Steve Bunin One-on-One

Steve Bunin recently left ESPN to become lead anchor at CSN Houston. The Seattle native gives us the inside scoop on ESPN and the importance of being a journalist first.

During my run as News Director at Fox Sports Northwest one of my producers, Dave Rees, came into my office one day with a Sportscaster friend named Steve Bunin. Dave introduced me to Steve and said “you have to hire this guy, he’s a star in the making, a true journalist who knows exactly how to connect with an audience”. (Ok I’m paraphrasing a bit with a touch of poetic license, but suffice to say Dave really supported Bunin).

I didn’t have any openings, so despite Dave’s pleading we parted ways that day without an offer.  In the years since I have watched from afar as Bunin’s career blossomed at ESPN, hosting just about every show they have on their myriad of channels. Recently, Bunin decided to leave ESPN and join the latest Comcast SportsNet in Houston as lead anchor and I figured it was a good time to catch up.

I wanted to learn more about the inner workings of ESPN, since to me they have lost some of their sense of journalism lately, and also pick his brain for insight and advice he’s learned over his career. After a few weeks back and forth with emails and follow up questions, Steve ended up with carpel tunnel syndrome and I ended up with almost 4,000 words of great stories, insight and career advice.

Not all of the 4,000 words made the final cut, here are a few questions that I ended up cutting out, but still provide some incredible insight. At the end you’ll find the link for the full interview which is a must read for anyone interested in a sports broadcasting career.

STVJ: What did you do during your time at Syracuse that help set you up for opportunities after graduating?

Bunin: From the day I set foot on campus at Syracuse University, I made it a priority to do as much hands-on work as possible.  So I enlisted at the campus TV station (then UUTV), which put on a nightly newscast 7 days per week, as well as specialty shows, and one of the two campus radio stations that covered SU sports.

I believe that, as much as the curriculum, and probably more, the amount of competition and opportunities to get your hands dirty is what truly prepared me for this business.  The campus radio station starts out each semester with probably 30-40 kids expecting to do on-air work.  They give you the 4am-7am shift (just training) right off the bat, and within weeks, that 30-40 is whittled down to 10 or so… And THAT is the broadcasting business: what are you willing to give up (i.e., social life for a 19-yr-old at a big college) to pursue your dream.

STVJ: Let’s talk about your first job after college – how did you initially get hired?

Bunin: My very first paying job in the biz was actually while I was still a senior at SU.  The weekday sports anchor at the local CBS left for a job in Ohio, and while they searched for a successor, they bumped the weekend guy to weekdays, and announced an open competition among all the interns to do weekends.  Long story short, they picked me, and I did a handful (maybe 6-7?) weekends on-air in winter ’95-96.

Part of what makes my story so intriguing is that after getting that HUGE break while still in school, I then went unemployed for 10 months after graduating.  I had been sending tapes in the mail to small market TV stations all over the country every single day and just couldn’t catch a break. I kept a log detailing each mailing until it got so long I got depressed.

At one point, I drove from my home in Seattle 10-hours to Chico, CA just to drop off a tape in person.  Spent the night in a hotel, met with the news director first thing in the morning, had 5-minutes of his time, then drove 10-hours back.  Didn’t get that gig.  Anyway, March ’97, I get a job in Binghamton, NY as the sports director at the FOX affiliate there… and got promptly dumped 88 days into the 90-day probationary period of my 2-year contract (at which point, I would have become a union member and therefore, very hard to fire).  They were downsizing and never gave me a great/valid reason for cutting bait, but it was quite the welcome to the business.

That begat a horrible summer where I made money by stacking boxes in a warehouse.  Cardboard boxes come in, I flatten them, stack them by size, and do it all over again.  18-months after graduating from the (arguably) top broadcasting school in the country, as the only SU student who’d managed an on-air sports job since (Mike)Tirico, and I’m literally working next to a guy who’d just done time in prison.  It was humiliating.  But I hope it’s also a great lesson for aspiring sportscasters now – that it is not always an easy road or a direct path from the bottom to the top of the industry.

By the way, my first job that I held more than 90-days was as a weekend sports anchor at KNAZ (NBC) in Flagstaff, AZ, for $13,500/year.  I was interviewed for that job over the phone in the warehouse.  The deal-breaker for the station was that I could drive a stick-shift.  No joke.  Their news-cars were tiny little manual shift cars, and apparently the other top candidate didn’t know how.  Thank god for my older brother teaching me at 16, huh?

Read more from Bunin, including why he finds Bob Ley so infuriating and the most important thing for young sports journalists to focus on.

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Article by Brian Clapp

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