Matt Lothrop thinks he was probably a fourth grader at West Elementary School when he first started thinking about becoming a television sports reporter.
“I was in the Optimist Speech Contest and found that I liked speaking and presenting myself,” Lothrop said during a recent interview. “Of course, I’ve always liked sports. Unfortunately, I realized I was probably never good enough to play sports for a living, so I figured why not cover sports for a living.”
That’s exactly what the 2005 Glenwood Community High School graduate and former Opinion-Tribune intern is doing these days – working as a television sports reporter and anchor at KTKA Channel 49, an ABC affiliate in Topeka, Kan.
Lothrop is now in his second year at KTKA after earning a bachelor’s degree in TV and Radio News from the University of Missouri, one of the premiere journalism schools in the country. The TV job seems to be a perfect fit for a personable guy that lives for sports and has a gift to gab.
“I told my parents, I don’t have to become a millionaire doing this,” Lothrop said. “I enjoy it so much. There are days when I wouldn’t have to get paid for the job.”
It wasn’t that many years ago that Lothrop and his twin brother, Brian, were hanging out at ballparks and stadiums, seeking autographs to add to their collection of sports memorabilia.
Today, Lothrop finds himself hanging out in many of those same venues, but instead of getting an autograph from Turner Gill or Johnny Damon, he’s interviewing them.
“It’s kind of neat,” Lothrop said. “I’ve got a picture on our wall at home with my brother and I sitting with Turner Gill. It’s like I’ve come full circle. I was asking for his autograph when I was 8, now I’m 24 and I’m actually interviewing him.”
Lothrop admits that he still finds himself awestruck at times while doing his job, like last winter when he found himself rubbing elbows with some of the high-profile faces at ESPN while covering Kansas and Kansas State in the Big 12 Basketball Tournament. Or last April, when he interviewed Damon and former Kansas City Royals pitching ace Zack Greinke on the opening day of Major League Baseball Season. Then there was the time he chatted with college basketball icon Dick Vitale and interviewed Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.
“There are times when I say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this,’” Lothrop said.
As much as he enjoys the opportunity to cover big-time college sports and go to Kansas City occasionally to put together a Chiefs or Royals story, Lothrop said he gets as much satisfaction out of showcasing the talents of local high school and small-college athletes in the Topeka area.
Lothrop particularly enjoys doing packages and feature pieces on individuals that inspire or have a unique story to tell, like the high school basketball player that made the starting line-up despite being paralyzed in one arm.
“He was a kid at a high school about the size of Malvern,” Lothrop recalled. “I saw this kid playing football there and he played fullback. They were losing about 45-0 and this kid just kept running harder than anybody else. It looked like he was playing with just one arm. Later on, I talked to the coach and it turns out the kid was paralyzed in one of his arms. He went on to be a starter on the basketball team. To me, it was such an uplifting story.”
Another memorable story Lothrop has shared with his viewers chronicled the determination of a boy who fought off brain cancer and went on to win a state cross country championship.
When putting the finishing pieces of his stories together, Lothrop said his goal is to make them both informative and entertaining.
“Every story I do, I need my dad to pull three things from it that he was informed by and I need my mom to pull three things she was entertained by,” he said. “If you can do that, you’ve got what you need for a story.”
Lothrop said there’s no doubt that he made the right career choice and he’s grateful for a tip he received in high school from Ram football coach Brian Albert.
“I remember when I was in high school, I wanted to go to Northwestern,” Lothrop said. “That’s where the big journalists go, but during my junior year in high school, Brian Albert came up to me and said, ‘Matt, what do you want to do with your life?’ I told him I wanted to become a sports reporter, a TV broadcaster. He told me, ‘You know, the University of Missouri has a pretty good journalism school.’ I looked into it and he was right.”
Lothrop said he not only gained a degree from Missouri, but hands-on experience that’s proven to be invaluable.
“The NBC station in Columbia is owned by the school,” he said. “My course work in college was through a TV station. I was getting on-air experience as a junior in college. I learned how to anchor while other people were taking tests in economics or cutting up lizards in biology. That was their test. My test was anchoring, learning how to put a story together and learning how to do a newscast.”
While pursuing his degree at Missouri, Lothrop spent a couple of summers honing his journalism skills as a news and sports intern at The Opinion-Tribune. He covered everything from professional wrestling at the Mills County Fair to high school baseball games and city government.
“Working at the paper forced me to become a better writer,” Lothrop said. “I think that’s the one thing people think you don’t have to do in TV. They think it’s all about being funny on TV, witty on TV or creative on TV. There are times when the deadlines are so quick that you don’t have time to sit there and type out creative stories, so you just ad-lib. But, there’s other times when it’s all about being a good writer and being clear.”
Lothrop said he’s appreciative of the experiences he gained growing up in Glenwood, pointing out that his first job behind a microphone came when he was a sophomore in high school.
“I called color on about three basketball games when Jim Tucker started Glenwood Sportsnet,” Lothrop recalled. “I remember one of the games was against Clarinda Academy and that was the first time my brother Brian ever scored a basket in a varsity game. I was on the call when he scored his first varsity points and that was kind of exciting.”
Lothrop said he continues to grow into his role at KTKA. In addition to reporting, he also anchors the sports desk a couple nights a week and does a regular high school football and basketball highlight show on Tuesday and Friday nights.
He admits that one aspect of his job has taken some getting used to – wearing make-up.
“The first time, I used make-up from the station and it looked like I was wearing gloves. I had white hands and a dark face,” Lothrop said. “I ended up sitting down at a department store make-up counter and had them do it. You know, you feel kind of funny the first time you do it. After awhile, they recognize you when you come back and buy it and they say, ‘Oh, that guy is on TV. That’s why he needs it.’ You don’t feel nearly as weird. I admit, I always do my shopping at 10:30 in the morning on a Wednesday when nobody else is shopping at the makeup counter.”
Lothrop said he’s still surprised when he’s shopping in a local store or eating in a restaurant and strangers come up to talk to him because they recognize him as “that TV guy.”
Still young, Lothrop’s uncertain where his broadcasting career will eventually go, but for now he’s content on covering local sports, sharing special stories and growing as a journalist.
“I don’t want to fall into a comfort zone,” he said. “I want to keep the passion I have for my job and keep pushing myself to get better.
“People ask what’s the best part of the job? When you’re on the sidelines at a football game or you’re at the Big 12 Championship game for basketball, you are so close. You are right there and there’s 90,000 people or 20,000 people at that place that would do anything to switch spots with you. I know the job I have is special. Sometimes I have to ask myself, ‘Am I really doing this?’”