John Shrader teaches sports media and communications at UNL. His decades of experience in the sports media industry help his students to be better prepared for careers in the sports media industry.

“This. Is. What. We. Do.”

These are words sports media and communications students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have come to know well. They come from John Shrader, associate professor and sports media and communications coordinator. 

Shrader graduated with a degree in journalism from UNL in 1978 and returned to teach in 2017 after a successful career in the sports media industry. From providing his voice and likeness to EA Sports’ NHL 95 to the voice of San Jose State University sports to winning an Emmy for his coverage of a Stanley Cup Playoff game, Shrader has run the gamut over more than 35 years in the media. Now, he looks to imbue these experiences within his students and mentor the next generation of sports media professionals. 

Shrader grew up in Neligh, Nebraska, a town of 1,800 at the time. Very early in his life, he said knew broadcasting sports was the path for him.

“I would dream about going places and doing things, broadcasting cool things,” Shrader said.

When he arrived at UNL as a student, Shrader’s media experience consisted of writing for his high school newspaper. Through his time at the university, he prepared to begin his career. Lucrative success doesn’t come quickly in the media, but Shrader stayed on an upward trajectory.

Shrader started his professional career in television at NTV in Kearney, Nebraska then at KHAS in Hastings. His career path led him to the Bay Area, first as a reporters and talk show host at KNBR radio in San Francisco, then as an announcer for the San Jose Earthquakes and sports reporter and anchor at KCBS radio.

In 2011, a broadcasting professorship opened up at Long Beach State. Shrader decided to take a chance on a new experience and chapter in his career.

“I thought, I’ve been in the broadcast business a long time, I’ve got the proper academic credentials, I certainly have a lot of experience,” Shrader said. “I’ll give it a shot, and lo and behold they hired me.”

He taught broadcasting for six years at Long Beach State, then moved for a new opportunity at Nebraska. A new major was available at UNL: sports media and communication. 

“They told me in the interview process, ‘we’re hoping to have 50 (students in the major) five years from now,” Shrader said. “We had 50 in the first year, then 100 the second, 150 the year after that. The program really exploded.” 

Rick Alloway, associate professor and station manager of KRNU, was part of the committee that hired Shrader to UNL.

“He was the first hire,” Alloway said. “He was clearly someone who had done a variety of things, sparkling professional background, he had gotten into academia, he had done the things we wanted to talk about in our program.”

Shrader’s forward-thinking perspective was another big draw for him to head the sports media major at UNL. Alloway said there’s a need for content to go where the audiences are, and the audiences are moving away from traditional cable or radio.

“John has been somebody who has very much embraced that from the start,” Alloway said. “We need to learn how to serve the existing platforms, while also bringing some of those people along into the next generation. We liked that a lot.”

After six years of teaching at Nebraska, Shrader continues to prepare students for success in the media industry. Students in his classes are asked to contextualize sports, as Shrader knows first hand that it is not enough to simply know the scores and players.

“As an average citizen, I know the scores from last night,” Shrader said. “I know who scored them and how. But can I put that in the proper context and understand why it’s important and go deeper?”

The goal is for students to graduate with that deeper understanding. One way that he said he tries to expedite the process is to help students gain the perspective that he didn’t have at their age. 

“Growing up in Neligh, Nebraska, graduating high school in 1974, the diversity you could find was really really limited,” Shrader said “Coming to college and after, meeting so many different people from so many different places; that experience really helped form who I am.”

An example of how Shrader exposes students to new experiences is a class that he taught for the first time in 2021: Racial Reckoning and Sports Culture. 

This class examines sports as the intersection of race, class and popular culture that it is. Students in this class place sports in a broader perspective in order to expand their understanding of what sports means to the country beyond the games. 

“It’s all part of the bigger picture,” Shrader said. “Why is it important that I understand what happened in Mexico City in 1968, or the Black press and their role in integrating baseball? You should be armed with this kind of knowledge when you enter the working world.”

Prospective sports media and communications students’ introduction to the program comes in SPMC 150: Introduction to Sports Media and Communications, with John Shrader. On April 12, the class started the same way it has every time, with a question. 

“So what’s been happening in the world of sports since we last met?”

He uses this question to break the ice on that day’s lecture, but it also often augments the class. Students volunteer something happening in the sports industry, and Shrader helps the class contextualize that event in the bigger picture. 

On this particular day the class discussed the acquisition of WWE by Endeavor, now one of the most valuable companies in the sports entertainment industry. This led perfectly into the day’s lecture on the commodification and monetary value of sports and athletes. 

As students progress through the program, Shrader emphasizes the importance of experience in development as a media professional. Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on broadcasting experience at live sporting events as they continue their studies. 

Not only does this allow them to develop their skills, but it builds confidence, something that Shrader believes is essential to be successful in the working world.

“I want the students to be confident when they leave here, to be ready to go out into the world,” Shrader said.

One student who has had the opportunity to gain a lot of on-air experience with broadcasting is third-year Connor Clark. He’s already had broadcasting opportunities with KRNU and Big Ten Plus.

“It’s something you can’t really get in too many other places,” Clark said. “Especially that early on, it was a big reason I came here.”

When it comes to these opportunities, Shrader helps students improve at each opportunity, making sure they know what they’re doing well, what they can improve, and generally helping them adapt.

“I’ll get a text in the middle of a game, and it’s him,” Clark said. “‘Hey, try this’, or ‘hey avoid getting too repetitive.’ It definitely comes with a learning curve, taking constructive criticism. But you know he’s giving you these opportunities because he sees a lot of potential in you, or thinks you can deliver a good broadcast.”

Shrader said he hopes students leave UNL with a heightened sense of curiosity .

“It’s something you must have in life,” he said. “It’s how vaccines get made, and how buildings get built. How can I make this better? What makes this tick? Without this curiosity, your career as a journalist will be pretty short.

“I want students to have some idea of who they are by the time they leave here. If you can match the passion you have, and where you fit in the world, I think that makes a happy, productive person.”

Life as a sports broadcaster had its perks. Shrader got to travel, meet well-known athletes and personalities and cover major sporting events. But Shrader said he doesn’t miss that life.

“There are parts I would do again if I could and there are parts I don’t miss at all,” he said. “What I did is what I did, and now what I do is what I do, I think it’s healthier that way.”