WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – Ever wonder about the life and times of an emerging to a veteran broadcast journalist in front of and/or behind the camera? I reached out to Lisa Byington, a former Northwestern teammate and friend, for the scoop during the busiest time of year, and scored this great interview. The game is always about hustle, team play, and preparation. It’s about rolling with whatever racket you are given, making the most of it and knowing that if it was easy, everyone would do it. Read this interview on how Lisa went from a two-sport athlete at Northwestern to a triple threat in the broadcast world.
MO: How hard was it to play two sports at Northwestern?
LB: It actually was the best time of my college career. Maybe it’s the A.D.D. side of me. Maybe it’s the fact I had never focused on one sport at any point in my life. Basketball was my first love for sure, but as a kid, I always appreciated moving on to other sports seasons when I could. Soccer. Softball.
MO: Who or what prompted you to play both?
LB: I remember walking into the weight room my freshman year. I heard a voice behind me, “Hey, Byington.” It was Marcia McDermott, the women’s soccer coach. She said she had done research on me and knew I was a first-team all-stater in both soccer and basketball in high school. She asked if I wanted to walk-on to the soccer team.
The year was 1994, and you have to remember it was the first year of women’s soccer at the university. She was just looking for athletes to build a program. I was already overwhelmed with being a freshman student-athlete and one sport, so I told her no at the time. She understood but said she wanted me to still reconsider in the next few years. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I felt like I was stabilized and ready.
After working it out with both basketball and soccer staffs, I played the spring season of my junior year, and the full fall soccer seasons of my senior year and graduate school years.
Those two years were really the best time of my college life. I got to see how a full-scholarship athletic program operated and how a partial-scholarship program operated. I appreciated everything I got with the basketball team much more after seeing how much my soccer teammates loved getting a new t-shirt.
Playing both sports allowed me to balance my life more. And it gave me an opportunity to interact, work, bond, bleed and share with a larger student-athlete family than I started with.
MO: Did you have a favorite sport?
LB: Basketball was ALWAYS my favorite. But soccer probably came easier to me. I could be good without focusing on it too much — meaning I never played on a travel soccer team like I did tons of different AAU teams with hoops.
MO: What were the upsides of each sport?
LB: Hoops — traveling/playing at some of the biggest and greatest arenas across the country. Hoops — the travel. Trips to NYC. Puerto Rico. DC for the NCAAs.
MO: What were your favorite memories sports wise at NU?
LB: Basketball — I hit some important FT’s in OT to help beat DePaul. I actually just saw Doug Bruno the other day (calling a DePaul game) and he didn’t believe that happened. Didn’t remember it. But it’s very vivid in my mind. I said, “Hey Doug, you might deny it happened, but I’m telling you, it happened. I also scored a career-high 14 points as the starting point guard in a tourney in Puerto Rico against Kansas State. (Amber got hurt and I was put into the starting position.)
Soccer – there’s actually one vivid athletic memory. In practice the day before we were supposed to play Ohio State, Marcia pulled me aside and told me she was probably going to put me in at some point in the first half. I was a walk-on, so I was never guaranteed playing time, but I always tried to provide some hustle at practice. If anything, to make the scouts better for the starters.
She told me at practice, “If we use you, go at them with your heart and your hustle.” Midway thru the first half, we were having trouble scoring. It was still 0-0. Marcia held true to her word and called my name, “Lisa B!” Is what the soccer team called me. “You’re in!” After running around for a few minutes, a corner kick came up. I lined up on the far side of the box, and the ball came sailing in, flew past about five players, took one bounce and made a beeline for my head. I could either head it or it would head me.
I had never scored a header until that moment. It was the first goal of my college career. And the first goal I had scored in four years (since high school).
And as the ball trickled into the goal, I felt like I was walking on air. We went on to win 7-0. A parent captured a photo of me scoring that goal.
Sometimes all a person needs, and even the most confident person, is someone telling them “I believe in you.”
MO: Academically, when did you know you wanted to go into broadcast? Were there people at NU who inspired you in the film school or Medill? Who were your role models?
LB: I remember watching my Dad write high school basketball sports stories on his typewriter on Friday nights after games. It’s like the first vivid memory I have of really registering what a reporter does. Or what journalism is. I was probably like 3 or 4 at the time, amazingly enough.
I am a sports junkie. So to be happy in my profession and make my vocation a vacation, I needed to be involved in sports. If I wasn’t in broadcasting, I probably would be in coaching. But I decided my sophomore year at Northwestern, I wanted to go into journalism.
The interest level was there, and it was kind of a no-brainer with Medill at your doorstep. I had to apply twice to get into Medill. My first application wasn’t strong enough the initial time around – I guess. It wasn’t until late into my junior year, that I decided print journalism wasn’t as exciting as telling a story on TV. I wanted to be a broadcaster.
MO: Talk about your first early jobs in the industry.
LB: After my first job in Alpena, MI, I started to buy into the philosophy: “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish
I remember driving up to my first interview in 2000, and the news director in Alpena said to me, “Yup! We type our scripts still on these bad boys” as he was tapping on a typewriter. Again, it was the year 2000. But it was Alpena. I hated the interview and disliked the market. It was my ONLY job offer. So I took it for $14,000 a year.
I worked probably 70 hours a week, running around covering anything local from high school sports state championships to the Brown Trout Festival (the whole town shutdown during that week) to junior college basketball. And you “one-person” banded. Meaning you went out with the camera on your shoulder, mic in hand, and shot every single story, every single highlight, every single angle. Then you went back to the station. And you edit your video. And you produce your show. And then you change from shorts to a suit. And you throw on make-up … and boom. You’re a sports anchor.
I wanted to throw-up the first time I was anchoring my first sportscast. I was so nervous. I am so glad I didn’t quit that morning.
After a year-and-a-half, I moved to Lansing and stayed for 10 years. Never expected that. But it was – and still is – a GREAT sports market. I have always been a college person. So this market was great. We covered about 50-60 high schools. Michigan State on a regular basis. Sometimes Michigan (just 50 minutes away). And the Detroit sports teams when necessary.
I did a lot of the same stuff I did in Alpena. I worked a lot of hours, reported 3 times a week and anchored the weekends. I put in about 50-70 hours a week, depending on the week. It just was more high-profile stuff to cover.
MO: When did you feel you made a big leap to next level?
LB: I don’t feel like I am at the “next level” yet. Maybe that’s just me.
But I decided to go full-time freelance in 2011. From fall of 2007 to the spring of 2011, I had been balancing my full-time job in Lansing with freelancing with The Big Ten Network (BTN). I now get calls from several networks including ESPN. During January of 2015, I worked 23 events in 25 days – all in different cities.
MO: What’s your week like, day like, job duties?
LB: No week is the same. And that’s what I love about it. It’s about seasonal management. Fall is more weekend heavy; soccer play-by-play; some volleyball Wed, Thurs, and Sundays. Usually football sideline reporting that takes up Fridays and Saturdays with prep and conference calls during the week. There’s lots of pressure and eyeballs on football.
Winter is a crazy basketball turnaround. Basketball games are literally played on any day of the week. So the turnaround is high and tough. Spring is softball play-by-play. Maybe some baseball reporting.
I will sprinkle in some studio hosting during all of these seasons.
It’s all about prioritizing. You can always prep more. Like a coach can always watch one more play, one more game. The same could be said for a broadcaster. You can ALWAYS take one more minute to feel prepared for that unpredictable minute.
MO: Who has been your best supervisor or boss?
I had a boss in Lansing, Fred Heumann. Fred allowed me to work both at WLNS and BTN. “I see it as possibly growing into a greater opportunity for you,” he told me. I would work seven days a week, five days with WLNS. Take vacation and comp days to work BTN. But it was worth it. Not many bosses would allow that. I wouldn’t have been able to grow in the profession, if he didn’t allow me to grow.
He also taught me the unique ways of interviewing, and that there are ways to make the smallest stories memorable. So find that way.
I appreciate the producers, coordinating producers and announcers – some big ones – who are the most honest. Tell me you don’t like my outfit or hair or voice or the way I handled that situation. If you’re on TV, all of the above plays into my job. Make me better. I am all about getting better. I actually wanna hear when, why and how I stink. There are only a few who will give honest critiques. I value them immensely.
MO: What’s your favorite part of the job?
LB: It doesn’t feel like a job. And that’s why I know I am doing the right thing.
I love the fact I can sit and watch a game, any game, really, and feel like I am getting better at my job. I listen to the broadcasters and how they handle situations, calls, plays, moments. I ask questions and I get better by watching a game. Plus, I get the best seats in the house.
MO: What’s the worst part of the job?
LB: The travel by far. There are many times I am driving Midwest roads at 2 am, listening to really bad talk radio. But once i get to the arena, it’s worth it. And again, I know I am doing the right job.
MO: How do you think NU helped prepare you (maybe more than others)?
LB: Northwestern has a unique setup in putting students in the real world journalistic situations. So you want to be a reporter? Well then, how about we put you with an internship at a newspaper, and you actually get your stories published. Or you want be a broadcaster? No problem. We will set you up at a TV station. And by the time you’re done, your resume tape will include video and stories from a real 6 PM newscast.
MO: Where you want to be in near future or down the road?
LB: I would love to continue my growth as a play-by-play announcer. I never grew up thinking, “Gosh, I would love to be a play-by-play.” But it was an opportunity that fell into my lap. A coordinating producer at BTN had an opening for an MSU women’s game and asked if I could do it. I didn’t think it would be much different than anchoring a weekend sportscast. Boy, was I wrong.
I love it. I love everything about the role. Generating storylines, getting the best out of your analyst, shaping the rhythm of a game.
And I really think there’s a solid avenue down the road for women to make an impact in this area. Everyone associates sideline reporting with females. In fact, viewers almost do a double-take if a man is on the sideline these days. The female analyst on men’s sports has been done. But the female play-by-play on men’s events like football or the NBA or men’s college basketball is still being tinkered with and explored.
That’s why I feel fortunate ESPNU gave me some opportunities to call some men’s college basketball. I don’t know the number of women calling a men’s basketball game on national TV this year. I know Beth Mowins does. So I stopped counting there. Anytime I can associate myself in a group with Beth Mowins, I am more than OK with that.
Thank you, Lisa B. Go Cats!
Check out these great shots of Lisa in action below.
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