For more than a decade, Montrose High School has provided aspiring students one of the strongest and most lauded high school broadcast journalism programs in Michigan.
And moving forward, those students will have the opportunity to learn the craft at the newly-unveiled studio named in honor of the mentor who poured so much into those efforts.
On Thursday, MDM-TV (Montrose Digital Media – Television) opened the doors to its Thomas E. Skinner Broadcast Center, a newly-created video and audio lab, studio and production space named for Tom Skinner, a well-known Flint-area sports broadcasting voice for four decades who played a starring role in building the school’s program over his final 12 years until his death in October.
The goal was to create a fully functioning place where students can learn to create top-notch sports and news products. The network’s new home includes a podcasting lab, video and audio editing lab, studio, and control room/soundproof room for recording voiceovers. The space, formerly a distance learning lab in the middle school used most recently for storage, replaced the former studio housed in a high school classroom. MDM-TV began making the move and transformation after COVID-19 shut down the program during the spring of 2020.
Longtime teacher Jamie Kitts, who retired from fulltime classroom instruction in 2019 after 33 years in the district and remains the school’s digital media instructor and MDM-TV advisor, played a leading role in the creation of the Skinner Center – and said, frankly, the facility couldn’t have been named after anyone else. Skinner worked with the program’s on-air talent all though his dozen years, and also coordinated the summer camp for seven years.
“Tom is responsible for so much of the great work our kids have done,” Kitts said. “We could not have accomplished what we did without him. Plus, he really enjoyed working with the kids.”
Montrose’s program was named “Program of the Year” five straight from 2014-18 as part of the MHSAA’s School Broadcast Program Excellence Awards. In 2017, then-junior Eric Vandefifer was named the nation’s Best Student Broadcaster by the NFHS Network as part of its School Broadcast Program Awards. Kitts has been a finalist for the NFHS Network’s national Teacher of the Year award multiple times. Current students and Skinner proteges Danny Sackrider and Owen Leitelt recently were named the Best Sports Announcing Team in the high school division by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters – the third time Montrose has produced a winning pair.
The Skinner Center was financed through advertising sales, grants, career and technical education funding and donations, with plenty of volunteer labor and significant support from the district’s administration helping bring it to life.
Students past and present did much of the work, with local “do-everything guy” Joe Crimi playing a major role, and Kitts also gave substantial credit to the network’s sponsors Thumb Audio/Video’s Kevin Strieter.
“My wife, another retired teacher, asked me the other day, ‘What have you learned from building this broadcast center?’” Kitts said. “Typical teacher question! I have learned that even through tough times, you just can't let your dreams die. And that if you need help, just ask for it. People want to help. They just need to be asked.”
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