Meet Dennis O’Donnell, Sports Director with KPIX Channel 5
I chose this career because I realized at a young age that I love broadcasting. I actually love play-by-play. And when we played games in the street I would be announcing as I was playing. So I realized it was a passion early on and I was lucky because as I got older I realized that other people aren’t exactly sure of what it is they want to do at a young age. But I was and I was focused, it was my goal. And to end up in San Francisco, the city I grew up in, I consider myself really fortunate.
So I got started in my broadcasting career by going to Diablo Valley College and took a couple of journalism courses there and then transferred to San Francisco State that has an excellent broadcasting program. And from there I got an internship from a buddy of mine at Channel 4, KRON TV, which at the time in the sports department was in this upheaval, turmoil. They needed a body. And I was an intern who knew absolutely nothing. It’s a proverbial getting thrown into the frying pan. I was and I got a job. I was on the payroll just out of college but I learned on the job, I learned fast and I became a producer when I was 21 years old. So I went from San Francisco State right into broadcasting. And in this industry typically you have to start in a small market and work your way up. So again it was sort of an unorthodox way that I began but I was fortunate to get the opportunity.
I think that a lot of schools offer journalism, television anchoring, play-by-play, whatever avenue you’re looking to get into, you can find it. But I think contacts are important. Especially in this business. I think it’s true in any profession, but especially in broadcasting. And people that I got to know in this industry were able to open the door for me. Also while I was in college I got a job working for the San Francisco Giants and major league baseball shooting baseball games. At that time most of the games weren’t televised. So major league baseball needed somebody to shoot the games. So I’m in college, I got $70 a game, I shoot the games, I’d write down a couple of highlights and then I’d send the tapes overnight to a show called This Week in Baseball in New York. And I had access to a major-league locker room. I sat where the Giants players sat, I got to interview players. And for a kid in college who grew up a sports fan like I did it was a great opportunity that helped me get into the career.
When I was in college I was – let’s see I was 20 years old when I was shooting games for the Giants. I was 21 when I was at KRON and was a producer. But I made a lot of mistakes. I made so many mistakes. But I was fortunate to learn with really good mentors. Pete Levengood, Gary Radnich, Tom Nettles and the leadership group of people over there really taught me well. I made mistakes but, you know the important thing is I learned from the mistakes as best as I could. And I applied them and they really helped me advance my career quickly because I really didn’t have a choice. Either you figured out how to do it quick or you’re out of a job.
The best piece of advice that I can give is the advice that was given to me and that is, volunteer your time. Don’t worry about if it’s a paid internship. Don’t worry about if you’re going to have to work 10 or 13 or 14 hours. What’s important in this industry is getting your foot in the door. It’s meeting people, it’s volunteering for any job you can possibly volunteer for. Cameramen, photographer, editing something, writing something, doing the Teleprompter, anything you can do because all these people work in the business and I can guarantee you at some point they’re going to come to you and say, you did a great job shooting that interview the other day. I really liked how you framed it. Can you do that for me on this shoot? And then suddenly the doors of opportunity begin to open up. If you begin as a volunteer.
The best advice I can give you to get into the door to be a volunteer is internships. Many stations offer internships, paid internships, radio, newspaper, Internet. We’re in transition in the business. The proliferation of Internet websites. There’s more opportunities today I think that there has ever been. And again I think that I would spread it across the board. You may think that you’re interested in print journalism. I want to be a print journalist. I want to be in Afghanistan, Iraq. I want to report the story. But you might find that you are interested in another avenue in the industry. You may find out you’re great at sales.
So what I would recommend or the advice that I give is try everything. I wanted to do play-by-play, that was my passion. I ended up being a sports anchor for a TV station instead. It turned out to be a great choice that I made. But the point is that, don’t corner yourself to one particular occupation in this field.