SUNY Oswego’s student-run WTOP earns national broadcasting awards

SUNY Oswego’s student-run TV station WTOP recently earned national recognition via two SVG College Sports Media Awards, both related to coverage of Oswego-Plattsburgh men’s hockey games. Here Tara O’Donovan operates a camera as part of a hockey broadcasting crew that numbers between 20 and 30 students, depending on the game.

OSWEGO – Always among the biggest events locally, the Oswego and Plattsburgh men’s college hockey rivalry games scored big on a larger stage, as coverage by SUNY Oswego’s student-run WTOP-10 TV station earned two national awards recently.

WTOP won two honorable mentions — for Outstanding Live Game Production in the Collegiate Student category for “Men’s Ice Hockey, Oswego vs. Plattsburgh” and Outstanding Live Non-Game Production in the Collegiate Student category for “SUNYAC Semifinal Pre-Game Show” — at the SVG College Sports Media Awards. The awards, co-sponsored by Sports Video Group and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, officially recognized winners on May 30 at the SVG College Summit in Atlanta.

These awards, combined with other recent honors for the station, show “hard work pays off,” said Josh Holfoth, who submitted the award applications and is the new general manager for WTOP.

“Our members, across the board, worked incredibly hard this year to increase the quality of our content and push the envelope of what we are capable of doing,” said Holfoth, a senior broadcasting and mass communication major. “It makes me happy that all of the hard work, late nights and extra effort is bringing us more recognition.”

Brittany Cairns, WTOP sports director for 2018-19, said “a lot of our success was due to passion” where so many students put in so many hours and so much creative energy.

“We all deeply cared about the product that was going out on air and wanted to be sure WTOP was represented as well as it should be,” Cairns said of WTOP’s management team. The senior broadcasting major noted that she and other members of the sports department emphasized teamwork and communication: “We knew early on that the success of the broadcasts would depend on how well we communicated with one another.”

The size of the crew for productions of that quality made communication and time management all the more important. Jake Piacenti, then WTOP’s vice president of productions, said the crew for the award-winning broadcasts ran about 30 people, including eight in the control room, seven camera operators, six as on-air talent, five utility hands and runners plus engineers.

“I believe one of the many reasons that WTOP has great success with our broadcasts is trusting and believing in one another,” Piacenti said, a May 2019 broadcasting graduate. Even with any equipment and budget, “in reality it’s who operates that piece of equipment that makes a good show. The staff we had for the broadcasts knew going into the show that it was going to be a great one before it even happened, and that’s what you want to hear from a crew going into a show, especially as big as the ones we did.”

Prime-time players

Once described by Sports Illustrated as one of the best under-the-radar rivalries in college sports, when Oswego men’s hockey hosts Plattsburgh the Marano Campus Center arena sells out with a sea of fans in white waving towels for Whiteout Weekend — which this year enjoyed an added game when the Lakers hosted the Cardinals in the SUNY Athletic Conference semifinals.

As a result “it was an exciting time to be on the crew,” Cairns said, as “they came at times where our viewership would be at its highest.”

For the award-winning Whiteout game in December 2018, which Oswego won 4-0, “many of the members within the sports department and even those outside of it worked together to produce content for an hour-long pregame show. We had people staying in the office until 3 to 4 in the morning, putting together quality content,” Cairns said.

“When looking at what went into the SUNYAC Semifinal Pregame Show, communication and teamwork were huge once again,” Cairns added. “The week before that, we had done our away broadcast at Plattsburgh and that is where a good portion of our footage came from for that show. Without the communication that went from Plattsburgh back to the station to save the footage, the SUNYAC pregame show would not have been as great as it was.”

Oswego held off Plattsburgh, 3-2, in that tense February SUNYAC semifinal that preceded a return to the NCAA Tournament — and that also featured a winning effort by the WTOP crew.

“Winning not one but two of these honors is huge for WTOP,” Cairns said, especially against much larger and better-known schools. “By earning these honors through the College Sports Media Awards, it puts SUNY Oswego on the map and shows that we can put out quality content while also going up with the best of the best.”

Adding awards

Communication studies faculty member Michael Riecke, WTOP’s adviser, noted these awards added to a remarkable academic year for the station. The national awards join a fourth-place honor in the Best Promo category presented at College Broadcasters Inc.’s National Student Electronic Media Convention in October for a one-minute piece by 2018 broadcasting and mass communication graduate Griffin Bruce.

The station also earned three Excellence in Broadcasting Awards from the New York State Broadcasters’ Association in April, for Outstanding Feature News Story, Outstanding Specialty Programming and Outstanding Weathercast. Cairns added to the haul with a Syracuse Press Club second-place award in the College Television Sports Story category.

“By having a fully equipped television studio and the ability to broadcast the college’s sporting events, we are getting opportunities that not many other colleges have,” Cairns said. “Additionally, I believe this reflects on how well our professors have taught us. Professors Michael Riecke and Mike Cleland were huge assets to us, in particular. Throughout the year, they consistently gave myself and the rest of the sports department great feedback. With that feedback, we were able to improve during each and every broadcast.”

The awards also support other positive feedback the station and students have consistently received. “We’ve said and heard time and time again how good our shows have been this year but being recognized with this honorable mention from a national competition makes you believe it even more,” Piacenti said. “Everyone from WTOP and SUNY Oswego should look at this and realize how amazing WTOP is and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to do shows like this on a weekly basis.”

All the recognition “also speaks to the freedom and opportunities we have as students at Oswego,” Holfoth said. “Without the opportunity to experiment on our own, and implement ideas ourselves, none of this would be possible at all, so we are all thankful for that.”

For more information on broadcasting and other communication studies opportunities at SUNY Oswego, visit oswego.edu/communication-studies.

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