Sports media and analytics students in the Virginia Tech School of Communication have no trouble finding experiential learning opportunities where they can develop their craft in professional settings outside the classroom.

Over the course of Virginia Tech’s basketball season, a number of students have gained experience as sports talk radio hosts with 105.3 the Bear, the flagship station of New River Radio Group, based in Radford.

James Forrest, operations director for New River Radio Group, previously co-hosted the Hokies Basketball and the Bear Tip Off show over the past couple of years with DreZ, the program director. However, the duo decided some additional sports acumen could take the station to the next level.

“We’re more rock DJ’s and less sportscasters, so I thought, ‘What if we can set up this arrangement with the SMA program?’” Forrest said. “It’s co-beneficial to give the SMA students some real-world hosting experience, while also giving us the chance to highlight the students we have in the area.”

The tip off show takes place an hour before the start of each men’s basketball game at Macado’s in Blacksburg. A sports media and analytics student carries the pacing of each show as co-host and sets the scene for the game that is about to follow. 

One of the show’s three segments is dedicated to the student’s sharing details about the opportunities and projects he or she is involved in as a part of the sports media and analytics major. It gives audience members an appreciation for the exciting talent emanating right from their own backyard in the New River Valley.

“This fantastic partnership with James and his crew gives our students on-air exposure in a live environment,” said Bill Roth, a professor of practice in the School of Communication. “A critical learning experience for our students occurs in the real-world outside the classroom. This partnership is another valuable example of that.”

And the students treat it as such. The selected SMA co-host for that day arrives an hour early, if not earlier, ready to lead the show.

“I try not to assume what they know and don’t know going into one of these things, but they’re just really impressive,” Forrest said. “Not only the content and the broadcasting part, but they’re impressive individuals. Everyone has been extremely prompt and very knowledgeable. That is what professional broadcasters do, and they are doing it.”

The Virginia Tech men’s basketball regular season has ended, but JT (as Forrest goes by on air), DreZ, and Nick Brown, a sophomore in sports media and analytics, will continue to host the tip off shows through the ACC Tournament and into the NCAA Tournament if the Hokies secure a bid. 

“I’ve been so fortunate to work alongside New River Radio Group with high school football and now college basketball broadcasts,” said Brown, who also works as the play-by-play voice for Radford High School football. “These opportunities provide an amazing chance to aspiring broadcasters like myself to get real, live radio reps that you can’t replicate anywhere else.”

Besides Brown, Jack Brizendine, Aidan Butler, Duke Durand, Carter Hill, Kyle Marchak, and Dan Steinbach have all been involved with the Bear Tip Off shows over the course of the 2021–2022 basketball season.

“These kids have such a special program over there that they’re involved with,” Forrest said. “I think they know that, but they’re also taking the opportunity and really seizing it. It’s nice to see.”

Written by Cory Van Dyke