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Trent McNelly

By KTVA CBS 11 News 4:16 PM August 20, 2013

Director of Broadcast Engineering and Operations

I’m a geek and a nerd and have been since I was three years old. One of my earliest memories is when I was three and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to chew on the end of an extension cord that was plugged into the wall. That was just the first of thousands of “shocks” that have helped shape my life!

I was born in Iowa and lived in Iowa and Northern Minnesota until I was 16 when my parents moved us to Fairbanks, Alaska. As a kid I was always doing something with science and wires. When I was 12 I started the local chapter of the Mad Scientists Club. There were seven of us in the club and I still have the minutes from some of our meetings. One of our projects was to build a club house (tree house), and in the middle of the night I buried a cord to a neighbor’s garage so we could have electricity and I buried another pair of wires to my house about 1,000 feet away so I could hook up a phone extension. So we had a tree house with electricity and a working phone.

In high school I was still a geek, but was also learning and building leadership skills. I was an officer in both student government and the school band. I was captain of the football team, but also hung out with the theatre kids because they had lights, sound effects and cables to mess with.

I started working at a paying job when I was 15, and by the time I was 16 I was working full time. I spent two years when I was 17 and 18 working for an electrical contractor doing commercial and residential electrical work. This was a full time, 40 hour a week job. I worked from 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and often put in some time on the weekends. This was in 1979 through late 1981 and I was making $10 per hour while still living at home. I had a really cool home and car stereo!

The summer after I graduated high school I was in charge of a four-person crew replacing all the outdoor light fixtures at all the Chevron stations in Fairbanks. I really had to hone my leadership skills on that job, because at first, the 35-year-old guys I was supervising didn’t want to take direction from “This Kid.”

That fall the contractor I was working for ran out of work and I was laid off for the only time in my life. I spent three weeks unemployed and then landed a job at a local radio station. In the same building as the radio station there was a small TV production company. Within four months of going to work at the radio station, I was also going on shoots with the TV production company and I was hooked! Here was a job where I could constantly mess with technology, exercise some creativity and work on something different almost every week. That was in the fall of 1981 and I have been working in broadcasting ever since.

Along in that same time period I had some other fun things going on in my life. On a student council trip in the fall of my senior year of high school I was smitten with a girl who was on the trip. Leslie and I started dating a week after that trip. Two years later I asked her to marry me for the first time and she said no, we were too young. I can be stubborn and persistent and a year later when I asked her for the third time, she finally agreed! We were married in 1984 and have been together ever since. In 1991 our first and only child was born. Samantha is now a senior in college and is the best thing I ever helped to “build.”

The year before we were married, I bought a piece of land and started building a house. I was building the house “out of pocket” and did not have a loan. I lived in the house while I was building it, so I have some cool stories about the first winter when the only heat I had was from a wood stove and the only plumbing was an outhouse. By the time we were married I did have a flush toilet, but we continued to heat with wood for another year before we bought a furnace.

In 1988 Leslie and I moved to Anchorage from Fairbanks and I went to work at a post-production facility. We sold our house in Fairbanks and I used the money to start my own company specializing in live remote TV production. I ran this company while working at the post house for a couple of years, and in 1991 I left the post house to run my company, Alaska Mobile Productions, full time. We did mostly college hockey and basketball coverage but also did some high school sports work. I also started doing work for KIMO and KTUU when they needed help with live remotes. In 1991 I started doing live start and finish coverage of the Iditarod and also that year I was hired by ESPN to do the live coverage of the Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament that was carried live nationwide. I continued to work on the live Shootout coverage for 18 years and have worked on live coverage of the Iditarod for 20 years.

I am a work-a-holic and I’m not ashamed to admit it. While I was self-employed my work hours got steadily longer and longer, and in late 1995 Leslie told me I had to choose. It was her or the company. The company was for sale the next week and I was lucky to sell it to KTUU in February 1996. As a part of the sales agreement, I went to work at KTUU as the operations manager and the manager of the newest KTUU department, Alaska Mobile Productions! So I sold the company, but got to keep doing the work I loved. I just didn’t have to do all the sales, accounting and HR work all by myself.

I worked at KTUU for almost 14 years, and in that time we built a new truck for live remote production, we built Alaska’s first TV uplink truck and also purchased the first “flyaway” uplink in the state. In 2004 I was honored to be named “Alaska Broadcaster of the Year” by the Alaska Broadcasters Association and I’m thrilled to add this to the couple dozen other awards I’ve gotten from the ABA for live production and editing.

It was also during this time at KTUU when I really got involved with TV news. I love the excitement and ever-changing priorities the news environment provides. News is also a great fit for live remote production. I enjoy many parts of the television business, but I will always put live remote production at the top of my favorites list. In my time at KTUU I did more than 2,600 uplinks, worked on more than 500 multi-camera remote productions and did live work in 22 states and in Canada.

In late 2009 I left KTUU and moved to Burbank, Calif., and went to work for NBC Network News. For three years I was the senior manager of field operations for the West Coast. This was a great job and I met lots of wonderful people and started learning about this cool thing called HDTV. The time I spent at NBC taught me that there are good people wherever you go and there is a reason that 10 million people live in Southern California. The weather is GREAT in L.A., with more than 300 days of sun a year, but then there is the traffic that comes with 10 million people …

The only drawback to the job with NBC is that they are a union company and I was a manager, so I could not actually operate any of the equipment. As a lifelong geek, tinkerer and hands-on field guy, this was a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. I really missed working with my hands both inside the studio and in the field.

Luckily for me, in November 2012 I got a call from my friend and the former news director of KTUU, John Tracy. John told me about this amazing new business in Alaska — Denali Media Holdings. A week after John and I talked on the phone, I met with Bill Behnke from GCI and a week after that, I accepted my current job as director of engineering and operations for Denali Media. I happily moved back to Anchorage from L.A. in January 2013 and since then I’ve been living the dream of building and working in the best TV facility in Alaska!

Denali Media and KTVA are going to change the face of Television in Alaska. I can’t begin to explain what a thrill it is to be able to build a brand new, state of the art, television company from the ground up! Our parent company, GCI, has been wonderfully supportive and has encouraged us to “do this the right way.” While I can’t say we have spared no expense, we have been able to purchase some of the best tools in our industry. In addition to great facilities, Denali Media is building a staff that I am proud to be a part of. We are not going to be a company that overloads our employees and asks reporters to shoot, shooters to report and engineers to juggle too many responsibilities. Our priority is quality programming and storytelling and we have the personnel and technical resources to do this job the way it should be done. The staff here at Denali Media is going to set a new standard for quality in Alaska and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this effort!

I should tell you that TV and my family are not the only things I love. I’ve been a scuba diver since 1976 when I learned to dive in Lake Superior in Minnesota. I have kept diving whenever I can and both my wife Leslie and my daughter Samantha are divers as well. I hold the certification of PADI Divemaster and it is my goal to someday spend several months a year working part time as a dive guide in Kona Hawaii (preferably in January, February and March!) Leslie is a born and raised Alaskan and after 35 years I will never get Alaska out of my system. I hope to keep working on live TV in Alaska until I can’t work anymore and I hope to keep diving in Hawaii until I can’t swim anymore!

 

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