Archive for July, 2006

The Ride to Work
July 28, 2006

My adventures as a morning anchor continue. I’ll be sharing the story behind my transition from sports to news on my blog here at thepittsburghchannel.com.

It’s the one question that everyone wants to have answered when they learn of my move to news: What time do you get up for work? The answer: 2 am. A response that draws all sorts of reaction, and most of it is not positive. It’s not easy getting up at 2 am every day, but when your job is — in essence — to wake up everyone in the tri-state area then you make sure you get used to the new schedule.

After I get up, shower and shave, I try to watch our 11pm newscast. It’s rebroadcast every morning at 2:30am. That’s great because it allows me to get a quick look at what happened while I was asleep and not go into the office ice cold. After my morning glass of orange juice, I tip-toe out of the house so as not to wake anyone and hop in the car and head off to work.

So what are the roads like at 3:15am? What do you think? It’s quiet and there are more trucks on the road than cars. It takes me about 35 minutes from my home in Washington County to get to work in Wilkinsburg — and that includes driving through that 1-79 construction!

I use it as my quiet time — though it’s hardly quiet in my car.

Though Pittsburgh is a radio wasteland at 3:15am, I have satellite radio in my car. In case you are not familiar, it allows you to listen to over 100 different genres of music, news and sports in your car without worrying about losing reception. It’s been a blessing to have it because there is always something on.

So what do I listen to? I love contemporary jazz (Rippingtons and David Sanborn), the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s music channels as well as the urban music channel. I also listen to the comedy channel as well as ESPN radio national and the Fox News Channel. To learn more about satellite radio, check out Ashley DiParlo’s “Plugged In” section of our Web site.

While I have all those radio options, I still have some CDs in my car. I just checked what was in my vehicle and here’s a list:

Top Gun: Original Soundtrack
Peter Gabriel: So
Sideways: Original Soundtrack
Anita Baker: My Everything
Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back: Original Soundtrack
Best of Luther Vandross

Quite a mix to say the least, but I also have this strange habit. I always try to have a cool song playing when I’m headed down GreenTree Hill and going through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. I know it’s weird but I always want to have the background music as I enter the city with that dramatic view. Today, it was “That Voice Again” by Peter Gabriel.

That’s how I get from home to work by 4am and the music helps get me pumped, energized and in the right frame of mind to start the day and — more importantly — start your day.

BTW — thanks to everyone who has sent e-mails and responses to my blog. I never thought anyone would read it, but it seems people are interested in my strange and unique move to news and all the stories that go with it. I hope you will continue to enjoy these entries. Also, keep the comments coming.

Advertisements

Going Back to School
July 26, 2006

My adventures as a morning anchor continue. I’ll be sharing the story behind my transition from sports to news on my blog here at thepittsburghchannel.

I recently got an e-mail invitation to come back for my 20th high school reunion ( That’s right, I’m 38 ). Unlike many of you, I have to travel a distance to go back to school. As my bio mentions, I grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. A town not unlike your Upper St. Clair or Mount Lebanon. I was one of the few African-Americans at my school, but it never really mattered to me. I enjoyed my high school days and still consider them — not college — the best four years of my life.

I went to my 5 and 10 year reunions, but I sense this one will be different. For the 354 members of the class of 1986, the waistlines have grown larger as have the stories of days gone by. It’s less about where we are going and more about what we have done. It’s a chance to see how different our lives might have been had we ended up with our high school sweethearts and an opportunity to see if our 20-year-old predictions came true.

As a high school student growing up in the mid-80’s, I lived in a prosperous and care-free era — not unlike the 50’s were for our parents. I had friends in every group in the high school — the jocks, the theatre folks, the popular kids and bookworms — and I was involved in everything from football to the Future Business Leaders of America.

I also learned life lessons that stay with me to this day. I fell in love for the first time in my life and had my heart broken at the same time. I learned how to make good friends and had to make crucial choices for the first time. Most of all, I learned what kind of person I would grow up to be. The things and mannerisms that I display now first surfaced in high school. As I look back now, I don’t think I have really changed all that much in the last 20 years though I’m sure my former classmates will tell me those little white lies that we are all told at reunions about how good we look and how we haven’t changed a bit.

Finally, I’m a little nervous about going back home. It’s been a decade since I last stop by the town of Simsbury. Sure, I have achieved some success and I’m sure all my former classmates will ask me about what it’s like to cover the Steelers and be on television. But I’m nervous because I don’t know what it will be like to reintroduce myself to people I haven’t seen in a decade. People that I shared so much with during such a critical time in my life.

The reunion takes places October 14th. I’ll let you know — right here on my blog — how the trip back in time turns out.

Chasing Big Ben Cross Country
July 17, 2006

My adventures as a morning anchor continue. I’ll be sharing the story behind my transition from sports to news on my blog here at thepittsburghchannel.

News can happen anywhere at anytime. I learned that first hand Thursday after my last Good Morning America cut-in. Back in the newsroom, there was a discussion as to how we were going to cover Ben Roethlisberger who decided to make his first public appearance at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The discussion ended with myself and photographer Eric Hinnebsuch rushing to the airport to catch a 10:45am flight — with no clothes or toiletries. We just hopped on the plane with the clothes on our back and traveled to Tahoe.

Seven hours later, we began reporting from Tahoe, compiling interviews from the likes of Mario Lemieux and Tommy Maddox about having seen and talked with Ben. Friday, Ben finally held his press conference which was followed by his round of golf and a one-on-one interview with me from the beautiful shores of Lake Tahoe. Ben looked good and frankly, I think he will bounce back from his accident and be much the same player, though I think he will have a different outlook on life. On which will not take anything for granted.

As for Eric and myself, we stayed one night in the Reno Hilton after a brief shopping spree for clothes and other essentials and then caught the red eye from Reno to Los Angeles back to Pittsburgh, allowing us to get home at 7am Saturday morning. One brief word about LAX: It maybe the worst airport I have ever seen. From the security to the people who are supposed to help you to the lack of transportation between terminals, LAX is the worst and I hope never to fly through that place again.

I learned one great lesson in my whirlwind trip west. I will always pack an overnight bag and leave it in my car with all my essentials and a day’s worth of clothes just in case I’m sent to points unknown on a moment’s notice. Finally, a note for some of the Steeler fans complaining about Ben’s choice to make his first appearance in Tahoe. Some people feel this was a slight against Pittsburgh fans who had supported him through his recovery. Folks, whether he had his press conference in Pittsburgh, PA or Pittsburg, California ( located 2 hours from Tahoe ), he was going to give the same answers to the media and you were not going to be invited unless you were with the press.

The important thing is that the local media made the trip out there and Ben was every accommodating. He did one-on-one interviews with all 3 stations and the media. Plus, we got a trip to Tahoe out of it. Not bad.

Viewer Mail
July 10, 2006

My adventures as a morning anchor continue. I’ll be sharing the story behind my transition from sports to news on my blog here at thepittsburghchannel.

I have been on WTAE doing sports the last decade, but all it took was a 45-minute jet ride to make me famous. Since I went up with the Blue Angels, I have been stopped on the street by complete strangers, called by friends I have not spoken with in five years and become the source of laughter for literally hundreds of Western Pennsylvania. But along with the attention has come plenty of questions. Let me try and answer a few regarding my journey into the wild blue yonder.

WERE YOU SCARED?
I was very nervous before I got to the 911 Airlift Wing and even in the moments before I got into the plane, but I was one of three local media representatives taking the flight of a lifetime. My nervousness was eased because I went second behind an female anchor from a competiting station that does not start with “W”. ( I think you get the hint ). Watching her take off and land and still be in one piece eased my mind.

DID YOU THROW UP OR PASS OUT?
I did not pass out nor did I puke, thought I came close to blacking out when we hit 7.5G. I started to go black at one point but somehow was kept my wits about me.

WHAT WAS WITH THE BREATHING? WERE YOU FREAKING OUT OR GIVING BIRTH?
OK, people, let me try and explain this as best as I can. I was told by my instructor before we took off that I should try to use what is called the “hook” method when I am faced with such change of pressure in the cockpit. The move is designed to keep the blood from racing out of your head. What happens is you tighten up the bottom half of your bodies and make short, calculated breaths. It may not look pretty — and in this case it looked pretty funny — but if someone is telling you to do this when you are 10,000 feet in the air, who am I to say no.

WILL YOU BE GOING UP AGAIN?
I don’t know if I will ever have the chance again, but I would enjoy the honor. It was one of the great moments of my life and the best thing is that I have the entire experience on videotape. I really enjoyed it and no matter what I did on television, it could never convey the experience.

That being said, I was pretty funny with all that panting and breathing in the cockpit.

Up, Up and Away
July 6, 2006

My senior prom – a weekend of dancing and beach time – culminated with a trip to the movies and the viewing of the new film, “Top Gun”. The movie told the story of a group of students at an elite US Flying school for advanced fighter pilots, starring Tom Cruise as “Maverick”. Somewhere in there, they sprinkled in a love story but it was the flying sequences that stuck with me. I always wondered what it would be like to fly with the so-called “Best of the best”. The memories have stayed with me ever since.

20 years later, I finally got my chance to be “Maverick”. The Blue Angels touched down in Pittsburgh and gave the local media a sneak peak of their show. Originally, Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to fly with the Angels, but you know what happened to him. Then, coach Cowher was invited but the Blue Angels tell me there was a sudden Steelers “lockdown” on dangerous activities so the coach took a pass. Guess it was the media’s turn to play guinea pig.

I admit I was nervous while heading to the 911th Airlift Wing, but I calmed my nerves somewhat by playing the “Top Gun” soundtrack CD. Just hearing the songs transported me to a place and time in my life of great memories and suddenly I felt like I was Tom Cruise.

The movie proved to be the reference point for our crew chief who explained to us what would take place during the flight in a briefing. Basically, we were told not to touch anything and be sure to keep breathing – and listen to our pilot.

Flying the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet was Lt. Kevin Davis ( codename: Kojak ). He has family in the area and proved to be a very reassuring voice for the flight. He told me our flight pattern would be from the airport to Punxsutawney and would last 45 minutes, allowing us to experience everything this jet could do – at speeds up to 700 miles per hour.

Once I was strapped into the co-pilot seat, I was ready to go and felt a sudden sense of excitement. I was ready to experience the ride of my life. Lt. Davis started down the runway and asked if I was ready to go. I said “Hit it”! He suddenly did what is a called a low transition, high performance climb. Essentially we went down the runway and suddenly went straight up about 8,000 feet in mere seconds.

I was screaming – but screams of joy – and that would continue for the rest of our flight. We did turns and rollovers and even flew inverted. The whole time, I was so amazed by the view and the moves; I had no time to worry about life and death.

By the time we landed, I was exhausted. I felt like I had been running a marathon. That’s the physical toll your body takes when you are doing these kinds of aerial maneuvers.

I will be doing a story on my wild ride, but mere video cannot adequately describe what it’s like to be in that plane and be able to do all those amazing things – and not throw up. Now Kelly Frey and myself have made history – the first anchor team in Pittsburgh to have flown with the Blue Angels.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Click here to watch Andrew’s ride with the Angels.

Going Solo
July 4, 2006

My adventures as a morning anchor continue. I’ll be sharing the story behind my transition from sports to news on my blog here at thepittsburghchannel.

July 4th turned out to be my personal independence day. Kelly Frey had requested July 4th off and I was asked to anchor the morning news — by myself. Sounds like a lot for one person to handle 2 hours of morning TV, but it was made much easier by a skilled crew working behind the camera. Also our morning show producer, Amy Schussler, does a great job of putting the show together overnight so that when I come in at 4am I can get up to speed quickly.

Not having Kelly is challenging enough, but traffic reporter Melanie Taylor also had the day off — after all, how much traffic are you going to have on July 4th. But fortunately, meteorologist Demetrius Ivory was working — and working hard. With picnics, parades and fireworks all on the line, his forecast is more important than ever. So it was “guys morning” with Demetrius and I doing the news.

I found the entire experience to be challenging, but fun. It’s a different feeling when you are running the ship by yourself and the whole show succeeds or fails based upon your performance. While I not perfect, I was able to keep up with the pace and not lose my voice. For someone who is used to anchor 3 minutes of sports at 6 & 11, it’s a different world doing two straight hours.

Of course, I look forward to Kelly coming back tomorrow. Not having someone to play off makes the mornings a little less fun.

Have a great 4th everyone! I’m on my way out to Brentwood to cover a 5k run — with a twist. To see what I mean, tune in tonight at 5pm.