforms focus on education issues. That weekend I recall running through Israeli security to bring mugs to the set for David and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and escorting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg through crowds of tourists.
I have the ability to take advantage of everything the nation’s capital has to offer. I’ve been able to visit the White House to see the press briefing room, sign my name where the old White House pool used to be, and see President Obama depart for Cleveland on Marine One from the South Lawn. I was able to attend the arrival ceremony of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House. I spotted First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Bo, the Obamas’ dog.
When the fellowship was created a few years ago, I knew immediately I wanted to apply for it. As my family and friends can attest, it was all I talked about for two years. It saddens and excites me to think that, in the blink of an eye, my nine months at MTP are finished. There are many opportunities available to me, but I’ll miss the wave of adrenaline that hits me every morning when I hear MTP theme music at 9 a.m. (and seeing my name in the credits at the end of the show).
As I think about the question I asked Brian Williams, I don’t hear his response of the experiences he had with Tim. I hear my own. Tim was a supportive colleague and friend who pushed me to fulfill my potential and seize every opportunity. He was a source of inspiration from which I derived more passion for this influential industry. Thanks for everything, Tim.
Jantonio was the 2011 NBC / John Carroll University Meet the Press fellow. The 2012 fellow, Emily Gaffney ’12, a political science major, was editor-in-chief of The Carroll News. She’s from Tallmadge, Ohio.
Not your average day
There are few typical days working as a TV news anchor. During the coverage of the school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, in February, Tye was on air all day.
“Being on the ground to cover the event was the most singular moment in my career,” he says. “We covered that story from top to bottom. Our team was doing the job local TV news was designed for – keep people safe and informed and try to do it with humanity.”
This summer, Tye, who works alongside Hollie Strano ’95, was in London for 3.5 weeks to cover the Olympics.
“I worked to find every conceivable Northeast Ohio connection to the Olympics,” he says.
For example, the CEO of Speedo, who unveiled a new swimsuit for the company, has connections to Canton, Ohio; there were 12 Olympians in the Channel 3 viewing area; and there were judges from the area. Tye also worked to bring London culture to life and reported about the tone of the games.
“It was an assignment that challenged and rewarded me more than any other,” he says.
As a traffic reporter, Butler produces his reports in house from police scanners, the Ohio Department of Transportation, road cameras, listeners’ phone calls, and road-sensing software – all of which is compiled in a database.
“I have a lot of opportunity to inject personality in the traffic report, as long as the information is delivered clearly,” he says. “I enjoy entertaining and interacting with people.”
Bit by the bug
Tye, a Chicagoland native, always knew he wanted to be in broadcast news.
“When I was seven or eight years old, I was doing fake live shots in the backyard, substituting curtain rods for microphones,” he says. “The living room wall became a mocked- up weather wall. For better or worse, I knew early in life what I wanted to do, almost to a fault. If I had to do it over again, I might have branched out a bit more. However, those stories about childhood newscasts serve as great ice breakers on job interviews.”
After graduating from Carroll, Tye worked at a JCrew store in Oakbrook, Ill., while looking for a broadcast job. Then he backpacked throughout Europe with friends for five weeks. Before he went abroad, he compiled a resume tape and sent it to markets throughout the Midwest where he’d remain close to family and friends. After returning from Europe, Tye had job offers in Sioux City, Iowa, and Terre Haute, Ind., but chose to be a reporter at WPBN-TV in Traverse City, Mich., where he felt more comfortable.
“The first job in broadcast news is the most difficult to get,” he says. “With this type of job, you have to be ready to go.”
Based in Petoskey, Mich., Tye wasn’t even in a real newsroom. He had a desk and computer next to a stationery store. The news coverage area of Traverse City, measured by square miles, was the second largest in the county.
“I was shooting, writing, editing, and driving to stories myself,” he says. “I learned a lot.”
Much like Tye, Butler always loved his medium of choice – radio. When he was a kid, he discovered college radio. A few years later, when he was in junior high school and high school, he spent a lot of time late at night listening to college radio, which is when he discovered WJCU.
“I went to Carroll because of WJCU,” he says.
Before Butler graduated from Carroll, the communication major landed a job at WGAR in the promotions department. He heard about the opportunity through a person who was leaving, another JCU alum, Jeff Zukauckas ’97, who gave Butler his first on-air assignment at WJCU when he was a freshman. He applied for the job and was hired by Clear Channel Communications with two semesters to go at Carroll.
“The promo job was basic entry-level stuff,” he says. “It entailed a lot of grunt work, such as setting up for events and keeping track of paperwork.”
Remaining in Cleveland was important to Butler as he looked for a job. Knowing he wanted a career in radio, Butler figured he’d work behind the scenes for as long as it took to get on the air.
“I didn’t want to go to Nowheresville, USA,” he says. “Networking is so important. I’ve been lucky.”
Climbing the ladder
In broadcast news, there’s a high level of attrition in small markets. As such, Tye worked in the Traverse City market from December ’98 to December ’99. About 10 months after starting, he began to distribute his resume. There are 215 TV markets in the country, and Traverse City is No. 118.
“I wanted to earn more money and advance my career,” he says.
Tye applied to positions in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Milwaukee; and Des Moines, Iowa. He landed in Grand Rapids, which is the first market south of Traverse City and No. 38 in the country.
As a general assignment reporter and fill-in anchor at WZZM, Tye covered general news on the Michigan lakefront for six years.
“I was learning to write well and developed a distinct on-air style,” he says. “The fun part of the job was how to make a boring story, such as a city council meeting, interesting. The news is about telling people’s stories in colorful and memorable ways, but the challenge is to make the stories sizzle without being salacious.”
Tye’s most memorable story while working in Michigan was when the recession began and the station sent reporters to Juarez, Mexico, when the Big 3 moved jobs there.
“People were earning 10 cents on the U.S. dollar compared to what they were making in Michigan,” he says. “It was the best work – investigative and meaningful.”
Tye necessarily wasn’t thinking Cleveland would be the next stop along the way in his career. However, Gannett Co. owned the station in Grand Rapids, as well as stations in Denver, Cleveland, and Washington. Chicago, though, the No. 3 market in the country, is one Tye eyed.
“My goal was to go home, but that market is a tough one to crack because it’s very competitive,” he says.
One day the communication major received a phone call from the news director at Channel 3 WKYC about coming to work in Cleveland.
“I knew the company benefits if I stayed with Gannett and moved up,” he says. “I had friends in Cleveland, and I didn’t have to learn how to pronounce the names of people, places, and things.”
In 2004, Tye started as a reporter for WKYC then progressed to weekend anchor, 7 p.m. anchor, and then weekday morning show anchor.
“Right now, I’m incredibly happy,” he says. “I still have 30 years of career to balance.”
Butler’s career progression was helped when Clear Channel consolidated its operations – it owns six radio stations in Cleveland. He moved from WGAR, where he worked from 2000 to 2001, to WTAM promotions for the next few years, where he worked for Zukauckas, who was the program director. Eventually, the two hosted a game/ talk show called “The Contest Show” on weekends for three years. Because Gannet, which operates WKYC, has had a long- standing partnership with WTAM, the two share traffic and weather. So Butler has delivered traffic reports for both since 2005.
“I actually never aspired to get into TV,” says Butler, who worked on the popular Mike Trivisonno radio show for more than two years. “I love the creativity of radio and prefer not having to worry about the way I look every day.”
Furthermore, Butler never planned on being a traffic reporter.
“One day, I happened to hear the program director saying he hadn’t received any qualified candidates for our newly created traffic operation,” he says. “Out of curiosity, I asked him if the job paid more than what I was making in promotions. He said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘I’ll have a tape on your desk tomorrow.’ The next day I was hired.
“My ultimate career goal when I first started was to have my own radio show,” he adds. “I’ve always just wanted to be creative and make people laugh. I’ll do the traffic thing as long as they’ll have me. In radio, any day you walk into work and have a job is great.”
Much has changed about media during the past decade, more so in radio than TV, Butler says.
“It’s difficult to recommend this line of work because the money isn’t that great and it’s physically and mentally draining because of the schedule,” he says. “But for some people, it’s in you, and it’s enjoyable because it comes so easy to you.” JCU
To read about another alum in media, on-air radio personality Jen Toohey ‘97, click here.