For anyone that thinks the road to Television notoriety is paved with catered meals and company cars, think again. Way before Steve Berthiaume ever set foot on the campus of ESPN, he was the weekend sportscaster in market #197, Charlottesville, Virginia. After years of hard work climbing the market ladder and honing his craft, Berthiaume has been exposed to all sorts.
"There are two types of people I come across in this profession, and I'm referring specifically to on-air talent. The first type is the person who views this job as a genuine craft or vocation. It's a unique job with a specific skill set. That skill set needs to be observed, honed, practiced, studied and refined. It's a profession, a craft and should be treated as such; with the proper amount of focus, preparation and dedication to detail.
"The second type, is the person who simply wants to be on television," says the host of ESPN's Baseball Tonight, "they are pleased just to see their faces on the screen and have cameras pointed at them, whether it's doing sports, news, entertainment, traffic reports, whatever. It would seem to make little difference to them to be hosting a game show or playing a villain on a soap opera; they're on television - mission accomplished. My advice to young people is simple: Be that first person. Never consider being the second."
Great advice from a true professional, here's Steve Berthiaume:
Education: Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts
Favorite Former U.S. President: Jimmy Carter. I was set to fly from Atlanta to Hartford for an interview at ESPN. A car accident locked me up in traffic and I arrived at my airport gate 10 minutes after the plane should have departed. I wondered why the plane was still there and then felt a tap on my shoulder, it was a security guard with former President Carter behind him. My flight was delayed because of President Carter, he had no idea how happy I was to meet him.
Most Conflicting Moment: I was lucky enough to be standing in front of the Yankee dugout the night of the ceremony at the final regular season game at Yankee Stadium. As a born and raised Red Sox Nation man, I couldn't help but thinking, "I wonder what would happen if I just reached out and tripped Whitey Ford, here?" Kidding, mostly.
Berthiaume: When I was a kid in the mid-to-late 70's, when the only way to get scores from national games was in bits and pieces on the TV that night or full reports in the newspaper the following day, the great Dave Diles, who worked for ABC for two decades, hosted the "Prudential College Football Scoreboard Show." He was alone on a set shaped like a Prudential Insurance "Piece of The Rock" logo, and he had every score from every college football game being played that day; which seemed an incomprehensible feat in those pre-VCR, pre-internet, pre-cable TV days. I was riveted. It seemed that working and anchoring from a studio like that, a sports TV "Mission Control" as it were, would be the best job I could ever have.
Dave Diles passed away in December of 2009, and I was very sad because I could remember barely being past elementary school and sitting on our living room floor in front of one of those massive old console, floor-model TV's and watching Dave Diles give out every score from every game, thinking, "THAT'S what I'd like to do someday". I grew up in Boston, which had an extremely competitive local TV news market in the 70's & 80's and as I got older, I'd constantly flip back & forth (pre-remote control days) between the stations, watching to see how each station's sports report, which in those days could be as long as eight or ten minutes, would cover the Boston sports news of the day. Their different approaches and treatments of the sports stories became immensely interesting to me and I knew that I'd found a professional passion.
Berthiaume: Yes, I wanted to be on camera because that was the relationship between the presenter and the viewer. That dynamic was always so interesting to me; different styles and personalities were where the energy levels seemed highest. It was my connection as a teenage sports fan, to those personalities, that made it interesting for me. Curt Gowdy doing World Series games on NBC. I still download old baseball games on iTunes constantly, just so I can listen to Tony Kubek. Eddie Andelman used to have a sports talk radio show in Boston called "The Sports Huddle" every Sunday night, that I never missed. The Boston Globe Sports Department's staff in those days, read like a sportswriter's Hall of Fame. It was a huge honor to work alongside Peter Gammons on Baseball Tonight, years later. Bob Lobel was the local sports anchor at WBZ-TV in Boston for a long time. It was my connection to these professionals, as a viewer or listener or reader, that most intrigued me.
Berthiaume: I graduated from Emerson College in Boston, with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism. Emerson is an extremely underrated school for this field. Syracuse and other places get a lot of attention and rightly so, but at Emerson we went through a highly intensive and focused program that thoroughly prepared me for the challenges and expectations that this profession can present. The facilities and opportunities were outstanding, the campus was right in the heart of Boston's Back Bay, along the Charles River and as a Boston native, it seemed for me, a natural fit. It was, more or less, the only school to which I applied.
Berthiaume: I was lucky. I graduated from Emerson College in May and spent the summer sending out my college audition tape. The old, big, 3/4-inch tapes. I had quite an assembly line set up on our kitchen table. A stack of tapes to the ceiling, cover letters, resumes, typewriter (remember those?) packing materials. I scoured all the job hunting services and several times a week I went to the post office and sent my tapes out to all four corners of the earth. It's quite something, to be standing there as a college graduate waiting to get a phone call from some place you can barely find on a good map and then be ready to pack everything you own into a car and move to that place at a moment's notice and begin working for less than a living wage.
I lucked out; by August I'd been hired at WVIR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, Virginia, an absolutely beautiful place. I was the weekend sports anchor. At the time, there were 210 local television markets in the U.S. and Charlottesville was #197, so I literally started at the bottom. I made $12,000 a year and lived in the storage space of an apartment shared by two other guys who worked at the station. I had just enough room to throw a futon down on the floor, but I had a blast. I shot all my own video, produced all my own shows, and with the University of Virginia right there, I was suddenly covering ACC football and basketball. It was a wonderful place to begin with a terrific News Director, Dave Cupp, who luckily for me, was a kind and patient man. I consider myself very fortunate.
Berthiaume: I think early in my career I could have been more patient and by that I mean with long term goals. When you're trying to build a young career and move up the ladder, as it were, it's easy to get caught up in some imaginary career mentality that makes you say to yourself, "I need to move up to a bigger market sooner rather than later." In reality, if you remain at one station or market for an extra six months or year, it makes little difference to your long term situation. In fact, the stability most likely becomes a source of strength for you. I stayed in Charlottesville for exactly one calendar year, then moved around and up to different spots in local television until I was hired at CNN in 1996. If I could do anything differently, I'd be more patient with career goals and stay the course a bit longer each time. I'd tell any young person reading this the same thing: don't rush - you'll get there.
Berthiaume: I was always the weekend sports anchor/reporter at the local television affiliate. I'd stay two or three years and move up. The responsibilities have certainly changed. Along my first few stops, I did everything. I shot all my own highlights at the local high school and college games. I hated to rely on grainy highlights from inadequate news feeds, so I recorded as many live regional and national game broadcasts as I possibly could over the course of a day; that way I had complete freedom to chose plays, replays, etc for the highlights in my show that night. I edited every single frame of video tape that appeared in the shows.
At my first job, we even had one of those very old teleprompters that had a handle at the end of a long cable that you'd hold under the anchor desk and operate as you were talking, so I even ran my own prompter. I still remember holding the prompter controller under the desk for my very first sportscast and being so nervous that I immediately cranked it into turbo mode and my entire script FLEW off the prompter, ten seconds into my very first show. It was chaotic and frantic, but I loved it. I'd have tapes rolling on four or five games at once, while I'd be editing highlights of an earlier game, then I'd run out to shoot a local game, race back to change tapes on the games I was recording, then edit the stuff I'd just shot at the local game, then type out some scripts on that old 6-ply, color script paper, finish editing the national highlights then throw on some makeup in the men's room and race out to do my five or six minutes of sports.
You had to do every single, little thing yourself simply because there was no one else. You were the sports department that day and were thrown in the deep end to sink or swim. It was marvelous training and forced you to be superbly organized and learn to anticipate your next move because if you miscalculated, something wouldn't get on the air.
Berthiaume: I'd say my first "big break" was getting hired at CNN in 1996. It was my first network job, back when CNN Sports Tonight was still a viable entity. I'd always watched Nick Charles, Fred Hickman, Bob Lorenz and Vince Cellini when CNN ran two, national, half-hour sports highlight shows a night and suddenly I was out there on the set with them, it was amazing. All of those guys were so incredibly gracious and generous, class acts.
My other big break came courtesy of former President Jimmy Carter. I don't think I would have been hired at ESPN without Mr. Carter's help. I should explain: In 1999, I had a job interview at ESPN and was scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Hartford, meet several ESPN supervisors, then fly back to Atlanta later that evening. Very early on the morning of my interview, I was stuck in the worst traffic jam I'd ever seen on my way to the airport. The Interstate through downtown Atlanta is about 8 lanes wide on each side and on my side, the way to the airport, a wreck had completely shut down all but one lane. It was the kind of traffic in which you literally sit in your car not moving for minutes at a time, not an inch. By the time my car had creeped it's way to that single, tiny opening that freed you from the gridlock, my flight was just a few minutes away from taking off and I was still at least 15 minutes from the airport.
It's still the fastest I've ever driven in an automobile; there were no other cars on the highway, everyone was still stuck behind me. I parked my car, ran up escalators and through the airport and arrived at my gate more than 10 minutes after the flight's scheduled departure. Remarkably, the plane was still there. I couldn't believe it; there were no weather issues, it was a beautiful day. As I breathlessly asked the attendant why the plane hadn't left yet, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a security guard, with an earpiece, in a very nice suit. Behind him, was former President Jimmy Carter. They had held the flight as a security precaution until every passenger was seated, so Mr. Carter could board the plane as easily and safely as possible. I went on ahead of him and collapsed in a row in the back of plane, amazed that I'd actually made the flight. Then I watched as Mr. Carter, before taking his seat, worked his way up and down both aisles, saying hello and warmly shaking hands with every single passenger on that airplane before it took off. He had no idea how thankful I was to meet him.
Berthiaume: There are two types of people I come across in this profession, and I'm referring specifically to on-air talent in all areas of television. The first type is the person who views this job as a genuine craft or vocation. It's a unique job with a specific skill set. That skill set needs to be observed, honed, practiced, studied and refined. It's a profession, a craft and should be treated as such; with the proper amount of focus, preparation and dedication to detail. It's a job, in my mind, of endless, subtle details, which is one of the things about it I most enjoy. Details of style, substance, content, delivery, of process.
The second type, is the person who simply wants to be on television. The ideals to which I just referred would never occur to this second person, because they don't view the job as such. They instead, are pleased just to see their faces on the screen and have cameras pointed at them, whether it's doing sports, news, entertainment, traffic reports, whatever. It would seem to make little difference to them to be hosting a game show or playing a villain on a soap opera; they're on television - mission accomplished. My advice is simple: Be that first person. Never consider being the second.
Berthiaume: I've been very fortunate to have been doing this for nearly 25 years now. I remember anchoring, with Rece Davis, the first overnight SportsCenter following 9/11. That was something I'll never forget. ESPN properly halted all sports programming the week after the attacks to provide additional ABC news coverage and about a week later, we went back on the air with SportsCenter. It was then, that I felt the connection to the viewer in our shared national tragedy.
I was out there with Linda Cohn the night Barry Bonds broke his first home run record. He did it very late on the east coast, out in San Francisco and by the time we had rearranged the show, gathered the necessary news materials and interviews, a SportsCenter that usually finished sometime between 2 and 3 am EST, was wrapped up after 6 that morning. I remember seeing 6:18 am on the clock, when they finally announced, "studio clear!" I think Linda put that in her book.
For the last 4 seasons, I've been doing Baseball Tonight exclusively, my true passion, and I was lucky enough to be standing in front of the Yankee dugout the night of the ceremony at the final regular season game at Yankee Stadium. We had broadcast from the infield all day and at night and were still on the field as one Yankee legend after another ran up the steps of the dugout, right past me and out to the pitchers mound to be introduced. As a born and raised Red Sox Nation man, I couldn't help but thinking, "I wonder what would happen if I just reached out and tripped Whitey Ford, here?" Kidding, mostly. It was a special day and one of many that I've cherished along the way.
Berthiaume: I'm lucky on Baseball Tonight, to get to work with so many analysts who are former players and managers. As a lifelong Boston guy, it's admittedly a bit surreal to be out there doing shows with Nomar Garciaparra, as it is with Curt Schilling or with Peter Gammons when he was with us. I also have the unusual dynamic of working with Aaron Boone all the time, and am amazed by how humble and hesitant he can be when discussing his '03, ALCS Game 7 walk-off homer to beat Boston and win the pennant for the Yankees. But there they both are, sitting next to me. Baseball Tonight is a tremendous experience and I've been very lucky to form friendships with so many of these wonderful people. I learned more about baseball sitting and watching games with Buck Showalter on so many afternoon and evenings for two years, than I could have in a lifetime. He's a remarkable guy. It's relationships like those, provided by ESPN and this career, that mean the most.
Photos courtesy: ESPN Media Zone, Detroit Sportscasters Association, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library