The North Dakota Outdoors weekly broadcast news feature will hit a milestone sometime this month with little more than a shrug from the program's creators.
While producing 1,000 weekly television features since the program's inception two decades ago is certainly noteworthy, too long of a pause to celebrate this signpost doesn't get show number 1,001 filmed, written, narrated, edited and put to bed.
Mike Anderson, Department videographer, films an ice fishing event for youngsters on a lake in McLean County.
"When you do 52 news programs a year, it gets to be more and more of a challenge to come up with story ideas, especially as we get closer to 1,000 shows," said Tom Jensen, Game and Fish Department video news director since 2001. "We brainstorm a lot, collect story ideas from staff … After we do a show, it's time to move on to the next one."
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has had an on-again, off-again presence on television since the early 1950s when broadcast TV arrived in the state. Much of what was seen by viewers in the early years was Game and Fish personnel in-studio at a television station to discuss wildlife issues and management. Game and Fish also had a video news presence in the late 1970s and early '80s.
It wasn't until 1994 with the advent of North Dakota Outdoors, a weekly, Department-produced show, that this presence became uninterrupted. "Young Hunter," which aired in early November of that year, was the program's first show.
Today, the Department's two-minute weekly news feature airs on 11 television stations in North Dakota and the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov. KXMC in Minot has carried the show without pause since its beginning.
Jim Olson, KXMC news director, said the program is a longtime staple because viewers love to see what's going on in North Dakota's outdoors.
Tom Jensen, Department video news director, left, interviews Stan Kohn, Department upland game management supervisor, for Outdoors Online, a weekly online video news program, which is in its seventh year.
"We are a state full of hunters and fishermen, and those who want to be, so the program really has an appeal," Olson said. "Beyond that, there is some really good video of wildlife and the outdoors. It really hits home with the majority of the people."
Mike Anderson, Department videographer, joined Game and Fish in December 1995 at about show 53. One of his first assignments was to film the release of bighorn sheep on a cold January day in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
"I had never seen, let alone filmed, anything like that," Anderson said. "And I'm guessing it was a first for many of the people who later watched it on television."
This behind-the-scenes presence in the outdoor world is one of the program's hooks.
"The program provides a peek behind the curtain," Jensen said. "Most people don't get to see wildlife biologists netting wild turkeys, putting ear tags on mountain lion kittens or trapping and transporting bighorn sheep with a helicopter. If people relate to the outdoors, which a lot of people do in North Dakota, they relate to the program."
Terry Steinwand, Game and Fish Department director, said the 20-year-old Outdoors weekly news feature is especially important in today's society, considering the public's thirst for audio/visual entertainment.
"While people are interested in what the Game and Fish Department is doing, Tom and Mike do a nice job of providing viewers with human interest stories, as well," Steinwand said. "We thank the TV stations that run the program because getting this information to the public is important."
Jensen said the program offers the opportunity to provide a deeper look into what is going on outside.
"It's important, for example, to understand the vital role quality habitat plays in helping deer, pheasants and other animals survive North Dakota's difficult winters," Jensen said. "We want to provide the answers to questions that some people haven't even thought to ask."
Like most other things electronic, technology in the video news industry is ever-changing. From 1994-2000, Anderson said the program was edited at the North Dakota Department of Transportation because Game and Fish didn't have the editing equipment.
"We'd take boxes and boxes of tape over to DOT and spend the entire day editing one show," Anderson said. "When we got our nonlinear editing equipment at Game and Fish in 2000, the time to edit a show was cut in half or more, plus it opened the door to so many more opportunities, such as public service announcements and in-house training videos."
While television stations didn't start broadcasting in high definition until 2011, Anderson said he started shooting video in HD in 2006 to meet the demand when the time came.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has had an off -and-on television presence in North Dakota since the early 1950s.
"We got a big jump in HD because we knew there were going to be changes and we had to get ahead of the game," Anderson said. "The old video wouldn't meet today's standards because the quality just isn't there."
Changes have also come in the gear carried into the field, be it aboard a helicopter, on a boat or on foot hiking in rough terrain.
Anderson said their old camera weighed about 30 pounds, or roughly the same weight as the tripod it sat on. Plus, extra camera batteries were the size of VHS tapes.
"Changes in technology have certainly made things easier as cameras have gotten much smaller," he said. "Now you can hike 5 miles into the badlands carrying one of the smaller cameras and not be dead when you get there."
Jensen said being a hunter, angler and having interest in most things outdoors helps to come up with story ideas that will likely appeal to viewers. But every now and again, a story that was done some years ago gets a new face, a little twist.
"We piggyback on stories from time to time," he said. "If we did a story five years ago on wintering waterfowl, we might do a similar story, but give it a different angle."
No matter, the goal remains the same: to entertain and educate.
When you're 1,000 shows into it, it's difficult to pick one that stands out, that jumps to the front as a favorite for whatever reason.
Anderson said when he first started nearly two decades ago, most assignments were novel, nearly every trip outdoors an adventure.
"One of the neatest things, and it still remains so, was when I was involved in netting paddlefish years ago. I think it was so memorable because I was getting to film this prehistoric fish that I had never seen before," he said. "Then that same day we packed up and drove from the Williston area to Marmarth to film sage grouse on their leks the following morning. That was the first time I'd ever seen that. That was a pretty cool two days."
Jensen said he favors those video pieces that show people, who have been sidelined because of injuries or other disabilities, returning to the field to hunt pheasants, for example, thanks to the assistance of a specially designed wheelchair and caring people.
"Those stories stick with me," he said.
As does the one from 2012 when Jensen and Anderson filmed a sharp-tailed grouse/sage grouse hybrid in southwestern North Dakota. Aaron Robinson, Department upland game management biologist, tipped them to the story.
"We got a call from Aaron and left at 2 a.m.," Jensen said. "Turns out, Aaron said Mike and I are two of maybe a half-dozen people in the world to have ever seen a sharptail/sage grouse hybrid in person. That sort of thing makes you feel kind of privileged."
North Dakota Outdoors Online, a weekly web-based news broadcast, is in its seventh year and is available at the State Game and Fish Department’s website at gf.nd.gov. Outdoors Online is also available on the following community access channels:
- Grand Forks – GFTV Channel 2, Saturday, 10 p.m.; UND Studio One, Channel 3, Monday, 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
- Dickinson – Consolidated Channel 18, Monday, 6 and 8 p.m.
- Fargo – TV Fargo Channel 12, Thursday, noon, and Sunday, 7 p.m.
- Bismarck – Community Access Cable Channel 12, Thursday, 9:30 p.m.
- Jamestown – Cable Services, The Replay Channel, CSi Channel 10.
- Minot – Cable Channel 19, Thursday, 6 p.m.
The program is hosted and produced by Tom Jensen and Mike Anderson, the Game and Fish Department’s video team. The webcast focuses on current news and issues that appeal to people who hunt, fish, trap and enjoy North Dakota’s outdoors. Each week Jensen hosts a studio guest, and also keeps viewers up-to-date on what they need to know to better enjoy their outdoor activities.
A new program is posted to the Game and Fish Department’s website each Thursday. Each weekly webcast runs approximately 10 minutes.