Crafting an award-winning career in sportscasting
Drew Deener ’95 knew what he wanted to do from a very young age, but he wasn’t sure how to get there. After all, the path to becoming an award-winning sportscaster is not as well marked as those for some careers. His success has come from forging his own niche in the business and in taking advantage of some serendipitous opportunities.
Today, Deener is a well established radio and television sportscaster in Louisville and the winner of two major awards in the past two years. In 2011 he was named Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. This past July he won a 2012 regional Emmy award in the Sports Analyst/Play by Play category from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Ohio Valley Chapter.
The road traveled from his Transylvania days to his present status in the industry has been an interesting, and sometimes unconventional, one.
Take, for instance, his first real job offer just after graduating from Transylvania with a self-designed major in sports science and management. It was a television spot in Hazard, Ky., which resulted partly because of a spoof video he produced while working on the Don Lane Show as a Transylvania student.
Deener’s Kappa Alpha Order brother Chris Martin ’95 had reached the 100-career-point mark as a varsity basketball player for head coach Lane. Though Martin was a part-time starter his senior year, his career point total was, of course, far short of the traditional 1,000-point club benchmark.
“Chris was very popular and had his own cheering section among our fans,” recalled Deener. “I did a spoof feature on his joining the 100-point club and cut in sound bites featuring (then-University of Kentucky head coach) Rick Pitino and UK players talking about Rodrick Rhodes joining the 1,000-point club and made it seem like they were talking about Chris.”
Chris’s father, Wayne Martin, was general manager of WKYT-TV in Lexington at the time. He saw the spoof, thought it was clever, and offered Deener a position on the sports staff with WKYT’s sister CBS affiliate in Hazard, WYMT-TV. Martin had also seen some of Deener’s work on the Don Lane Show, which included on-air feature segments Deener had produced.
Before that, Deener had taken the initiative to begin play-by-play announcing of Pioneer basketball games on the campus radio station, WTLX.
“I asked (associate vice president for communications and public relations) Sarah Emmons if I could do play-by-play,” Deener said. “She was great. She even gave me a budget to get some headsets from Radio Shack. I was my own producer. I would go to the game in McAlister Auditorium, call back to the station, run across Broadway, flip the station switch on and hit record on the tape player, and then go back and call the game.”
Though some may have felt it was a waste of time to call games on a campus radio station with a very small listening audience, it was an example of Deener’s determination to take advantage of an opportunity to learn his craft.
After a year in Hazard, Deener was offered a position with WKYT-TV in Lexington, where he worked for the better part of the next 11 years before heading to Louisville. Deener was the station’s 6 and 11 p.m. sports anchor and reporter while also serving as a sideline reporter on the UK Football TV Network, doing play-by-play for the UK baseball team, and doing color analysis for the Kentucky Thoroughblades, a former American Hockey League team in Lexington.
That variety of jobs illustrates another of Deener’s principles about finding your way in a sometimes confusing industry: be open to many possibilities, including freelance work.
“What you find out about this business is that you’re better off, if you can make it work, to freelance with a number of people rather than work for one organization full time. That allows you to be more flexible and make more money.”
Deener has continued that approach since coming to Louisville in 2007, even though he does have an anchor in his position with 790AM/WKRD radio, a part of the eight-station Clear Channel Louisville company. There, he hosts The Early Birds show from 7-10 a.m. and Cardinal Insider from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on weekdays, both of which feature University of Louisville athletics, and also sells advertising time for the programs. In addition, he is the play-by-play announcer for the WHAS11 Cardinal Sports Network, which televises U of L football and basketball games.
Deener looks back on his Transylvania years and is grateful for the opportunities the university afforded him as a proving ground for his career.
“Things like the campus radio station and working on the Don Lane Show were valuable experiences for me,” he said. “I took Public Speaking from (writing, rhetoric, and communication instructor) Gary Deaton, and he was great. Coach (Jack) Ebel ’77 (Deener was a varsity tennis player) was very encouraging to me, as was Sarah Emmons. They all said, ‘You’ve got a passion for this—keep doing it.’”
Deener lives in Louisville with his wife, Jan, and their 4-year-old son, Max.
–WILLIAM A. BOWDEN