the standardized set of channels, and beyond the outlook of the
Wasatch Front, way up yonder in the hills of Park City, you'll find a
television station to the East that's been making a name for itself
over the past few years.
--- Park City Television has been providing not just their city, but the state with a line of programming focused on local sports, music and homelife. And one of the driving forces behind the station's success has been Ori Hoffer. Starting out as a reporter covering stories to producing shows to taking over hosting duties on “Mountain Views”, he's helped make the station a mainstay in the area and brought more focus to programming featuring Utah entertainment and politics. I got a chance to chat with Ori about his career and joining PCTV, as well as getting a photographic tour of their studio and offices.
Gavin: Hey Ori! First thing, tell us a little about yourself.
Ori: My name is Ori Hoffer and I'm the news director and producer/host of "Mountain Views" at Park City Television. I've been at the station for 4 years now, making it the second longest job I've ever had. I live here in Park City with my wife, three year-old daughter and a 7.5-year old Vizsla named Ginger.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in broadcasting?
Ori: I've always been a sport fanatic. Growing up in a college town like Ann Arbor (Univ. of Michigan), I was fed a steady diet of football and basketball, plus I played every sport I could from a young age. Around 5th grade, however, I looked at my stature among my classmates and realized that life as a professional athlete would probably not come my way, but talking about sports could be a career. That decision led to everything I've done since.
Gavin: You went to college at the University Of Michigan and got your degree in History and Communications. What are your time like spent there and what did you think of their program?
Ori: Even though U of M was literally in my backyard (seriously, my house was closer to campus than the place I lived in senior year), I loved being there. Because I wasn't in an unknown environment, I did my best to try things I hadn't done before - so I joined the crew team, lived on a co-ed floor, joined a fraternity, worked for the campus radio station, took road trips on a whim. The communications department at Michigan wasn't the strongest when it came to on-air production, choosing to focus more on the sociological aspects of communication, so my job working at the radio station doing news & sports features, hosting a call-in sports talk show, doing play-by-play for football, basketball & hockey games (plus one unfortunate foray into baseball) was my true education for what would come later. The history degree was more serious, just in case I needed something to fall back on.
Gavin: What eventually persuaded you to move to Washington D.C.?
Ori: When I graduated, I sent out resumes and demo tapes to every TV and radio news station in the places I thought I wanted to live - not even a nibble. I was working at the NPR station in Ann Arbor (WUOM) filling in for the sports guy and doing occasional features when I decided it was time to leave the place I'd called home for 22 years. I wanted to either work for CNN in Atlanta or NPR in D.C., and really it came down to the fact that I didn't know anyone in Atlanta and had two friends in D.C. whose couch I could crash on while looking for a job.
Gavin: How did you come into getting the job with NPR, and what was that experience like for you?
Ori: I had met "All Things Considered" host Noah Adams at an event in Ann Arbor and we had a nice chat about working for NPR, so when I got there, I called him up, he remembered me and gave me a tour of the place. While that didn't go anywhere, it only encouraged me to keep trying. So I called the brother of an old family friend who was an entertainment lawyer in Bethesda. I went to his office, we chatted for a bit, then he asked me, "Where do you want to work?" I told him NPR, he opened his Rolodex, made a call to someone he knew there and handed me the phone. I was volunteering in the Audience Services department the next day, and six weeks later, I had my first "real job" sending transcripts to listeners and media people looking for background on a story. While it wasn't my ultimate goal of working on an NPR show, I got to do so many great things that I will never forget that position. I helped put NPR online, first with a site on AOL listing authors, musical guests and recipes that had been on the show, then later on our first website. I sat in on planning meetings with Rob Glazer, the head of RealNetworks. I spoke on a panel at the Smithsonian on how the media could use online tools. I played softball with Morning Edition host Bob Edwards and a number of other NPR personalities. I was up on everything in the news, was young and living in Clinton's D.C. - didn't get much better than that.
Gavin: Why did you switch from NPR to go to work for America Online?
Ori: I wasn't working on a show, doing the editorial work that I knew I should be doing. Because I was the one managing NPR's site on AOL, I knew a little bit about this small startup just down the road in northern Virginia. They had a job posting one day for an online sports editor, I sent my resume in at 4PM, and when I got home at 6:30, they had already contacted me for an interview. It took a few months, but I finally made the switch, which sent me down a whole other path.
Gavin: How was it for you producing online content in its infancy and the challenges it presented at the time?
Ori: Those early days in the newsroom were amazing - we had an incredible staff, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things (Liz Kelly writes "Celebritology" for the Washington Post, Peter Shankman is an international social media star, etc.). We covered everything from 17-year-cicadas to Princess Di to Bush v. Gore and we did it in a way that traditional news outlets weren't. Every story had a photo to go with it. Most had a sidebar or two with related info. Most important of all, there were community links on everything so a discussion about the news could go on. When events like Columbine or Dale Earnhardt's death happened, AOL was able to tap into what real people were saying in ways that TV, radio and newspapers couldn't. We also had freedom to be creative. If we wanted to start a section "For Men Only," we could. Best Air Guitar Moves photo gallery? Done. SI Swimsuit Issue Trading Cards? Why not. Of course, if you look at the stuff we produced now, the graphics were terrible, and severely limited by the catalog of templates we could use. As systems got more powerful, and people got faster connections, we could do more, but by that time, we had added many more layers of middle-to-upper management, which meant that ideas for fun stuff had to go through channels, with everyone putting their own stamp on things.
Gavin: What drew you to tryout for the National Skeleton Team? And how did you do in the longrun?
Ori: As we were getting ready for the 2002 Olympics, I came to Salt Lake for the pre-Olympics media conference (I was AOL's Olympics producer). I talked to a couple of skeleton athletes about their sport, and one mentioned that he was on the World Cup circuit after first getting on a sled four years previously. That put a bug in my ear, and so I signed up for skeleton school at Lake Placid that January, just a month before the Games. I did well enough at a 5-day camp (after 1 race, I was ranked 27th in the nation) that the coach said I had a shot at making the national team if I tried the sport full-time. I was getting tired of yearly layoffs at AOL, had watched my stock options collapse after the AOL-Time Warner merger, and so, after coming to Utah for the Games, I thought that this would be a fun place to live. My fiance was ready to leave DC as well, we came out here in July '02, bought a house, then returned permanently in October. I came close to making the national team that first season, but while I had the physical skills, the mental side wasn't there and in the qualifying race I couldn't focus and had some bad runs. More competition the next year coupled with the need for a full-time job meant I couldn't spend as much time at the gym, on the track as I wanted, and again I just missed out on qualifying. At that point, I decided that being one of the top 40 athletes in the country in any sport was still pretty good for a guy in his mid-30s and so I slid for one more year with the club, and then put the sled and spikes away. They're still in the garage, though, waiting for me to get back on and race again.
Gavin: Why did you choose to move to Park City?
Ori: With skeleton being the driving force for our move, the choice was Lake Placid or Park City. I've been to Lake Placid in January and -10 degrees is not for me. My wife is a massage therapist, so moving to a resort town meant she would have plenty of work opportunities. I figured I had a marketable skill set that would lead to many job opportunities - that was the only thing I was wrong about. Having lived in D.C., we were pretty used to a diverse, cosmopolitan atmosphere - we weren't sure we'd find that in Utah, but when we saw a bunch of men in drag for "Pageant: The Musical" during Park City's 4th Of July parade, we thought we'd be okay.
Gavin: What brought you back into the fold of broadcasting?
Ori: After working over at the outlet mall for nine months while looking for a real job, I saw that KPCW radio was looking for a reporter. Not having done any reporting for ten years, I wasn't sure this was going to be the right job for me, but I dusted off my old demo tape from college, sent it in, and the next thing I know, I'm covering school board and city council meetings. The irony of it taking me ten years to get the job I could have had right out school was not lost on me. Remember, I didn't want to do the whole small town radio ladder thing right out of school. I wanted to go straight to the national office. Oh well. I soon left the meeting circuit behind and was hosting a daily interview program and producing the Park City Marketplace segment as well as other feature packages. It was just like falling off a log doing radio again, though with the added benefit of electronic editing tools instead of razor blades and splicing tape. I knew that this was what I was meant to be doing.
Gavin: How did you get the job working for Park City Television?
Ori: In a strange twist of fate, the host of Mountain Views had left PCTV, and I wasn't feeling much love from KPCW management, so they called me and asked if I'd like to come over and do TV instead. After some soul-searching (I'd never done TV after all, always thought I had a face for radio), I said yes. It always made me smile that eventually the radio station hired two people to do what I was doing by myself, but no, I'm not bitter.
Gavin: During your first few years there what kind of work did you create and produce for them?
Ori: The first thing I did when I got to PCTV was actually go out and start finding stories to cover. The station had previously done maybe 3-4 features a month - I started trying to find local personalities and businesses that would have an interesting story to tell. I did stories on a local falconer, cool businesses like Skullcandy, Backcountry.com and ProBar, exhibits at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. I had the sense that people only thought of PCTV as a station for wild ski videos - I wanted to make it a place for the things that locals and visitors like to experience.
Gavin: What was it like for you winning a couple or regional Emmy awards?
Ori: It's great to be recognized for your work - and it was a really fun piece to make as we followed a band that was big in the '90s, Blessid Union of Souls, on a couple of western dates. If you've ever wondered "where are they now?" this was it - full of humor, sadness and some pretty good music to boot. We win lots of awards here at the station, but honestly, it's not like I'm always introduced as "Emmy Award Winner Ori Hoffer" like Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep or Sir Anthony Hopkins. Still, the trophy does look cool on the mantel.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about to host the show Mountain Views?
Ori: Mountain Views was already in existence, having been developed by Randy Barton years before I got there. My job was to take it to another level, which I think I've done by expanding the reach of the show to include authors, politicians, and bands from beyond the Park City borders.
Gavin: What's the process like for you behind planning a show and choosing your guests?
Ori: Producing the show is one of my favorite parts. The way I look at it, if it's a subject that I'm interested in, there's a good chance someone else is interested as well. So I've had scientists come on to talk about their research, fiction and non-fiction authors, documentary filmmakers, local artists, government officials and athletes as guests because I want to keep people coming back to find out what's on.
Gavin: Was it a difficulty putting local music into the show, or was it something PCTV was open to?
Ori: Local music has always been a part of the show. The previous host was the founder of Park City's Mountain Town Stages, so he was really tied into the local music scene - but he kept the focus on Park City bands, which I thought was limiting. Because PCTV broadcasts to Salt Lake, Provo and Ogden - and because there's so much great music coming from those places - I wanted to reach out to bands across the region. Now, I'd say that Mountain Views is the premier music destination for bands - we have 2-3 bands on each week in every genre from rock to country to jazz to experimental to hip-hop, and they get to play three full songs. Most other TV stations, if they have music at all, will let a band play maybe one minute of a song going into commercial. We're the alternative for that. If anyone out there is in a band and wants to be on the show, send me a note with a link to some music and we'll go from there!
Gavin: Who are some of your favorite guests or most memorable parts of the show for you since starting it?
Ori: I'm a huge trivia buff, so having Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings on was a real treat. I did an off-site interview with Jungle Jack Hannah that involved a lemur climbing on my head which made me feel just like David Letterman. Colin Hay (from Men at Work) said that being on the show reminded him of MTV in the early days (I think that was a compliment), then he performed "Overkill" and blew me away. And of course there's all the amazing guests we've had on during Sundance - Robert Townsend, Patton Oswalt, Bobcat Goldthwait, Wim Wenders, Sara Bareilles, Lenka.
Gavin: Do you have any future plans for the show or sticking with the format you have now?
Ori: For now, we don't have any major changes planned. I'd like to add some "viral videos" to our Pictures Of The Day segment, but since the whole show is run by one person - directing, moving cameras, cuing tapes, etc. there isn't a whole lot more we could do without some cloning.
Gavin: A little state-wide. What's your take on broadcast reporting in Utah, both good and bad?
Ori: This is an issue I have with the entire local news industry nationwide, it's no different here. Do people really care that much about car accidents/house fires/robberies? How many people does a crash on I-80 affect besides the ones involved? Sports coverage consists of the big teams with only the rare mention of all the activities people in Utah participate in. That's why PCTV's mission is to be an alternative to that. Look for stories about things that actually interest people beyond a prurient factor. Show people places and things that they might not have known about, spend time talking about how national and international issues affect people on a local level.
Gavin: Are there any aspects you wish you could change or improve?
Ori: If I was King of Local Broadcasting, I would issue an edict (printed on a large scroll and read by the town crier of course) declaring that all stories should have a larger message beyond "this happened." Tell me why it happened, how it could have been avoided, what kept it from being much worse, what lesson we should all learn from it.
Gavin: What do you think of our current art scene in Utah and how its changed in recent years?
Ori: Utah may not have a whole avant-garde scene, but anytime you have a place that has a dominant culture, there is bound to be some counter-balancing reaction to that, and I think you see a lot of that in local art. I admit I'm not too tied into the avant-garde/underground scene, but there is wonderful stuff being produced all over. Guys like Ben Wiemeyer and his graffiti art would fit in just fine in NYC or LA, Leia Bell and her wonderful printmaking (and Signed & Numbered gallery) make art affordable for everyone, and that's always a good thing.
Gavin: Along the same lines, what are your thoughts on the music scene and the bands coming out?
Ori: We have amazing musical talent here in Utah - it's a shame that so many of them haven't been discovered yet by the rest of the world - though that is certainly changing. Band Of Annuals & The Brobecks are getting lots of recognition. The Gorgeous Hussies are a really fun group of guys, and now that they're dedicating themselves to music full-time, you might hear more about them. Something I find really encouraging is the support that young musicians get when they're just starting out - whether it's in School of Rock or over at SpyHop, with their new record label and Open Mic sessions, kids are getting a good foundation to help get them to the next level.
Gavin: Also on the local filmmaking community, what do you think of the local films being produced from both students and amatures these days?
Ori: The stuff that is coming out of BYU's animation program is amazing - no wonder they win student Oscars every year. The last couple of years have seen locals get their short films into Sundance, and just the other day, I had two local filmmakers who've had their feature-length docs showcased at places like SXSW, AFI-Fest and Silverdocs. We all know Utah is a great place to film, with wonderful talent on both sides of the camera, so I'm sure there will be something big coming from the Beehive in the future.
Gavin: For entertainment as a whole, do you see SLC or Utah in general becoming a hotspot down the road?
Ori: SLC has all the potential to be another Seattle/Austin/Montreal - we have all the facilities, plenty of job opportunities and people who like to be entertained - but there needs to be a bigger cultural shift to be open to dramatic change before the masses will start flooding our area. I don't see that happening any time soon, and honestly, I'm not sure that would be a good thing anyway. How much do we hear about the "Seattle sound" anymore? I think it'd be better to have a consistently good scene than becoming a flash in the pan.
Gavin: What can we expect from both the show and yourself the rest of the year?
Ori: It's pretty much steady as she goes on the good ship Mountain Views. I'm still having fun finding interesting people to talk to and cool bands to listen to, so I'm in no rush to fix things. Personally, I might be getting a new hairstyle in the coming weeks - I've had this 'do for seven years now, it's time for a tweak.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, if there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Ori: Just watch our show - Monday through Thursday at 6 & 11PM (if you don't have Comcast Digital Cable, you can watch online at http://parkcity.tv). We also have our weekend show, “Unplugged” that runs Friday, Saturday & Sunday where we go outside the studio to showcase what's going on in Utah. If you have an interesting story to tell, a cool event to promote, a new CD coming out, whatever - drop me a note at email@example.com, I'd love to hear from you.