When I was in college, all of my sports-loving friends all thought they had what it took to be on "SportsCenter" on ESPN. They knew all the players, thought they could spit out all the right stats and could talk a good game.
Yet, mic them up and put on a few spotlights … and before the cameras were ever turned on, I would bet 9 out of 10 of them would freeze and sit there like a deer on the highway, watching the car that will plow them over.
There’s a knack to being able to cover sports, and it’s even harder to do it when the cameras are rolling.
Eugene Pitchford knows that very well. He’s the season three winner of "Talking the Talk" on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel. His love of sports started early.
"When I was a kid, my grandfather had season tickets at County Stadium," Pitchford said. "It set the pattern, I became a life-long sports fan at an early age."
We talked about his autograph book and getting Brewers and Bucks players signatures in the 1970s and mid '80s. He got his hands on a pre-season basketball book off of a news stand.
"As a kid I wanted to study that … that’s how I learned to read," he said of the over-sized magazines that listed the players and stats, and tried to offer a forecast on how the next season would go.
Flash-forward to adulthood, where the principal at Henry David Thoreau School in Milwaukee uses sports analogies to reach his staff and students. He said the basics are "sports, music, work and family."
"The day before applications were due is when I found out about all of this," Pitchford said of the "Talking The Talk" competition, where members of the public apply and compete for the chance to appear on "The Roundtable" with Dennis Krause.
"A friend on Facebook shared the application page … and it sounded it was just made for me when I read it. I thought, maybe I should for go out for it, and my wife said there was nothing to lose."
Selected as a semifinalist, he scheduled an audition where Krause asked a number of sports questions of Pitchford and the other candidates.
"All things run through your mind. I have a pretty good understanding of sports, I just have to answer his questions. I felt good about it and met some of the other candidates before and after," he said.
The semifinalists were run on air, and their auditions were placed on demand. Then, through marketing, the audition that had the most views was how the SportsChannel selected the winner.
"We have to market ourselves, advertise ourselves and hopefully offer something the viewer could connect with," Pitchford said. Family and friends helped spread the word throughout phone calls and social media.
Through the contest, Time Warner Cable is able to make a strong connection with the viewers in the area.
"This was our third season doing "Talking the Talk" and it really rose out of many conversations that Dennis Krause and I had about trying to get interaction with our viewers and the community," said Tom Kurtz, the senior manager of production for Time Warner Cable SportsChannel.
"We finally agreed on this format that allows for our viewers (16 semifinalists this year) to see our facilities and be able to talk sports with the 5-time Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year."
Kurtz said the competition is a classic win-win, where it gives the station more local programming and allows the viewers to develop a deeper connection and a unique experience.
"We did a survey after we got down to our Finalists, and all 16 said they would do this again or tell a friend or family member to enter. That stat is at the heart of why we bring this contest back each year," he said.
Pitchford recently appeared on "The Roundtable" with Krause and Bucks radio play-by-play announcer Ted Davis.
"It was so exciting," Pitchford said. "I wasn’t less confident. I was nervous, it was the real thing."
Pitchford said he was glad to work with Davis, who he listens to when he’s doing games and also talking sports on WSSP-AM 1250.
"Eugene did a tremendous job on ‘The Roundtable’ when his turn came, just as we thought he would.," Kurtz said, of Pitchford’s appearance on the show that airs at 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
"You could tell he was a little nervous at the beginning, but he turned that around and performed admirably. It is tough for even first time media panelists to come on ‘The Roundtable’ and be prepared to talk about many subjects, but Eugene proved that he deserved to be there with his sports knowledge and engaging personality.
"We definitely look forward to have him on again in the future."
Pitchford won’t soon forget his experience.
"This was a life-long dream. This allowed me to re-connect with that dream," Pitchford said.
Media is bombarding us everywhere.
Instead of sheltering his brain from the onslaught, Steve embraces the news stories, entertainment, billboards, blogs, talk shows and everything in between.
The former writer, editor and producer in TV, radio, Web and newspapers, will be talking about what media does in our community and how it shapes who we are and what we do.