Hawks Go Live!

Students provide Homecoming play-by-plays and get on-the-fly, real-world, real-time career training

Homecoming broadcast co-hosts (from left) Jonathan Edmond, Jesse Liptzin and Jon Kociban

The scripts were written. The guests were booked. The Red Hawk Sports Network had spent weeks preparing for its first-ever live show at the Montclair State football team’s October 9 Homecoming game, but just minutes before the hosts were ready to greet the viewers, disaster struck.

The batteries on both cameras? Dead.

“It was pretty nuts,” recalls co-host Jon Kociban, a senior from Sayreville. “That’s about as real as it gets.”

“But we didn’t put our heads down or give up,” adds the show’s producer, Alex Grabiec, a senior from Garfield. “We worked together to figure something out.”

The students found another camera and, on the fly, put together a production that could have passed for a professional pregame show. This, as anyone who has ever worked in broadcasting will tell you, is how it goes with live television. The instances when everything goes off smoothly are rare. The ability to adapt and improvise are just as important as any other skill.

That’s what makes the Red Hawk Sports Network, a joint venture between the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the School of Communication and Media, such a valuable experience for any Montclair student interested in a broadcasting career. It is one thing to learn about TV in a classroom. It is another thing entirely to do it in the real world.

The Red Hawk Sports Network is doing it for real. More than a dozen students in a variety of roles, from the on-air co-hosts to the camera operators to the production assistants, participated in the day-long Homecoming broadcast.

“It’s a terrific experience to pull off a live show using nimble equipment and getting students real-life experience,” says Kelly Whiteside, an associate professor of Sports Media and Journalism. “If they were out in the field, they’d be doing everything we did – and that’s one of the wonderful things with our relationship with the Athletics department. They allow us to act like a real network. They treat the students like professionals.”

The live show was an ambitious undertaking. Students borrowed risers from the Theatre department to set up a stage near the football field, ran a 200-foot intranet cable from the field hockey coaches’ office across an outdoor basketball court to guarantee a strong signal and put together a series of prerecorded segments to fill gaps in the broadcast.

Red Hawk Sports Network personnel in action at Homecoming

Anyone who watched on montclairathletics.com or the Athletics department’s YouTube channel saw a wide variety of programming. Sure, there were the traditional pregame, postgame and halftime shows, but also interviews with University President Jonathan Koppell, several of the University’s athletic teams’ coaches and even mascot Rocky the Red Hawk.

“You wouldn’t think it, but Rocky has a way with words,” Kociban cracks. “There’s a lot of personality inside that feathery suit.”

Kociban is a lifelong sports fan who has always known what he wants to do with his life. “I want to be calling Mets games someday,” he says. So when the Red Hawk Sports Network launched in the fall of 2019, he was among the first students to sign up.

That wasn’t an ideal time to begin a sports network. The pandemic forced Montclair State and hundreds of universities around the country to table intercollegiate sports for an entire school year. Somehow, the students produced a weekly sports show without sports in the interim before finally getting their chance to call the action on campus this season.

The network covers all 18 Montclair teams, giving parents who can’t attend in person a way to follow their sons and daughters on the field. But Kociban had several professors and classmates who aren’t connected with the Athletic department tell him that they watched part of the live show, a sign that the students’ efforts are reaching a broader audience.

“The best part is hearing from people that they appreciated the work we put into this,” Grabiec says. “That’s very rewarding.”

Grabiec is targeting a behind-the-scenes job at a sports network when he graduates from Montclair in the spring. Given that there are so many options – all the major professional leagues and most of the Division I college conferences have their own networks – the experience could be a springboard to a successful career.

First, though, he and his colleagues have big plans for the rest of the school year. The Red Hawk Sports Network plans to do another live show at a soccer or basketball game, and this time, those camera batteries will be fully charged and ready for action.