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Monday, April 6, 2015

Sports Anchor Turned Cincinnati Children's Hospital Studio Manager Helps Kids Laugh

Zach Wells, studio manager at CCHMC's Seacrest Studios/WKID33

The sound of children. It's one of the first things Zach Wells noted while house hunting in Fort Thomas 11 years ago—the sound of children playing outside, laughing, screaming, riding their scooters and bikes up and down the streets. He loved it.

At the time he and his wife, Caroline, had none. And his job—then weekend sports anchor at Cincinnati Fox-affiliate WXIX (Channel 19) in Cincinnati—had little to do with tykes.

It's funny how life works out.

Today the Fort Thomas resident and father of two works with the sound of children all day long as a studio manager at Seacrest Studios/WKID33 at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Medical Center (CCHMC).

Wells earned a finance and accounting degree from San Antonio's Trinity University in 1998. He then worked as an accountant in Denver for four years. It's a story he shares with hospital patients often—it's OK to not have everything figured out at a young age. After one year as an accountant, Wells said he realized the job—for him—was interesting for an hour a day, not 12. Life changes. You change. You move forward.

In 2002 Wells moved across the country so he could study broadcasting at Syracuse University. He worked in Duluth, Minn., and Green Bay, Wis., before settling in as weekend sports anchor at Cincinnati Fox-affiliate WXIX (Channel 19). In 2010 he moved to the sports anchor position at Cincinnati CBS-affiliate WKRC (Channel 12).

Wells saw an ad for a studio manager position at CCHMC and it immediately piqued his interest. He applied, and was accepted. He started in June 2013, donning a hard hat to help supervise the construction of the studio.

Opened November 6, 2013, Seacrest Studios is both a broadcast studio and media center located off the hospital's main corridor across from the cafeteria. Much of the front of the studio is glass, making all inside operations completely visible to patients and staff.

Seacrest Studios/WKID33, as seen from across the hospital's cafeteria

Broadcast directly to TV via Channel 33 in all patient rooms, the studio provides entertainment as well as educational programming. By simply dialing 3-3333, children can call into the show to request songs and play games. Many children participate in the studio—as a game show contestant or guest DJ, or even as help behind the scenes, putting a show together. Wells and his team also have the option of visiting patients in their rooms and enlisting their help via an iPad—even if it means donning gowns, gloves and masks.

The goal is to reach as many children in the hospital as possible, Wells says, both mentally and physically. They set the tone for each show. "The kids are the best bosses to have," Wells says. 

The shows have been developed based on the children's input and past success. They include "finish the lyrics," "name that movie," Jeopardy, Pictionary and Bingo. Wells works with a full-time colleague, as well as rotating interns. When asked how this job relates to being a sports anchor, he says, "It's very similar—just the stories are different. When covering the Reds or Bengals, the people stories were the most interesting ones. Here, it's the stories of patients and guests." 

The Ryan Seacrest Foundation has been building media centers in children's hospitals across the country since 2010—the studio at CCHMC is the foundation's sixth. Wells says the equipment in the studio rivals that of any he has worked with in the past.

Wells puts in long hours at CCHMC, working Monday through Thursday. These days he arrives at his Fort Thomas home to, not only the sound of neighboring children playing outside, but the sound of his own, too—Noah (6) and Maya (5).

The situations Wells witnesses at CCHMC can be tough, he says, but kids don't talk about it in the studio. The studio, for them, is a place to escape—to forget about their illness if even for just a few minutes. It's a place filled with the sound of games and laughter.

"Are you happy?" I ask Wells.

"Oh yeah," he says.

1 comment:

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