This angry looking creature is your very own Tim Saunders, as I appeared on December 31, 2001.  This is a screenshot from my very first story on News 7.  Read my December 31, 2011 blog below for an explanation!

This angry looking creature is your very own Tim Saunders, as I appeared on December 31, 2001. This is a screenshot from my very first story on News 7. Read my December 31, 2011 blog below for an explanation!

February 24, 2012

If you watched the 5:00 news on Thursday, you may have seen me delivering a live report while driving a car.  That was not a trick.  I really was driving and communicating live with Jean Jadhon.  Given all the amazing technology that’s available these days, a live report from a moving automobile might not seem all that special.  But you might think otherwise when you consider what it normally takes for us to do a live broadcast.

There are two primary ways for us at WDBJ7 to transmit live pictures from the field, and both involve the use of large trucks.  Those vehicles are outfitted with large dishes on top, which transmit a live picture back to the television station.  We call these our “live trucks.”  When broadcasting a live picture, these live trucks cannot move.  For one thing it would be incredibly dangerous.  The equipment on top of the truck has to be extended into the air to send out a live picture.  If the truck was moving, the dish might hit a tree, a light pole, or a highway overpass.  If the equipment made contact with a power line, we could be electrocuted.

Transmitting a live picture while moving is a luxury that has not been available to us, until now.  There is new equipment that allows us to transmit a live picture, without the large live truck.  The new equipment uses cell phone technology and fits in a bag that looks a lot like a child’s backpack.  All we have to do is plug our camera into the bag and turn on the equipment.  With the push of one button, we can send a live picture straight to your television from any location that has adequate cell phone service.

My story yesterday was about a speed limit increase on part of Route 29.  During the live portion of my report, I was driving on the 29 bypass near Amherst.  The broadcast did include few barely noticeable problems.  There were “glitches” at the end of my live shot; places where the live picture froze momentarily because I was driving through an area where the cell phone service is marginal.  All in all, I think it was a great trial run on an amazing new piece of technology.

One viewer did send me an e-mail, suggesting that my report was unsafe.  In my defense I was driving well under the speed limit, and I never once took my eyes off the road.  I had a photographer in the passenger seat, taking care of all the technical aspects so that I could focus on driving as normal.

Technology is greatly changing the way we do things in the news business.  Joe Dashiell has been broadcasting from Richmond via Skype during the General Assembly.  Now that we have the ability to do a live broadcast with nothing more than a small backpack, I expect you’ll start seeing live reports from places even more unusual than just a moving car.

December 30, 2011

This weekend marks a milestone of sorts in my television news journey: ten years since my first appearance as a reporter on WDBJ7.  No, I have not been a reporter on News 7 for the last ten years.  I didn't start working at channel 7 until the summer of 2006.  The first time you ever saw me on Your Hometown Station was during my time as a student intern.

In December of 2001, I was 21 years old and a senior at Radford University.  Wanting to earn extra credits during my Christmas break, I applied and was accepted for a six-week internship at WDBJ.  I had the opportunity to work at WDBJ's old building on Colonial Avenue, just a few months before we moved to our current home on Hershberger Road.  I still remember how excited everyone at the station was about the upcoming move.  I even remember seeing an artist's rendering of the News 7 set that we use today, before it had been constructed.  Mostly what I remember about that opportunity was how it changed me personally, and set the course for many events that have taken place in my life over the last decade.

When I started my internship at WDBJ, I was at a point in my life where I wasn't sure television news was something I truly wanted to pursue as a career.  Even at the age of 21, I already had a taste of what the news business was like.  Between the ages of 17 and 20, I worked behind the scenes at another television station and that experience was not entirely positive.  I was far too young and naive for the stressful newsroom environment.  When I left that job, I had a very low opinion of television news in general.  Channel 7 was an opportunity for me to change my outlook, and that's exactly what happened.

As a News 7 intern, I was given the opportunity to work like a full-time reporter.  I was sent out to cover important stories that ranged from court cases, to car accidents and health news.  I wasn't shadowing another reporter, I WAS the reporter, working with photographers to cover stories all by myself.  Most of the work I produced did not include my name and face on television, except for the story I did onNew Year's Eve.

I will never forget my excitement at being assigned to cover the New Year's celebration in Blacksburg, and being told that I would get to report the story myself on the 11:00 news.  Doesn't sound very exciting, right? Try to follow my train of thought here.  Channel 7 was the station I grew up watching.  Keith Humphry, Robin Reed, and Joe Dashiell were (and still are) celebrities to me.  Having the opportunity to appear on the same station as the people I so greatly admired was nothing short of monumental for me at that time.

The story I produced that night was truly awful.  I watched it not long ago and cringed at the whole thing: my voice, my writing, my appearance.  It was all so very, very bad.  I'm surprised they allowed me to show up on the news like that! But I remember going home after that story aired and feeling like I could take on the world.  Having the opportunity to do that story, and learn the many things I did during that six-weeks at WDBJ, helped renew my enthusiasm for the news business.  I walked away from that internship knowing that broadcast journalism was the right career for me.  The people I met, including the late Roy Stanley, former sports director Mike Stevens, and the many other great journalists who worked at News 7 during that time, introduced me to a new level of class and professionalism that I had not yet experienced in a television newsroom.  I spent the next five years with one goal in mind: make it back to WDBJ as a reporter.

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to complete that internship ten years ago, and I'm glad I ended up coming back here to work for the last five and a half years.  It's hard to believe that so much time has passed.  I posted a picture from my first story at the top of this page.  See if you notice a difference between the me of 2001 and the me of today.

December 29, 2010

All week News 7 is taking a look back at the top stories of 2010, but there is one item missing from that countdown that certainly tops the list of what I've covered this year.

The Wesley Earnest case made up more than a month's worth of my reporting in 2010.  Earnest was found guilty in November for the death of his estranged wife, Jocelyn.  The former school teacher and administrator was actually put on trial twice this year: once in March and April and again in November.  Both trials lasted two weeks and both had the same outcome.  For those not familiar with the case, the second trial happened because the jury during the first trial viewed evidence they were never supposed to see.

Not since the Jens Soering trial in 1990 can I remember such a high profile case taking place in Bedford Circuit Court.  I was just a fourth grader at Bedford Elementary School during the Soering trial, but I can remember the intense media coverage.  News 7 aired a 30-minute wrap-up of the trial every night at 11:30.  National publications picked up the story and books were later published on the case.

Earnest hasn't received the same level of attention that Soering did, but his case is getting a special spotlight.  The CBS program"48 Hours" documented every minute of the first trial in March/April.  I'm told the case will be featured on an episode early next year.