By Wendy Townley
Today he’s an award-winning news producer. An Emmy nominee. But it was the fast-paced, ever-changing schedule of a TV sports reporter that Ken Archer first longed for, focused on and worked toward during his UNO days in the early 1990s.
He came to UNO by way of two states and four military stops. A New York native who spent his teens in Florida, Archer had joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in 1981. His first and fourth military assignments landed him at Offutt Air Force Base near Bellevue, Neb. After taking a few classes on base through UNO, Archer decided to leave the Air Force in 1992 and pursue a broadcasting degree.
“I am a sports fanatic,” Archer says exuberantly via phone from his office in Florida. “It dawned on me how cool it could be to get paid to talk about sports. And it really just went from there.”
In 1993, at age 32, Archer enrolled in on-campus classes at UNO. A year later he pursued an internship opportunity with Cox Communications in Omaha. Archer first worked in master control and later assisted with productions on Cox TV. He generated on-air graphics and ran studio cameras.
His on-camera break came when Cox TV produced “Sportsline with Gary Java,” a sports show that profiled area athletes. While taking classes at UNO, Archer joined Java’s program as a reporter.
“That fueled my love for sports and reporting,” he says.
That love continued when Archer worked on “The Locker Room,” another Cox TV program that covered the Omaha Royals, UNO Maverick football and surrounding high school teams.
If Archer’s schedule wasn’t busy enough—keep in mind he was married with two children at the time—he also interned at KMTV, Omaha’s CBS affiliate, while working at Cox Communications and studying at UNO. Archer worked three days a week as a videographer learning the techniques behind video production and TV news.
Michael Hilt, a professor and graduate program chair in the School of Communication at UNO, recalls Archer’s all-out passion for TV news.
“He demonstrated this by working hard and asking questions,” Hilt recalls. “Ken was receptive to the suggestions and he always strived to improve his work. One thing that I noticed is that since he accepted instruction, his work would improve tremendously from assignment to assignment. That’s when I first thought he would have the ability to succeed in television.”
A church fire in rural Nebraska helped advance Archer’s career. To cover the story KMTV sent only Archer, who shot his own video and self-recorded his on-camera reporting.
“I started one-man-banding it at that point,” says Archer, who earned his BS from UNO in 1996.
He joined KMTV’s morning show as a reporter and continued shooting stories for other reporters when not in front of the camera. Archer credits his time spent with then-reporter Tom Elser as one of his best on-the-job experiences to learn the tricks of the broadcasting trade. Elser returns the compliment.
“Ken is one of those people who will take any assignment and give it his all,” Elser says. “It doesn't matter if it's the lead story or a kicker, he will deliver a product that is worth watching. And best of all, he'll do it with a smile on his face.”
After spending about a year reporting and shooting news and sports at KMTV, Archer realized his longing to return to the world of athletics on a full-time basis. He polished his resume and sent videotapes of his work to TV stations across Nebraska. In 1996 KHAS, the NBC affiliate in Hastings, responded to Archer’s inquiry and offered him a job as weekend sports anchor.
While certainly a promotion, the new opportunity wouldn’t be without sacrifice for Archer and his family. “I went from making pretty good money in the Omaha market to taking nearly a $10,000 pay cut in Hastings,” Archer says.
Archer worked Wednesdays through Sundays covering “Husker football everything,” he says. On Friday nights he hosted “The Fourth Quarter,” a show about local sports. On football Saturdays he drove to Lincoln to cover the Huskers.
Archer was in his element broadcasting sports. After four years covering sports from Hastings, though, the job started to wear on Archer. While he enjoyed the challenge his career presented, there was little room for growth. The sports director was a constant at the station and didn’t have any plans of leaving.
An urge to grow paired with a low tolerance of Nebraska winters sent Archer looking elsewhere for employment in early 2000. Archer’s mother, who lived in Florida, phoned her son about a TV sports position open in The Villages, a retirement community that spans three counties and includes 100,000 homes.
Archer faxed his resume to the Villages News Network and received a phone call 10 minutes later. After interviewing, he got the job. When he informed friends and colleagues in Hastings and Omaha of his new job, some were skeptical whether the pace covering senior citizens would maintain Archer’s interest.
That was six years ago.
“The opportunity to work in Florida was intriguing because the job focused on trying to develop and draw in the senior sports crowd. It was certainly a challenge.”
Archer worked two years as the station’s assistant sports director before being promoted to sports director in 2002. He developed a 30-minute daily sports highlight show covering the area’s 11 high schools.
Two years had passed when Archer was named news anchor in 2004. Archer returned to life behind the camera in 2005 when he was moved to assistant news director and, later, to executive producer for VNN, the job he holds today.
One of Archer’s prouder moments while working in Florida came earlier this year. Archer and his news team received three Telly awards for “Faces of Freedom: America’s Airborne Heroes,” two 30-minute programs that profiled 14 Florida veterans who served in some aviation capacity during military conflicts from World War II to Iraq.
The Telly is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional and cable TV commercials and programs. “Faces of Freedom” was among 12,000 entries from all 50 states and five continents. Only 2,000 Tellys were awarded this spring. “Faces of Freedom” also received an Aurora Award, an independent film and video competition, and was nominated for an Emmy.
Today, as a married father of four, Archer said he is pleased with the path his career has taken. And he’s happy to have placed roots back in Florida.
“I didn’t want to become that person who picked up and moved every two years,” Archer explains. “That’s when I decided this was an organization [Villages News Network] where I knew I’d have longevity. I was able to come here and work and be creative.”
Archer adds with a chuckle: “Getting out of the Nebraska snow was a bonus, though.”