Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mark Suppelsa

Mark Suppelsa is the morning news anchor for the Eric & Kathy show at WTMX, but he's also the co-anchor at WGN-TV News at 5:30 and 9. I interviewed Mark for Shore Magazine over the summer, and an edited version of that interview appeared in the magazine. The unedited interview is below.

Rick: You've been a reporter now for two decades. In those years, what do you consider to be the biggest story you've covered?

Mark: The biggest story I covered would certainly have to be the week of 9/11. And oddly enough, I wasn’t in New York , Washington or PA. I wasn’t even out in the field. Yet the circumstances played out so I essentially helped anchor all of the coverage for the week for NBC5. The main anchors Warner Saunders and Allison Rosati both happened to be out of the country on vacation and couldn’t, for obvious reasons, get flights back. So for 4 straight days beginning with the morning of 9/11, I had a news earpiece attached for about 13 hours a day as our coverage weaved between network and our local coverage. I felt at the time that I couldn’t detach for one minute because I might miss something. It is still an understatement to say, it was a most extraordinary time for us in that newsroom.

Rick: How about the other end of the spectrum? What was the most embarrassing on-air blooper of your career?

Mark: My most embarrassing moment dates back to my first full year employed on air in television. 1984 in Green Bay , Wisconsin at WFRV-TV. It was the day after Thanksgiving and I was the new kid anchor, writing and producing the 5 minute local news cut-in on the half hour during Good Morning America. Unaware of the time, the director came running into my edit suite to tell me we were on the air in less than two minutes. I tossed him the tape I’d been editing and grabbed my suit coat. I ran the hundred yard dash from the newsroom to the news studio and sat down as the floor director counted down from 10. That’s 10 seconds before I was on the air.

Suddenly, I realized I’d forgotten something important. My news scripts! So I did what any panicked, green, cub anchor would do: I ducked underneath the news desk and begged them to play a commercial. What you saw on the tv screen was an empty, swiveling, anchor chair.

But wait! It got worse. During that 60 second commercial break, I ran back to the newsroom to get the scripts and ran back to the studio not realizing a person can’t anchor the news very well while out of breath and practically hyperventilating. So for the next several minutes on air, I could barely get the words out, trying to explain why I was out of breath. When it was over, I thought, perhaps because it’s the day after Thanksgiving most people might be sleeping in and hopefully missed my most embarrassing moments.

Wrong. My general manager was on the phone within minutes.

Rick: When you do this for a long time, you meet an amazing array of people from all walks of life. Of all the people you've met covering the news, who has impressed you the most?

Mark: It is difficult to name –the- most impressive person that I’ve covered. While covering President Clinton’s 1996 re-election bid, I watched him as he took a whistle-stop train from town to town on his way to the Democratic Convention in Chicago . It was then that I witnessed his legendary ability to speak sans notes for hours on end to different crowds with different messages without every hearing a slip up or stumble.

But I found Minneapolis businessman and best selling author Harvey Mackay to be an extraordinary person. No one had more energy and ideas, and no one continued to learn new tools for life more than this man. He was learning Japanese in his 60’s back in the late 1980’s because he thought that Japan would be the next frontier for his business interests. He was right.

Rick: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the job?

Mark: The favorite part of the job is uncovering new information for a story you’re working. The chase is the challenge. The least favorite is the concept developed by consultants of selecting news story topics that supposedly attract a particular audience demographic. I’ve always felt, a good story, told well, will attract anyone.

Rick: Has technology changed your job since you started in this business?

Mark: Technology has been both a curse and boon to our business. Technology is killing the newspaper business as we’ve known it. Now, it’s making television more challenging as we try to harness an audience that is increasingly getting more and more news off the web. However, I’m always using Facebook and now Twitter to update that audience with news items and recruit them to our newscasts. So embracing technology instead of fearing it can produce results.

Rick: I know this happens all the time and it seems like TV people all have good answers to this question--What is the most unusual place you've been recognized?

Mark: Probably the most unusual place I was recognized was while canoeing on a lake in Montana . And I was recognized by a Minnesota viewer who remembered my days at KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities! It had been years since I’d been there having moved in 1993 to my hometown of Chicago. Those Minnesota viewers never forget.

Rick: Tell us something about you that your listeners/viewers would be surprised to learn.

Mark: That I drove a Chevy Cavalier for nearly 10 years until last year. Ok, it –was- a convertible. But I did get a fair amount of razzing from my tv colleagues who’d cruise by in their luxury vehicles.

Rick: If you weren't in television or radio, what would you be doing?

Mark: I half seriously say I’d be a forest ranger in the mountains of Montana. I just don’t think it’d pay the upcoming college bills for my kids.