by Phyllis Kerr
Electronic equipment blinks, walls of television monitors fill with images, two voices - one male, one female - count down in unison, "Three, two, one." Thirty-one-year-old Kevin Eschenfelder flashes his disarming smile at the camera and starts his "Fox Sports Southwest Tonight" pregame show as if he had been in front of the camera half of his life. Actually, he has. The 1990 graduate of the UHCL media studies program started his career at the early age of 15 when he helped his father keep statistics for the Houston Astros and the then-Houston Oilers.
In his office at Fox Sports Southwest in Bellaire, Eschenfelder pauses for a final reading of his script for that night's show and looks at the rack of suits stretching across one wall of the room.
"We go on at 6 o'clock," Eschenfelder says as he checks to see what is taking place on the television behind him. "Tonight we are
doing the pregame and halftime shows for the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets. They are playing in New Jersey."
As sportscaster for the southwest region of Fox Sports, Eschenfelder hosts the pregame shows for the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets NBA basketball teams as well as the Dallas Stars NHL hockey team. During baseball season, he anchors shows for the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
"I started my broadcast career at Alvin Community College. Bill Lewis and Cathy Forsythe have a great radio and television program over there. I started doing play-by-play for Alvin High School. I was the voice of the Yellow Jackets for a long time on KACC, the campus radio station."
While a senior in high school, Eschenfelder also began working as a statistician for what was then the Home Sports Entertainment (HSE) network, a position that grew more valuable when HSE merged with the Fox Network.
"I have been with this company in some way, shape or form since 1983," Eschenfelder says. "Gradually, I began doing more and more TV for HSE. Just before I graduated from Alvin Community College, I got the chance to work full time doing play-by-play for Houston Baptist University (HBU). At that time, they were a NCAA [National College Athletic Association] Division I team."
By the time Eschenfelder reached UHCL, he had been honing his skills for approximately eight years. His job with HBU required him to travel during weekdays and weekends. He needed a university that was willing to work with him and his schedule.
"What I appreciated most about UHCL is that my professors understood that my time demands had a direct line to what I wanted to do with my life," Eschenfelder says. "They allowed me the latitude to arrange my academic schedule around my professional schedule."
Jib Fowles, professor of media studies, and Gloria Morris, retired professor of media studies, helped start the program at UHCL in the late 1980s.
"We wanted to shape the media studies program to fit the needs of students going out into the marketplace," Fowles says.
"We worked on the curriculum as we went along," Morris recalls. "We began to see that when our folks finished, they were walking straight into good jobs. That was exciting."
Focus group sessions with media studies program graduates provided faculty with the direct input needed to structure the program to meet the needs of students and the job market.
"We tried hard from the beginning to listen to the business and industrial professionals in the marketplace. We also listened to what the students had to say," Morris says. "In addition, we worked to give students a good humanities background."
Morris credits students such as Eschenfelder as one of the major strengths in the UHCL program. "Kevin came into the program with valuable experience and was so very willing to share what he knew. We have drawn many pros seeking to finish their degrees or complete a master's degree along the way. They add a richness to the classes that greatly benefits their fellow students."
Fowles agrees that practical experience is the largest part of the media studies program. "We have always been vocationally oriented," remarks Fowles. "We are happy with the results. The students can leave us and go right out into the world of work, successful and well-prepared."
Eschenfelder says that the program is 100 percent successful as far as he is concerned. "UHCL is exactly where I needed to be. Now, I have the greatest job. Recently, I ran into a guy at a party that I hadn't seen since high school. He said to me, 'You know, you are the only person I have ever met who is doing exactly what you have always wanted to do.' He is right," Eschenfelder says. "It is a real blessing."
Eschenfelder ranks his family - wife Jeanne and 16-month-old daughter Nicole - as top priority in his life, but his career isn't far behind. "It is great to spend time with my wife and daughter, and then to go to work doing exactly what I want to do. When I am doing a game, and I am in an arena 30 seconds before we go on the air, I swear, I make a point of looking around, and thinking to myself, 'Man, I am really lucky.' This is a neat deal, and I never want to take it for granted."
So, what is in the future for Eschenfelder? Mike Anastassiou, executive producer for Fox Sports Southwest, sees continued professional success for Eschenfelder. "Kevin is the anchor of a very sacred half hour, our pregame show," Anastassiou says. "We are really going to do everything we can to bolster that show into our regional franchised show. Kevin projects the right image for Fox, too. He dresses well and his presentation is good. He fits into that young, hip mold.
"Kevin has established his creditability and feels comfortable in front of the camera. He just needs to keep developing his style and letting his personality come out to the forefront a little more. Kevin is fine tuning his skills. Like all of us, with every repetition he gets a little better."
Eschenfelder plans to continue striving, hoping one day to step up into a permanent NBA play-by-play position; however, until then, he is happy doing what he is doing now.
"I love what I am doing, and I encourage anyone who would like to do the same to do it. When I speak at schools, I tell students that, true, this is a long-shot job - but somebody has to do it. 'Why can't it be you? You live in a big media market. Listen to how others in the business do things. Go to school. Get an internship to work on your skills, and most of all, get that college degree.' I certainly am glad I got mine."
Back in his office, Eschenfelder checks the television screen again to see that halftime will start in five minutes. He stands and picks up his on-air jacket.
Eschenfelder walks out the door, the script for the halftime show in his hand. In the control room, the producer waves him onto the set. Eschenfelder takes his place in front of the camera; relaxed, listening patiently for the count down; happy, standing just where he wants to be; ready, waiting for the red on-air light to flash on again.
The success of the program, which is designed to prepare students for careers in corporate or public communication, is reflected in the graduates who are out working in the field of communications.
"The strength of our program is shown by our graduates," says Susanne Gaddis, visiting assistant professor of media studies. "We have many students out and about, doing a great job."
Recent UHCL media studies alumni include: Leslie Bellfore, correspondent, CNN-Virgin Islands · Stephanie Carre, marketing/public relations, KKBQ Radio · Fred Faour, assistant sports editor, "Houston Chronicle" · Dana Hoyland, publications editor, Texas Children's Hospital · Jackie Hutto, public relations, Moody Gardens · Elaine Larronde, technical publication coordinator/writer, Cameron Division Cooper Cameron Corp. · Edwina Lewis, sports page copy editor, "Houston Chronicle" · Michael Murphy, sports writer, "Houston Chronicle" · Melissa Neely, public relations, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals · Shanna Norfleet, editor, "Houston Chronicle Interactive" David Ramirez, managing editor, "PetroChem Magazine" · Roxane Richter, freelance news and feature writer
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