Captains of Communication

By Mikel Pak

How Loyola propelled four 1976 mass communication graduates to success.

In the mid-1970s, the first portable TV cameras—minicams—were invented. With the new invention, television was catapulted into its next glory phase. For four students back then, the Loyola University New Orleans Department of Communications—the predecessor to the School of Mass Communication—propelled them into a lifetime of successes on and off the TV set. At Loyola, they were given opportunities to combine theory and practicality with the latest technologies at the time.

“We were at Loyola when truly portable TV cameras were invented, at a time when television was in its golden age. There was no Internet and no cell phones, but there was television and we were making it,” says Vinnie Grosso ’76, founder of VinnieVision, a consulting and development firm for small companies merging into the television space.

The opportunities were not only grand, but the foundation of a liberal arts education helped prepare them to make a difference in the world. “Loyola taught you how to figure out what you want to do when it comes across your path,” says Joseph E. Mahoney ’76, financial services veteran and president of Lifetime Strategies Group.

“The professors we had were not only extraordinary, but they were very engaged in our education,” says Russell Myerson ’76, executive vice president of the CW Television Network, a joint venture of the CBS Corporation and Warner Bros. “These people encouraged you to think in a traditional way, but also think in an abstract way. We were given enormous latitude in creating projects and value for the university.”

“The skills that I picked up at Loyola—that I was encouraged to pursue at Loyola—have actually played a key role in the direction that my career has gone,” says Mike Skehan ’76, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Skehan Communications, L.L.C.

Here are their stories of success.

Mixing Innovation with TV

The Monday after graduation from Loyola, Vinnie Grosso ’76 went to work. He was running KLFY Channel 10 in Lafayette, La., as the daytime director, meaning he “signed on” the station, ran master control, and directed three live shows including the news—all for minimum wage.

After KLFY, Grosso snagged an opportunity with a Sony distributor, Louisiana Sound, to run a video production company from 1978 to 1979. He did hundreds of commercials and loved every minute, but AT&T recruited him away in the 1980s for its internal industrial television unit with a television budget bigger than CBS at the time. It served more than one million employees and had 200 studios.

At AT&T, he worked his way up until he was running the show. He left the company as president of AT&T Interactive Television—a success he credits to his educational foundation at Loyola.

“That was because of the combination of strategic thinking and strategic doing we learned at Loyola,” Grosso says.

The successes didn’t stop there. Grosso went on to become vice president and general manager at NBC, at 30 Rock, putting NBC affiliates on the Internet in the late 1990s and 2000s. After that, he followed expanding technologies to become CEO of Intel-backed company Into Networks that streamed software and video on the Internet.

His winning formula? He was mixing TV with the most innovative thing at the time—a passion born from his days in the basement of the Danna Student Center in Loyola’s old TV studio. In fact, he’s got some advice to that effect for current Loyola students: “Don’t be afraid to mix. Mix television and computers. Think about what you’re trying to change. Be a change agent. Change the world by going with your passion,” he says. “Keep experimenting.”

Grosso now helps other companies experiment in the realm of interactive television. He founded his own consulting company, VinnieVision, to help emerging media and entertainment companies launch their video and interactive services.

Finding the Path to Entrepreneurship

At the Wolf Pub in the 1970s—the pizza and beer hangout at Loyola—Joseph E. Mahoney ’76 was perhaps unknowingly honing his spirit of entrepreneurship. As the part-time night manager there during college, he saw an opportunity for a product: Wolf Pub beer mugs and glasses. He bought 20 cases of his self-made products and sold them at a profit.

“My history at Loyola says I was pretty good at running my own thing,” Mahoney says of his earliest entrepreneurial memories.

After a brief stint after college with one of the largest advertising agencies in the country, Leo Burnett Worldwide in Chicago, Ill., he eventually found his way back to his true passion. Mahoney, a Chartered Financial Consultant, went headfirst into the financial services industry—starting in life insurance and spending more than two decades with Northwestern Mutual.

His entrepreneurial spirit prevailed and he established his own financial services company, Lifetime Strategies Group in Dallas, Texas.

“It’s a breath of fresh air—it’s allowed me to build something a little bit different,” he says of starting his own company.

Even though he changed his life’s direction from advertising to financial services, he feels Loyola prepared him to seize his true passions when they crossed his path.

“I was committed to being successful, and in hindsight, it didn’t really matter what that was necessarily,” he says. “And Loyola taught me how to think about that. I wanted to build something of value.”

Part of that is also building valuable relationships, he says. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the ability to maintain long-term relationships.” He offers this advice to current Loyola students: “Make sure you maintain these relationships,” the former Loyola Board of Trustees member says. “Staying in touch with people on a meaningful level is so powerful, especially when so many interactions tend to be so shallow.”

Remembering the Game Shows

Russell Myerson ’76 is at heart a game show man. His fascination dates back to his teenage years when he’d make trips with his family to New York City, N.Y. Instead of countless visits to the Statue of Liberty, he would troll Rockefeller Center and audience hop from game show to game show.

Though his expansive TV career has taken him from the small KPLC-TV in Lake Charles, La., to executive positions at companies such as Media General Broadcast Group, The WB Television Network, and The CW Television Network, it’s his time building the Game Show Network that brings up the most colorful memories.

Besides rubbing elbows with folks like Bob Eubanks of the Newlywed Game, Peter Tomarken of Press Your Luck, and perennial game show contestant Betty White, at the Game Show Network, Myerson helped create a “winner’s tour” segment where the crew and game show host would surprise at-home contestants with deliveries of prizes. They would show up to the door to award everything from big screen TVs and refrigerators to freezers and jewelry.

During one segment, they showed up at 3 p.m. to surprise a woman inside her mobile home located in a rural, agricultural area. The woman just happened to be watching the live program on her own TV and caught the crew walking up to her house.

There was another time when the crew delivered a prize to a contestant who lived on a huge lake. He was so thrilled with the experience, he put the entire crew on a speedboat for a personal tour of the lake.

“They were so overwhelmed and touched. They were great moments,” Myerson says. “Live television, there’s nothing like it. Being live makes a huge difference in the spontaneity of the contestants. When you’re able to add that element to it, it makes for a better show.”

He credits his time at Loyola for giving him a step-up to television success. “We were given enormous latitude in creating projects and value for the university,” Myerson says. “(The professors) so wanted their students to excel. If you had your heart behind it, they weren’t afraid to take chances—they gave you the runway to succeed.”

And that freedom to think big paid off. At the Game Show Network, Myerson oversaw (with fellow alumnus Vinnie Grosso ’76, who was president of AT&T Interactive at the time) the original online launch of television’s most iconic game show, Wheel of Fortune. He introduced game show fans to four decades of rarely seen game show episodes with 50,000 episodes at his disposal. Most of them had been aired only once originally and had never been repeated again on TV.

Capturing Moments in History

From behind the camera, Mike Skehan ’76 has captured the leader of the free world and the leader of the communist world… together. He was there shooting video for Independent Television News, or ITN, of London when President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet Union Premier Mikhail Gorbachev participated in historic summits in Iceland, Geneva, Tokyo, and again in Venice.

His company, Skehan Communications, L.L.C., provided live coverage for NASA TV when the space shuttle Discovery made its final voyage to its resting place at the Smithsonian Institution in Virginia. He was even on the crew as they shot an interview with Mohamed Ali as the sports legend announced one of his several retirements from boxing. He spent three days last summer, six cameras in tow, with 250,000 Girl Scouts on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as they celebrated their 100th anniversary.

As a youngster, he always had a camera in hand. While at Loyola, he gravitated to anything to do with images and technology. Loyola provided him the tools to work as a news and documentary cameraman in the real industry, he says. During his junior year, he interned in the newsroom at WDSU TV. Before graduation day came, he was already working for WWL TV in New Orleans.

While his career started as a cameraman for WWL—where he met is broadcast journalist wife, Andrea Roane—he quickly moved up to the NBC station in Washington, D.C. After two years there, he started his own company with a contract to provide camera crews and technical services to the UK’s Independent Television News, best-known as the BBC’s main competitor. For 12 years, he and his brother were the North American crew of ITN, based in Washington.

Meanwhile, business grew beyond ITN. Skehan Communications also had the distinction of serving the White House as the first civilian contractor for the White House Communications Agency, among many other clients.

In 2005, faced with the very expensive choice of revamping his operation to accommodate High Definition technology, Skehan decided to go in another direction—joining a God TV-owned new company, East Coast Television. Skehan became the divisional head of broadcast and engineering for God TV while still running East Coast Television as general manager.

In 2012, God TV reorganized and downsized its operations, eventually shutting down East Coast Television. Skehan came full circle to once again working for himself. Now with the latest in HDTV production gear, Skehan Communications is back at the top of the Washington, D.C., remote production market.

“The six years that I spent working for someone else, running their company and managing an international division, was a terrific experience,” Skehan says. “At Loyola, as an RA and head resident of Biever Hall, I learned problem-solving skills and how to deal with difficult situations (and people). I really believe that the professional and interpersonal development that I received as a Loyola student is at the core of my success.”

Mikel Pak is the associate director of Public Affairs for Loyola.

View the complete spring 2013 issue of LOYNO.

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