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Published on February 27, 2020

Communication Alumni Help Shape Opinions in a Digital Age

Jake Rusconi '14, Chris Weedon '15, Kelly Franklin '08, Kevin Gilbert '03, Tyler Madden '22 and Bradley O'Connor '08 

In addition to traditional broadcast affiliates, the 21st-century television environment features on-demand news distributed digitally on cell phones and via social media platforms around the clock and throughout the world.

Local television stations adapting to these changes appreciate the skills of Eastern Connecticut State University graduates, who can be found working at stations and networks throughout Connecticut. Combining classroom theory with valuable hands-on experience in Eastern’s modernized Communication Building, Eastern alumni are reporting and producing news, sports and weather or involved in the business side of television at a variety of companies.

WVIT-TV 30, Connecticut’s NBC affiliate, is home to several Eastern graduates. Kevin Gilbert ’03 is the station’s media manager, helping to manage the Production Department, including directors, editors, transmission operators and production assistants. He also oversees media asset storage and file delivery; manages the station’s video archive; and provides technical support to producers, editors and photographers and ingest operators.

“I enjoy helping colleagues move through challenges in order to work efficiently and achieve success,” said Gilbert. “Working with emerging technology, implementing workflows that influence and help others as well as ensuring our assets are protected all provide me great satisfaction.”

Kelly Franklin ’08 majored in Business Administration and is one of NBC 30’s three local sales directors. Before being promoted to local sales manager, she began as account manager, before being promoted to marketing manager and then digital sales manager. “I train, coach and motivate my local sales team to set sales goals and put together custom marketing solutions for our clients,” said Franklin. “We have a great team here. The role I am in is fun, challenging and rewarding. I love the environment that Eastern provided. I felt that the students and staff were a community all working together towards future success.”

Chris Weedon ’15 was promoted to account executive this past May. His responsibilities range from presenting sales proposals and pitches to internal and external clients to using Nielsen research tools to identify competitive positioning and growth opportunities.

Weedon began at NBC 30 as a production assistant in May 2015, manually operating cameras, graphics, the video switcher, teleprompter and audio board during daily live broadcasts. He recalled his time at Eastern, where even as a freshman, he was able to gain hands-on experience in the radio station and TV studio. Three people made it possible — Professor Andrew Utterback, Sports Information Director Bob Molta and Paul Melmer, an engineer in Media Services. “Dr. Utterback was my advisor and my TV professor. Paul, our lab engineer, was always around to help with questions. His years of working in the industry combined with Dr. Utterback’s were invaluable.

“Paul took us to Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, where I experienced a real trade show and ran into colleagues I work with today!”

Bradley O’Connor ’08, a double major in Communication and Environmental Earth Science, started with NBCUniversal in 2012, moving to NBC Sports in Stamford as a studio SteadiCam operator. This past May, he moved back to WVIT-TV, where he currently serves as a broadcast engineer. O’Connor and his colleagues support the station’s “Air Chain,” the path that television signals follow throughout the building, out through transmission facilities to end users at home.

O’Connor spent most of his time at Eastern working with Steve Kesten and Paul Melmer in Media Services. “The work I did with them really helped to shape me for the work I perform today. I looked forward to my shifts in Media Services so much that I requested housing for all school breaks so I could continue to work with those two gentlemen!”

Carmen Chau '10

You can also find Eastern graduates at WTIC-TV 61, the Fox affiliate in Connecticut. Carmen Chau ’10 started at WTIC in April 2017 and is one of the station’s evening reporters. She anchors Saturday evenings and fills in during the week when necessary. After graduating from Eastern, Chau earned her master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Quinnipiac University in 2012. 

She landed her first on-air job at WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, MD, where she anchored and produced the weekend morning shows. She moved to Albany, NY, in 2015 for a position at WTEN-TV, where she was a general assignment reporter for two years before accepting her current position at FOX 61.

Every day in the reporting world is different and unpredictable for Chau. She can be assigned a tragic story one day, and a happy, inspiring story the next.

“Some days are extremely busy and stressful, but at the end of the day, it’s about the final product, being proud of the hard work I’ve put in and being able to showcase it in our newscast, said Chau. “My job is to be a voice for those who cannot speak, and I’m happy to have the power and the opportunity to let them be heard.” 

She said her most rewarding time at Eastern was being involved in the student-run news program, News 22. “I took a lot of hands-on classes at Eastern with TV Production being one of them. I was able to try out several positions — whether it was on air or behind the scenes. This helped me understand what it took to put together a successful newscast and to work in a hectic newsroom.” 

Erin Wolf '00

Erin Wolf ’00 is Fox 61’s assignment editor; she started there shortly after graduation in June 2000. Her first position was as a part-time assignment editor on the weekends.  Over the years, her job responsibilities have changed considerably.  When she first started, Fox 61 only had a 10 p.m. newscast.  The station now airs more than 61 hours of local news and public affairs programming each week.

Every day of Wolf’s work week is different. “I research, organize and decide what stories are relevant and necessary for broadcast news,” said Wolf in describing her job. “I manage the schedules of multiple news crews and personnel for special and daily assignments to ensure coverage of a wide variety of topics.”   

Wolf says Eastern TV News gave her the confidence and motivation to pursue a career in television media. “Making the choice to go to Eastern was one of the best decisions I ever made. I still have the tapes of our old newscasts and have many wonderful memories. I love that I can make a difference in the community and help people.”  

In addition to jobs at Connecticut’s broadcast stations, you can find Eastern alumni at cable television giant ESPN.  Sheena Williams ’06 serves as manager of business operations for the Bristol, CT-based sports network, focusing on ESPN’s X Games. She manages the X Games budgets, and is responsible for housing, database management, uniforms, catering and staff hospitality. 

William’s daily routine is a testament to her problem-solving skills. “Challenges can range from hosting a celebrity to making sure our recycling vendor has all the necessary tools to do their job. No day is ever the same; it’s a new adventure every time we step onsite.”

She said Eastern helped prepare her for those adventures. “I was a transfer student and as soon as I toured Eastern, I knew it was exactly where I wanted to go. What I loved most about Eastern was the specialized attention each student received. I was able to start a TV club, go to the NAB Convention in Las Vegas and work in the TV studio. A large school would never have afforded me so many opportunities. Having to do so many different things with professors who insisted on you doing all things well taught me how to juggle multiple leadership roles at once.”

Sheena Williams '06 at the X Games

Some Eastern alumni started in the television business in Connecticut only to find opportunities in other parts of the country. Since graduating from Eastern,

Jeff Langan ’11 has worked as a videographer in four different cities. Moving from one city to another fascinates him. “The TV business is a crazy one, but I got a good start at Eastern!”

In 2013, he started at KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs, CO, working with field crews as a content producer, writing scripts for newscasts. Ten months into the job, he switched to being a photojournalist, shooting and editing stories and operating live trucks for live feeds.

In 2014, Langan landed a position at Fox 61 back in Connecticut. A little more than a year later, he left for Denver, CO, to work for KDVR-TV, where his videography won the 2018 Heartland Emmy Photojournalist/Lifestyle Program/Series and he was also nominated for three other awards. In June 2018, Langan was hired by WBBM-TV in Chicago, where he continues today as a photojournalist.

The routine may be the same, but a day in the life of a photojournalist is as varied as Langan’s move from one city to another. “You go in knowing that you will shoot a story, but that’s it; there is something different every day. I get in, load up my truck and then wait for the story of the day to go out with a reporter. I always have to “back time” my day. If we’re live at 10 p.m., I know the story has to be done and ready for air by 9:30 p.m., so I need a script from the reporter by 8:30 p.m., and back through the day. Once the live shot is done, I fill up the truck and head back to the station. The day is done, and I love it!”

Jeff Langan '11

Langan said his Eastern degree really helped him work in the news business. “Dr. Utterback and Dr. Mathews taught me a lot. Dr. Utterback genuinely wanted us all to succeed, and he pushed us to be the best that we could. I joined News 22 when I was a sophomore and met a lot of hard-working people who taught me what it was like to put on a newscast. Right away, I started shooting stories at Eastern, and was one of the producers of the show during my junior and senior years.”

Most Eastern alumni working in the television industry got their start in Eastern’s Department of Communication, where dedicated, experienced faculty go the extra mile to provide students with a combination of sound theory, hands-on experiences on campus and internship opportunities out in the field. Andrew Utterback, department chair, lauds the new state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in the Communication Building, saying the renovated building “offers opportunities for students to practice the skills that they learn in class. WECS-FM, Eastern Television News, Eastern Television Sports, and the Campus Lantern are four examples of these opportunities that are directly connected to specific media forms. In addition, the American Advertising Federation and the Public Relations Student Society of America are two more examples” of opportunities for students to connect to professional experiences.

Written by Dwight Bachman