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Conversation with Kathryn Tappen

September 17, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Conversation with Kathryn Tappen

by Adam Shandler

Let’s talk dream jobs.

Zamboni driver has to be one of them. So does professional beer taster, massage tester, and video game player. (I guess “Hoopville writer” narrowly missed the list – this year.) And I bet if you polled a hundred die-hard sportsfans, they’d probably have sportscaster somewhere in their Top 5.

For two days in July, College Sports Television, or CSTV, held an open audition at its Manhattan headquarters, giving roughly 100 people from 23 states the opportunity to become a sportscaster.

Photo courtesy Rutgers University
Kathryn Tappen

A veritable who’s-who of the current sportscasting landscape had the grueling task of selecting just one soul for the position. That soul is 22-year old and recent college grad Kathryn Tappen.

Tappen, a Morristown, NJ, native, was an Academic All-America and track star at Rutgers, where she owns the school record in the 3000-meter steeple chase. In this edition of Conversations with Adam, the recently graduated Tappen speaks about the audition experience at CSTV and what she expects from the job.

Adam Shandler: What made you decide to try out?

Kathryn Tappen: I had heard about the auditions through Tim Pernetti, who was a former Rutgers athlete and a vice president of programming at ABC. He’s now the VP of Programming at CSTV. He told me about this great new college sports network they were starting so I asked him if I could send him a tape. He said, “Why don’t you just come down to these open auditions we’re having on July 23?”

I decided to do it and figured, worst comes to worst, if I don’t get picked at least I’d get a good tape out of it and some good on-air experience. I had been sending tapes all across the country looking for sportscasting jobs.

AS: What kind of broadcasting experience did you have prior to the audition?

KT: Very little, actually. I did do some work with the Rutgers radio station my sophomore and junior years and worked with the Rutgers TV Network a little bit. I was able to do a lot for Knightime Productions (as in Scarlet Knights), which was a student organized operation. We gave a lot of stuff to RU-TV that got aired. I did a feature on one of my teammates that I’d produced and edited myself. I’d been using that as my resume tape.

When you’re a track and field athlete your season is all year long. I didn’t have time to commit 100% to TV. My life was track and field at school. Some of the people that auditioned [at CSTV] had four or five years of broadcasting experience, but I guess they liked me because I was a fresh face and I was someone the producers could mold.

AS: You mentioned you were a track athlete at Rutgers. Other than track and field, did you have a pretty extensive knowledge of college sports before heading into the audition?

KT: I have a pretty broad sense of college sports. Being an athlete in college, I was constantly surrounded by athletes. I lived with four women’s lacrosse players, and my boyfriend was on the soccer team. I was always going to games and rooting people on. They called me “superfan”.

So college sports was always around me and I had a very good sense of what was going on. I keep up with the polls, read all the stories. [Rutgers] is in the Big East which – you know – is one of the best conferences out there. There are a bunch of great teams in that conference in a lot of sports.

AS: Speaking of Rutgers and the Big East, how do you think your Scarlet Knights will do on the court this year? I’m not even going to bother asking about football…

KT: In my opinion, they’re going to be a lot better than they were last year. They’ve got a lot of new guys coming in, a whole new recruiting class. To me, Gary Waters has done an exceptional job building the program and his mindset is better than anything Kevin Bannon could have done.

They’ll definitely be better. I’d like to see them in the Top 5 of the Big East. We got so close to beating Syracuse this past year [in the Big East Tournament] and they’re without Carmelo Anthony this year, so…we’ll see.

AS: How did you prepare for the audition? Did you have to get yourself mentally psyched up and study your college sports almanacs?

KT:The week before the audition was actually down time for me. I didn’t really study or psyche myself up too much. I figured I would do well based on what I knew before the tryout. I kind of went into it like it was a track and field race. Whatever you know is what you know and you can’t get yourself all worked up.

I was actually more nervous two months before the auditions. But I talked to a lot of people – friends and family – who calmed me down. To prepare for being on TV I just practiced in front of a mirror and interviewed my family. When I got on line at the auditions everyone was practicing their TV voices and commentary, but I didn’t want to do that.

AS: Was there any trash talking or attempted sabotage while you were waiting on line with the other contestants?

KT: Not with the people I was standing on line with. Everybody was trying to calm each other down. I didn’t sense a lot of hostility or hear any trash talk. After the first day, everybody was very congratulatory to the people who went on to the next round.

But the second day it was down to ten finalists – seven guys and three girls. All the guys would talk about was their pieces and the auditions and who did this and who did that. I sat with the girls and we talked about other things just to get our minds off of [the auditions].

One guy did come up to me and say, “You know you won’t get it ’cause you’re a girl.” I was really taken aback by that. I don’t know if he was trying to throw me off or what. I thought he was a nice guy before that, but I guess the guys were more competitive.

AS: What was the audition like? What did you have to do?

KT: The first day was really quick. I sat in a studio chair next to a TV set and did two 15-second TelePrompTer readings and one college sports play-by-play segment. You had a choice of sports, but I picked college basketball because that’s where my heart is.

The second day was sportscasting boot camp. You had to write your own TelePrompTer reading based on two fictitious sports headlines, which you would read later in the day in front of the judges (Bonnie Bernstein and Gus Johnson of CBS, Brian Baldinger of FOX and WFAN-New York’s Sid Rosenberg). The writing was a little hectic because they were shooting a documentary about the auditions and I’d have a camera over my shoulder looking right at my computer screen.

The fictitious headline I got was “Michael Jordan Comes Back to School to Coach.” Now I had known forever that Jordan went to Chapel Hill, but I was totally frozen and couldn’t think of anything to write. But I took a few minutes and calmed down and just started writing. After thirty minutes they stopped the stopwatch.

Then all ten of us did three sections of sportscasting in front of the judges. We couldn’t see what the other contestants were doing; they had us in a separate room. After that they narrowed us down from ten to six.

The next part was the job interview section. The producers would sit you down and grill you about your biography. They had your resume in their hands and they’d ask things like, “How long have you followed college sports?” and “You’re a former college athlete. How do you think that will help you in this job?” After that, they narrowed us down from six to two.

The final round was a four-minute long interview with an athlete. I just so happened that it was Rebecca Lobo, which was…as a female basketball player in high school, this was awesome. I had followed her career, so I knew a lot about her.

After that round they declared me the winner. It was a thirteen-hour day. I told all my friends and family that I’d be out of there by six and I didn’t get home till midnight. The voicemail on my cellphone was completely full with everyone asking if I got [the job].

AS: If you weren’t a CSTV sportscaster, what would you be?

KT: Sportscasting was something I wanted to do for so long – ever since elementary school. If this didn’t work out, I’d still give [my sportscasting goals] a lot more time. Maybe a year. But if I didn’t have this job, I’d still want to do something in TV. I had a great internship last summer in PR at ABC Sports. Even when you’re working in TV and you’re not on-air, the whole sports world is at your fingertips.

AS: What are you expectations of this job?

KT: Well, the network is identifying possible assignments for me. I might be doing some college football, soccer, or volleyball and I know they definitely want me to do some track and field. I’ll do any sport. There’s a lot of opportunity at CSTV with studio shows, sideline reporting, and developing my own stories and producing my own segments. I see this as a stepping stone for my career; it’s the best experience I could get. I feel very fortunate to start off in the New York market with this network that I think is going to be awesome. I really think it’s going to do great things.

AS: Okay, Kathryn, let’s really get down to it. Who wins a race between you, Gus Johnson, who is a former football guy now CBS announcer; former NFL wideout and CSTV analyst Derrick Mays and former Maryland gymnast now CBS sportscaster Bonnie Bernstein?

KT: Me, of course! Running is my sport. But I guess it depends on the length of the race. Gus is a former football guy so he might beat me in the forty.

For more on Kathryn Tappen and the College Sports Television Network visit the CSTV website at www.cstv.com.


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