In 2006, Highland native Drew Aebischer was attending the University of Illinois-Chicago as a when a life-changing email was sent out to all of the school’s student-athletes.
The email was seeking people who were interested in doing production assistant work with CBS Sports for the 2006 PGA Championship in Medinah, Ill. Aebischer was a men’s soccer player double majoring in communications and economics
Since he was living in Chicago and loved the idea of working in sports, the email immediately peaked the 2004 Highland High School graduate’s interest. So he decided to take a chance and replied to the email with his resume and telephone number.
Aebischer was ultimately accepted for the job and thus began his journey down a career path that recently led him to garnering a coveted and prestigious Emmy Award. An Emmy recognizes excellence in the television industry, and corresponds to the Academy Award (movies), the Tony Award (stage), and the Grammy Award (music).
Aebischer, the son of Steve and Terry (Moenster) Aebischer of Highland, won a Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Team Remote as one of several digital replay operators for CBS Sports for their coverage of Super Bowl 50 in which the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10.
“This is an amazing achievement, but in the end, I couldn’t have done any of this without the people I have worked so closely with over the last couple years,” Aebischer said. “I am truly blessed. That’s the best part.
“But you’ve got to put in the work. If the opportunity comes and you don’t take the chance, the opportunity may never come again. If you take the chance on an opportunity, and you go in with a full mind and a full heart, anything can happen. And then when you get the opportunity, it is up to you to make the most of it. I took a chance on a great opportunity, and it has worked out better than I could ever hoped or imagined. I get to do what I love to do and to be recognized in such an amazing way for what I love to do, I feel truly blessed.”
As the remote media manager for CBS Sports, Aebischer is in charge of all the media on site for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, as well as PGA golf.
CBS has about 150 TB (terabytes, which is approximately a trillion bytes) worth of storage on their truck. It’s filled with material dating back to the days of hall of fame golfers, such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, on up through the current young stars like, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Aebischer and his team at CBS Sports use a broadcasting equipment called EVS to handle their management of this data. In their truck, they have 6 XT Access machines which act as transcoders for all the data coming off what is called a LSM machine. The LSM is the controller that the operator uses for replays in a game. Transcoding is the direct analog-to-analog or digital-to-digital conversion of one encoding to another, such as for movie data files, audio files, or character encoding.
Aebischer said that basically there are many parts and pieces to this puzzle.
Tape operators work the LSM machines, which are the replays to all the action. When watching TV, and especially golf, everything is not live. Basically, they are cutting the action as it’s happening in a router, then playing it back to the viewers. When an operator makes a clip, this clip is stored on the LSM storage, and the operator has the option of archiving this clip to our local storage by going “ALT-Z” on the keyboard.
“We use a system called an XFILE, which works in conjunction with a web-based product called XSQUARE to pick this clip up and transcode it from DNX100 TO XDCAM50, which is a compressed smaller version of the 100. These clips are stored locally and also in New York. and they have the ability to almost send clips back REALTIME depending on the processing power of the computers transcoding.
Aebischer said all that the job entails can be hard to describe.
“My job is to make sure all this data is managed on site in every location we go to,” he said. “When a producer or production person needs a clip on site, my job is making sure it is searchable and then creating a way for the editors on site to get this information as quickly as possible.”
There are things that Aebischer gets to experience that most people dream about, like meeting Nicklaus or Player at the Masters’ or experiencing the beautiful scenery at Pebble Beach.
“When you get to go to places you’ve never been to, walk into a stadium that you’ve never been to, or experience some things that you’ve never gotten to do, it’s like I am a kid in a candy store,” he said.
When he first started, Aebischer did a half semester to work the Super Bowl. Starting out that first summer, Aebischer spent two weeks helping the production managers set up a compound full of nothing.
“A television compound is not all glitz and glamor,” he admitted. “When you’re a production assistant, you’re helping the production manager set up the trailers, catering, the compound, offices, scheduled pick-ups from stores, and getting all the necessities for everyone to be able to work. In Medinah, we were basically set up in a gravel pit outside the golf course. This gravel pit became the compound to over 500 people, 10-plus trucks and so much more. This was going to be an experience of a lifetime, a job I could learn so much more in two weeks then I could working any other job that summer.”
Medinah gave the Highland native the chance to network with so many different people while he worked there. In television, there is not a 8-5 set time schedule. They work seven days a week for numerous weeks in a row. The hours are really long. Aebischer recalls asking his boss the first week he worked if he had to work the weekends? The answer from his boss was, “Do you think people want to watch sports on the weekend? We work until the job is done, no matter the time, no matter the day, there is a job to do.”
Aebischer certainly has put in the work as he has gone on to cover two more Super Bowls, highlighted by last year’s Emmy-winning performance, as well as two Ryder Cups (including 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland), numerous golf tournament including several Masters Tournaments in Augusta, Ga., as well as the final four years of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament on CBS (2012-2015).
Like one big family
Aebischer said a television crew is a large family that travels seamlessly together and they all work together, have fun with one another’s families, kids and love being with one another.
“I have the chance to work with the best people in the business week in and week out,” he said. “From New York to anywhere in the United States, my job is made easy because the people around me. We create an atmosphere where we work really hard, but have fun doing it. We create goals and we achieve those. We have a team back in New York called the MAM that takes care of all the resources back in New York. There are robots that help keep storage for years, and a nearline managed system that keeps storage for weeks and months to be managed.”
At the Super Bowl, CBS had about a 1,000 people working. Engineers, Production and Technical made up that operation to put on a event that took over two weeks to set up and approximately three days to break down.
TV always held special meaning
Television has always been a special part in Aebischer’s life. His aunt Deanne (Moenster) Poitras was always involved in TV. She has worked in St. Louis, Dallas and now California for numerous different TV stations as a design director and more.
“We as a entire family went down to Dallas one year for Thanksgiving and I remember sitting there in old Texas stadium as a young man just thinking how cool this was to be in such a historic place,” Aebischer said. “I never really imagined getting that chance. Throughout High School, we had a program in Highland that Jim Nickerson taught called Television and Radio. We were taught editing skills, camera skills, on-air, and also production techniques that would/could be utilized in the TV environment. Obviously, this was a class that not every high school had or could support, but we were lucky enough to be involved.”
Aebishcer recalled recall during the day the news would come on during a certain hour of the day and the class got to watch their classmates on TV reading the weekly updates. He always took the class seriously, because he knew he had a passion for sports television way before ever getting the chance to work his current job.
“Mr. Nickerson cannot be thanked enough for his involvement in what I do now,” Aebischer said. “I actually got to send him a photo of the Emmy last week with a little thank-you note.”
Family plays key role
Aebischer’s family has always been a reason why he was able to do what he has done.
“I have never been so blessed to have a support system like they have been,” he said. “There are times where I have been on the road for nine weeks straight. I missed birthdays, flew red-eyes home for Christmas, missed Thanksgiving events or anniversaries but they always were there for anything I’ve ever needed in life.”
One of his fondest memories he ever had was when his father, Steve Aebischer, and fellow Highland native Kevin Hemann came down to the Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga. in 2015.
“My dad is not a sports fanatic, but he does love supporting me by wearing every CBS shirt I’ve ever given him,” Aebischer said. “I got the chance to take a picture with him in Butler Cabin where the Master’s winner is given the green jacket. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. It’s truly been a blessing having my family in so many places and so many work places to share memories.”
And now Aebischer gets to share his new memories with his wife, LaDonna (Jenkins) Aebischer, who is a pediatric dietitian at Carle Foundation Hospital in Champaign.
“There is no man on the entire planet who could ask for a better wife than I have,” he said. “She has been the most amazing support system and role model in my life.”
Aebischer said that if he could teach anyone something in life, it would be a quote his mother Terry told him one time, which he actually has tattooed on his back: “Always remember where you came from.”
And he has never forgotten what that means.
“I am proud to be from from Highland, Illinois, I am proud to be from St. Paul, and I am proud to be from Highland High School. They all have shaped me and helped make who I am,” he said.