Success for Ryan Peterson ’98

One thing led to another for TV anchor Ryan Peterson '98

November 20, 2019
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Directly above is Ryan as a first-year college student in his dorm room at Saint Michael’s. Other images below show the 1995 Saint Michael’s alpine ski team with Ryan a varsity member back row center; him at his 1998 graduation with then-President Marc vanderHeyden; an ABC News set that figures into Ryan’s story; and of him interviewing Lou Ferrigno aka “The Hulk” for one of his shows. (photos courtesy of Ryan Peterson)

Ryan Peterson ’98, a popular morning-news anchor on a major network-affiliate TV station in Albany, NY, productive college years and later career success in broadcasting emerged from his ability to recognize, create or seize opportunities, coupled with an enthusiasm for embracing challenges.

His first step simply was recognizing early-on the opportunities that Saint Michael’s might present for him out of high school, given his background in sports growing up in Pittsfield, MA, and his emerging interest in journalism. “You always hear them say at St. Mike’s, ‘just come visit us and the campus, and then you’ll know,’” said Peterson, an affable conversationalist by trade who enjoys telling stories. “And I DID know right away.” He described feeling a comfort level on his campus tour unlike with any other college he visited.

Peterson said he was first a hockey player in younger years, before discovering a more distinct talent as a top-flight high-school ski racer; because of that, Peterson also was drawn by the chance to compete on a St. Mike’s varsity ski team that had just begun competing in Division 1 – an appealing challenge to a self-confident young man who was always wanting to test his limits.

He readily admits now, however, that his first-year ski team experience, though enjoyable, took a toll on his early academics with all the time demands of competing, given that by his own admission, academics never came as easily to him as it might to many others on campus.

Peterson saw it was time for a priority adjustment, recalling how that first year was also an exciting time for the St. Mike’s Journalism Department and a longer-term opportunity not to be squandered. “Diane Lynch was there then, along with David Mindich and Mike Donoghue and Gif Hart — and then Jon Hyde really added an exciting new broadcast element for those of us interested in that,” he recalled. “We had a bit of equipment, cameras and editing stuff, and I remember asking once if there was money to bring someone in as an adjunct for broadcast, and soon after, the chief photographer at WCAX [the Burlington-area CBS local-news affiliate] came and taught a class and stayed on for years, which was a huge resource.”

It allowed Peterson to “get in behind the scenes” at WCAX, going out with reporters on election nights while still in college. He loved it, and based on that, saw the potential for a possible future on-camera given his easy way interacting with people and his drive to “get the story.” He found himself volunteering nights at WCAX when the veteran Vermont broadcasting legend Marselis Parsons was running the evening newscast there. “He wasn’t so interested in videotape samples, but rather put a lot of weight on writing samples,” Peterson recalled. His Saint Michael’s liberal arts education helped him a lot on that score. “St. Mike’s gave me solid credentials, and the Journalism Department (now Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts), molded me for what I’m doing today,” Peterson said.

While he never did radio for WWPV at St. Mike’s to gain broadcast experience – TV was more his thing — he worked at the campus newspaper The Defender to hone reporting skills, and did video projects with Hyde. “Ultimately my big senior project was a half-hour sports show that me and my buddy did called “In the Stands,” focused on the hockey program. We shot it in the public access studio down by the airport, and Hyde came in and was pushing buttons with a bunch of my buddies from our rugby and soccer teams helping run cameras.”

He also fondly remembers from his student experiences working with the Student Association Special Events Committee to bring good bands to campus for concerts; he also lived in an AIDS awareness theme house junior year, with longtime counselor and psychology instructor Dave Landers as the group’s adviser. “Me and my housemates went to Washington, DC, to see the AIDS quilt the last time the whole quilt was shown in its entirety – it’s gotten so big now it only travels in small sections,” he said. While there he ended up getting press credentials, brought a camera and did a story. It made a strong clip when he sought broadcast jobs later.

He recalled making a good connection as well while a student with then-president Marc VanderHeyden. “He was on my first-year LEAP Retreat and we connected through that and he allowed me to call him Marc,” he said. The friendship came in handy when he neared graduation a few credits short to walk for a diploma with his class, and in a meeting about what might be done about it, President vanderHeyden wrote a number on a piece of paper and slid it to him — a goal he must reach on GPA the last semester to be allowed to walk. The extra motivation got him to finish strong and he joined his class for the ceremony. “I wasn’t the world’s greatest student, but I had a wonderful four years there,” says Peterson.

Perhaps the most important leg up for him from St. Mike’s in his own estimation was its strong and active alumni network. He described how the longtime Saint Michael’s Director of Athletics in his day, Ed Markey (who died just in November 2019) helped him experience a major breakthrough opportunity with his career aspirations: “I ended up doing an internship with NBC Sports, and that was because Ed’s son, Ed Jr., was senior VP with NBC sports in charge of the public relations of the sports division at the time and he put us in touch — so I spent the summer of 1997 in Ed Markey Jr.’s New York City office.”

It was memorable — “That was the summer that Mike Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear and Marv Albert had all his troubles,” Peterson recalled, giving him a valuable crash course in high-level, high-stakes sports PR at a major network. “I was right in 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, which was fantastic,” he said. That experience in turn led him to being selected for the highly competitive NBC Page Program after his St. Mike’s graduation, through a woman he had met and impressed during his summer internship with Markey. “When graduation rolled around, it was a good foot in the door, since she was expecting my application and knew my work,” he said.

The whole idea of that NBC Page Program, he explained, is to work for a year “to help you get a job within the industry.” It involves assignments all through “30 Rock” in guest relations, conducting tours along with special assignments. Sometimes he was outside the Saturday Night Live studio, or working around the Rosie and Conan shows. “I ended up working in the office of Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC,” he said, noting that was thanks to another connection – his parents had known Wright when the executive worked at GE in Pittsfield, Peterson’s home town.

“But it was that St. Mike’s connection that got me into NBC initially,” Peterson said. Another friend of his mother worked at ABC News, and on the strength of the credentials he had accrued through his St. Mike’s connections, she helped him find a position behind the scenes at the national ABC news show 20/20 in New York City for about four years.

“I had a production coordinator title — kind of a glorified secretary working directly for the director of 20/20,” he said. That director was a man named George Paul, who had some lofty broadcast credentials starting from TV’s earliest days with the Kukla, Fran and Ollie show, and who at one time had been the original director of Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show. “He was tough, old school, maybe calling you nasty names if you messed up, but by the end I was giving it right back to him!” recalled Peterson. “I was there through September 11 to witness that from inside a network news division, which was incredible – it was a wild four years.”

On to Albany

While New York City was exciting for a young up and coming broadcaster, Peterson’s home area of Pittsfield and its proximity to Albany not many miles down Route 90 always had some appeal to him in the back of his mind. Eventually he learned of an opportunity that attracted him.

“I came in to Albany on the ground floor when Time Warner Cable started launching local 24-hour news channels all over the country — so in Albany it was called Capital News 9 – they were going to open a Berkshire County bureau [Pittsfield, MA is the county seat] and I told them, ‘look no farther, I’m your guy!’” They asked to see a resume and tape, but all Peterson had was some old tapes he had done at St. Mike’s “and they said, ‘we need to see you now.’”

Happily, Peterson’s 20/20 boss George Paul offered to let him shoot a tape on the slick and professional Good Morning America rooftop set in Manhattan, “and he even got an announcer to lay down a track!” Capital News 9 was duly impressed, and hired him. ”I worked for them for 10 years and was in the Pittsfield bureau for a good five years, then moved to Albany full-time and started anchoring weekend mornings and ultimately into weekend evening slots. It was awesome since they kept letting me grow as a reporter and anchor.”

But most of those reports were on tape and he realized that he needed to experience doing live broadcasts to meet his personal career goals, so he took a job with the CBS affiliate in Greenville, NC, just as his first daughter Olivia was born (his wife is a St. Rose College graduate whom he’d met in his first Albany news job), and he gained those valuable experiences.

When a family illness demanded he be closer to Albany again a couple years later, “it worked out smoothly” since WTEN, the Albany station where he now works as the morning anchor, was a sister station to the Carolina station where he had worked two years. “It ended up being like an in-house transfer,” he said.

That was summer of 2015. Peterson had tried out morning work at the end of his two years in the Carolinas and felt it suited his personality better than evening anchor. “I think I’m better when I can be a little looser,” he said. “I like to approach it with a softer, gentler touch and bring good news to help people wake up with a smile on their faces.” He and his wife now have three young children, and his alarm goes off at 2 a.m. Monday through Friday. With a short commute from the Albany suburbs, Peterson is on the air by 4:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. for the Fox and ABC stations, usually getting home by noon.

Asked the most important advice he has for current or prospective Saint Michael’s students based on his personal experience, he said, “It’s great to take advantage of the alumni network wherever you go – you will be amazed at the people who graduated from your school.”

“I’m a huge proponent of a liberal arts education,” Peterson said. “If you’re unsure or want to be a more worldly type person, you’ve got go with the liberal arts. It helped me be a better thinker – it’s the education I want my children to have. “

“It’s great to take advantage of the alumni network wherever you go – you will be amazed at the people who graduated from your school.”

Ryan Peterson '98

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