A series of fortutious “accidents” shaped this year’s winner of the TVNewsCheck Women in Technology Leadership Award and helped her find her passion in the broadcasting business. The award, which benefits the NAB Educational Foundation’s Apprenticeship Program, will be presented next Tuesday during the NAB convention.
An engineer’s work is governed by design. Her life, perhaps less so.
For Andrea Berry, the senior vice president of media services for Fox Networks Engineering and Operations and the second annual recipient of TVNewsCheck’s Women in Technology Leadership Award, her life’s design was never even meant to lead to engineering, let alone broadcasting.
“I actually wanted to be an architect, but my father convinced me that engineering was a better career,” she says.
Her father, a physicist, recognized a keen mind for math and science and enrolled her in a pre-engineering, pre-college program at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology. She discovered that engineering was a fit, enrolled and went on to earn a degree there in computer science with a minor in electrical engineering. While in school, her life took another unexpected turn.
In her freshman year, Berry began working for the college’s radio station. At the same time, she also became involved in a program that televised classes via microwave to executives and industrial employees across the Chicago area. From an on-campus studio, students would operate the cameras and the transmitters for the classes.
“Who knew that we were learning how to be little television engineers?” she said. “It was totally by accident.”
Another “accident” came along when Berry’s father urged her to interview for internships at the end of that year. One of her first, with NBC’s O&O WMAQ Chicago, landed her a gig as a vacation-relief technician complete with union membership as she completed her schooling.
By then, Berry was hooked on broadcasting. “The whole idea of doing something live from start to finish and doing a good job was very appealing, especially to a young person because it’s almost like instant gratification all the time,” she says.
With her on-the-job education, Berry was snapped up by CBS in New York in 1984, where a year-and-a-half-long technical management training tour changed her life yet again. There, working in every department and with everyone from stage managers to scenic design crews, she had a professional revelation.
“It taught me how to look at the big picture,” she says. “When you see how all of the different departments interact and you realize that what you do is affecting what they do, it gives you a bigger appreciation and respect. It’s team building.”
It also gave her an insight and appreciation into the ways in which art and technology mesh (she cites filmmaker George Lucas as a hero on that front), along with how to do right by that intersection.
“You have to be able to see what a producer’s ideas are in order to be able to execute them. I’ve always worked really well with the production people because I respect their ideas and know that we really have to service that idea and execute it.”
And that has partly meant keeping her own ego in check. Jerry Steinberg, senior vice president of field operations at Fox Sports, has known Berry since her CBS days when he was a freelance technician working under her.
“In TV, we all think it’s the most important thing in the world and we’re all the center of the universe,” he says. “Through all that, she’s one of those people with the unique ability to keep it real.”
As her career flourished at CBS, taking her from being the network’s only female field technical manager at one time to, ultimately, the director of technical operations at WBBM Chicago, her field work helped net her Emmy awards for Outstanding Team Technical Remotes for coverage of NASCAR, the World Series and figure skating at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
The field work was its own education, Berry says, with its own trials. “You have to almost pour your whole life into it. With the fact that it’s live, you’re working against the clock all the time.”
But it’s not just about clocks, cables, cameras and computers, she notes. “I think the management part of it is just as important as the technology. You can be handed all kinds of widgets to perform technological feats …, but you still have to get the people to buy in and buy in to you so that they do a good job.”
Berry’s Lillehammer experience brought her a good measure of both technical and management challenges, but she remembers it equally for the brush with infamy it offered. These were the games at which skater Tonya Harding was implicated in the brutal attack on her fellow American skater Nancy Kerrigan. And as the tech manager for the figure skating venue, Berry was behind the cameras that caught it all.
“We were pretty much on the air for what seemed to be 16-20 hour days, but there was so much news hype that we had to cater to the hype all around it,” she recalls. “It was probably the highest I’ve ever been because the drama factor was there.”
Moving to Fox Sports Net in 1995, Berry’s challenges were no less daunting. “I had never done cable television before, and the model we created for Fox Sports Net was extremely challenging and fun for me because we had to take all of these small, regional sports nets and turn them into a big monster.”
She rose to senior vice president of field operations for that monster before moving over to Fox NE&O. There, her responsibilities now include overseeing all aspects of digital media management for Fox, the Fox Sports Media Group, Fox Networks Group, Twentieth Television and MyNetworkTV. She is managing the migration of Fox’s Los Angeles facilities from a traditional tape system to digital as well as managing the training and procedure group and the broadcast and cable disaster recovery efforts for the company.
Those efforts, which coordinate with Fox’s facility in The Woodlands, Texas, find her working closely with Tim Sweeney, senior vice president and general manager of the Fox Networks Center there. “She’s definitely a leader,” Sweeney says. “She’s very personable and a take charge type of a person.”
She’s also indefatigable, Sweeney adds. “Maybe her biggest strength is she plunges ahead to get answers where there typically aren’t many to be had, but she isn’t deterred by that particular obstacle.”
Having cleared so many potential obstacles in the ever-upward trajectory of her career, Berry now spends much of her spare time — when she isn’t with her documentary producer/director husband and two young sons — mentoring and supporting those coming up behind her.
At Fox, Berry currently mentors a small coterie of young managers from other departments along with some college engineering students. “I love helping — mentoring and guiding,” she says. “You learn from them. They have a more entrepreneurial spirit, and I like that.”
And back at her alma mater IID in Chicago, Berry remains a passionate supporter of a computer discovery camp for middle school girls. “I believe that if you catch a kid in the early grades and teach them that math and science are cool, they will embrace them,” she says.
For Berry, closing the circle back to her own education — the early opportunities and elation she felt in seeing her developing science and math skills find purchase — is the biggest driving force for her future.
“In the technology field as it relates to broadcasting, there are a lot of engineering and computer science students that don’t realize that broadcasting is a viable option for their careers,” she says. “I did not take the traditional route for engineering. I took a different path, and I’d like to know that other people are not afraid to take a risk on a different path.”
After all, they might discover what Berry did, if only by a series of happy accidents: “I’ve found my passion in this business.”
TVNewsCheck will honor Berry at a 6 p.m. ceremony and reception on Tuesday, April 17, in room N115 of the Las Vegas Convention Center during the annual NAB convention.