At 6 years old, Zach Halverson picked up a microphone and with the aid of a karaoke machine called University of Minnesota hockey games while watching them on TV in his parents' White Bear Lake home.
Fast-forward 12 years, and broadcasting is no longer child's play. The high school senior has launched a new website called the Horn on which he delivers live coverage of White Bear Lake High School football games, and he grabbed his best friend to do it with him.
"I always knew I wanted to do this," said Halverson, who also calls games for TV19 Sports on the Ramsey-Washington Suburban Cable Channels. "Since day one, I knew I wanted to be in this field."
Halverson, a hockey player, and Chad Olson made their broadcast debut Aug. 31 when they called the Roseville-White Bear Lake football game while sitting in the front row of the rowdy Bears' student section. Since then they've also perched themselves atop press boxes and braved blustery conditions to bring fans the action. They now have three football games under their belt, and they plan to bring their microphones and mixer to volleyball and soccer games later this month.
"I've never thought about being in broadcasting," said Olson, who also is a White Bear senior and a former football player who still plays baseball. "At first I wasn't sure it would be fun. I've had a lot of fun doing it so far."
As word about their endeavor spreads, students, teachers and those who follow Bears athletics have been going to www.thehornwbl.com to catch the live broadcasts and listen to "The CHalvy Show," a podcast on which the duo provide lively banter and insights on the school's athletic teams.
"When I listened to their broadcast for the first time, I was really surprised and excited about the level of professionalism that these two seniors bring to the work they do," said Connor Luby, a language arts teacher and assistant football coach at White Bear Lake High. "They have a good knowledge base. What those guys have made for our school and sports community in the last year is awesome. I'm really proud of the network they've set up."
Halverson's foray into media took off at age 12, when he started as a volunteer at the local cable TV station. He ran cameras and designed on-screen graphics the station used on its sports broadcasts. Last year he was named the TV19 volunteer of the year and was promoted to be in front of the camera.
At the station, Halverson called games for the five schools in TV19's coverage area. But he wanted to do something more specifically dedicated to his school.
"The highlights were doing White Bear games, but we didn't just do White Bear games," Halverson said. "I wanted to see if I could do something more consistent and during my senior year announce my classmates' names. I thought about Nick Truen [a star running back], sitting next to him in language-arts class in the afternoon, then in the evening announcing his name running down the field scoring a touchdown. That would be cool and unique."
Olson and Halverson did a test broadcast of a lacrosse game last spring, then spent the summer putting things in place. That meant hiring a web designer and contacting local businesses to become sponsors. Trish Appleby, co-owner of Donatelli's restaurant in White Bear Lake, was one of several business owners who paid $500 to get 30-second advertisements during the broadcasts and prominent positions on the website.
"I applaud them for their ingenuity and tenacity, and we were excited to be a part of it," Appleby said. "I value education and learning. I listened to one of their promos, and it was amazing. This was a really creative idea. If I didn't get my money's worth, I didn't care. They were trying something different, being entrepreneurial."
Halverson has three donated headsets, and he bought a six-channel mixer that he plugs into a MacBook Pro. The key to making things go is Wi-Fi access at a game site. If the Internet isn't available, he channels game coverage through his cellphone "and hope my phone connects to the Internet," Halverson said.
The long-term future of the Horn is uncertain as Olson and Halverson will graduate in June. But both are looking to take classes at Century College next year, leaving open the possibility of broadcasting Bears games in 2013. No matter what happens with the Horn, Halverson likely will be behind a microphone somewhere.
"I want to be an NHL play-by-play announcer," he said. "I love hockey. I love broadcasting and figured this was the best way to put them together."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib