By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Oct 21, 2009 at 9:03 AM

It's not unusual for a TV reporter to begin in a tiny market, like WISN-TV's Stephanie Sutton did when she cut her teeth in Monroe, La. But when a reporter makes the jump to San Francisco, he or she usually stays there.

Not Sutton. She missed Milwaukee and returned in 2003. Now, the mother of two can follow her beloved Packers and Badgers professionally, balancing her career and her family -- and even finding time to do some radio work on the side.

With her Downtown and East Side days now behind her, Sutton is more comfortable hanging out in Lake Country with friends when she's not working. We caught up with the former state doubles tennis champion for a sushi lunch at one of her favorite restaurants -- Wasabi in Brookfield -- for this latest Milwaukee Talks. You're a Brookfield native, but you've worked in New York and the Bay Area. Now you're back home. Don't most people in your industry go in the opposite direction?

Stephanie Sutton: I've worked my way down. Some people might even say that having worked in market five and moving to market 30-something, it might be career suicide. But this is my home. I graduated from Madison and loved it, but I wanted to spread my wings. I went to New York City and was a secretary for a lighting board company for ABC, and that led to my gig behind the scenes at ABC sports. That led to my internship at Channel 4, which then led to my first on-air job in Monroe, La. So, I did start small.

OMC: What was it like working in Louisiana?

SS: I remember someone asking where I wanted to go for my first job. I said anywhere but the South. Well, how about the deep South? It was quite an experience. After a year, I moved to Jackson, Miss. That was like market 90. I was there for three years; I was reporter for one station then jumped ship to another station that was a Hearst affiliate (like WISN-TV) where I was the weekend sports gal. Then I got an agent, and the agent got me the job (in San Jose). I was there for three years.

OMC: Why did you choose to come home?

SS: I always wanted to come home, even when I was in Mississippi. I interviewed with FOX 6. I applied for the job that (now co-worker) Andy Kendeigh got back in 1999. I was sending tapes and kept in touch with (Channel 12 Sports Director) Dan Needles. Just having my name out there, and any time I'd come home, I'd meet with the news directors in town. But I was loving San Francisco when my best friend called and told me that Tom Sutton was retiring. So I called Dan and sent him my resume. Within a month and half, I had the job.

OMC: When was this?

SS: That was February of 2003.

OMC: So, one Sutton retires and another steps in. That must've caused some confusion.

SS: Well, my maiden name is Jurczyk.

OMC: That's a tough name for TV, though.

SS: Correct. In the South, I was Stephanie Jurczyk. I said that if I ever went to a big market, and they asked me to change my name, I wouldn't put up a fight. Sure enough, they asked me in San Jose. My mother's maiden name is O'Brien, so I was Stephanie O'Brien in the Bay area. When I moved back home, the guy who I just happened to marry, his last name is Sutton. During the interview process, I remember going to Dan and Andy and saying, "I don't know how to tell you this, but I'm going to be married in June and my new name will be Sutton." They were like, "You've gotta be kidding."

A lot of people think it's nepotism. Some people think I'm (Tom's) wife. None of the above. Very nice man, he's been nothing but pleasant to me. But (I'm) no relation to Tom.

OMC: I bet you get that question a lot.

SS: It is the No. 1 question that I get, and it's almost the No. 1 question that people in our newsroom get asked.

OMC: As a mom, your schedule has changed a little bit, and you told me that lets you spend more time with your kids. But you still find the time to do some new projects, like radio gigs with Bob and Brian and ( Senior Editor) Drew Olson and Dan Needles' "D-List" show. How's that going?

SS: I absolutely love it. There's something liberating about being on the radio. You can say almost whatever is on the top of your head. On television, you don't want to be so biased.

OMC: Is it nice to be able to get your personality out there?

SS: Yes!

OMC: But does it conflict with your job as a reporter?

SS: Maybe a little bit, I could probably see that. But when you're doing the sports, you try to put some of your personality into the highlights, but there's only so much you can do in three minutes. In radio, it's for three or four hours.

OMC: Is it hard to make good connections and contacts with athletes when you don't cover a specific beat?

SS: I actually think I have a really good connection with the athletes around town and up in Green Bay. I know a lot of them know who I am because of my face, and that's one of the benefits of being a female. They don't necessarily know me by name. Yesterday, I saw Donald Driver and he was like, "Hey, sweetie!" and gave me a hug. "How are you doing? How are the kids?" That's the unique thing about having children; I've actually been able to bond with these players more. That's the one thing we can totally relate on.

OMC: Do they treat you differently because you're a woman? I don't think Donald Driver is hugging Dan Needles.

SS: Yeah, definitely. I think there's something about me being non-threatening. I didn't date athletes. That never happened, and it never will. I'm in there to do this story because I enjoy my work and I want to cover sports.

OMC: So there are advantages to being a woman covering sports?

SS: I think so. Without a doubt. In the case of Jessie (Garcia), Jen (Lada) and me, they recognize us. We stand out right away in this sea of 20 men.

OMC: A lot of TV reporters treat Milwaukee as a stepping stone. I guess that's not the case with you, right?

SS: I'm the opposite. This is where I want to be. I'm more than thrilled to be home.

OMC: Were you a fan of Milwaukee teams growing up?

SS: Yeah, I remember the '82 World Series. I think I was in fourth grade, but I had the Paul Molitor lunch box. In high school, I fell in love with the Packers. I played sports, too. My claim to fame is that my sister and I won the state doubles championship in tennis in 1987. If you ask me if I still play, no.

In college, I fell in love with the Badgers. To this day, the Rose Bowl in 1994 is the best sporting event I've ever been to, because ... I went as a fan.

OMC: Are you still a fan?

SS: The Packers-Vikings game, I had mixed emotions. I was cheering for the Packers, but then there was the Favre angle. I think before I got into this business, I would be affected the next day after a win or a loss. Now, I'm like, "They lost, let's move on."

OMC: Is it OK for a sports reporter to be a fan?

SS: I think so, or else how can you enjoy what you're doing?

OMC: What's the most interesting interview you've done?

SS: Honestly, one of my favorite ones was John McEnroe. He was fantastic. So fun and energetic. He was my sports idol growing up.

OMC: As someone who is so passionate about this area that you shifted your career to move back, where do you like to go? What do you like to do?

SS: We're right here (at Wasabi). With kids, we don't get to go out as much as we used to, but we hang out on the west side of town. Back in the day, Vitucci's and Water Street. Now, this place and Piano Blu, but a lot of friends have little kids so we'll do barbecues and hang out.

OMC: Do your kids watch you on TV?

SS: Kate knows what's going on. The 1-year-old runs up to the TV and kisses it -- or so I'm told.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.