College of Sports Media trains next generation

By Carolyn Braff

Most workers frustrated by a poorly trained assistant simply ask for another one. As a reporter for Canada’s The Score network, when David Lanys was frustrated with his interns, he did something about it. In November, 2007, Lanys founded The College of Sports Media, Canada’s first private school offering an exclusive sports broadcasting course. After only six weeks of advertising prior to starting classes on Feb. 1, 2008, 16 students (out of a capacity of 40) are now one month into the inaugural semester, and business is humming.

“We’ve been very well received without a lot of advertising dollars spent,” says Lanys. “The people that hear about us remember us, which is a good thing.”

The College’s high-profile team of veteran instructors and advisory board members make this school hard to forget.

Jim Van Horne, Sports Center’s original anchor and perhaps the best-recognized broadcaster in Canadian Sports, is the College’s television coordinator, and with two decades of experience in radio and webcasting, Ray Williams coordinates the radio division. All 12 instructors teach part-time because they are employed full-time doing what they teach, just as the students spend at least half their time doing what they learn.

“Work in the classroom is work in the studio,” Lanys explains. A two-hour class is generally split into a 30-minute lecture, 30 minutes of writing and an hour of studio time, the final segment being the College’s biggest draw.

Both television and radio newsrooms are on par with the industry standard, which is no small feat, considering the school is housed in the basement of a former advertising agency.

“Technology-wise, we had to do everything to it,” Lanys says. “There were eight or nine Cat-5 wires underground, but beyond that, we had to put in and install everything.”

Lanys enlisted the help of renowned engineer John McCloy to source the equipment for the radio studio. McCloy chose a 12-port Ward Beck Systems console, AKG microphones, Burli editing software and Panasonic hand-held field recording devices.

For the television studio, Lanys turned to Videoscope, a Toronto-based company recommended by cameramen friends in the business. Videoscope chose a Panasonic MX70 switcher, Mackie 16-channel audio mixer, Sony monitors, Sony camera and camera field packages, Sennheiser microphones, Sony playback decks, a Clear Com talkback system and an Avid editing system. The college also houses its own in-house server for 99% uptime and every student has access to the Canadian Press sports wire.

For Lanys, a state-of-the-art studio is essential to the mission of the College.

“We chose the Avid editing platforms because those are what the top-notch professional stations use,” says Lanys. “We have professional editors teaching our editing classes. Brendan Lynch works on Avid every single day so he knows all the ins and outs of that system.”

At this point, all content produced at the college is in SD, but Lynch expects to move to HD as costs continue to drop.

For developing the ever-evolving curriculum Lanys turned to his six-member advisory board for guidance. The board includes some of the best-recognized figures in Canadian sports broadcasting, and brings instant name recognition to the College. Phil King, president of Canada’s top sports network, TSN, taught Lanys his first lesson early on: the importance of new media. On King’s suggestion, Lanys reworked the curriculum to include a basic new media course in the first semester.

“In new media this semester, we’re focusing on blogging,” Lanys says. “But we’ve really only scratched the surface.”

Instruction in podcasting is also on the horizon, with the advisory board on hand for guidance.

“Our advisory board helps to legitimize our program,” Lanys explains. “We’ll find out what’s happening trend-wise in the marketplace and be able to stay ahead of the curve, as opposed to reacting to it. These are the people in Canada who are the major decision-makers when it comes to sports broadcasting, so it’s a big help to have those people on board.”

Also helpful is having the flexibility to drop everything and cover breaking news as it happens.

“During the NBA trade deadline we scrapped the day’s classes and we did two half-hour radio shows that involved every single student,” Lanys explains. “We did the same thing for the NHL trade deadline, which is huge in Canada. We did two one-hour shows, which of course involves writing, producing and planning live segments. We’re trying to be a real newsroom environment.”

Students get to work in that environment daily in courses ranging from basic announcing and camera operation to public relations and HDTV. The two-year curriculum is capped with a mandatory four-week internship, the final step necessary in making the jump from college to the real world.

“If you can’t at least get these people’s feet in the door once they graduate, then there’s no point in doing it at all,” Lanys says. “The internship is crucial.”

In this second month of the school’s existence, all broadcasting is done in-house, to avoid complications with Canada’s telecommunications commission. But if the first five weeks are any indication, these students could be making a splash on the nation’s airwaves – and in production rooms – sooner than expected.