Brian Cabell sits down and talks with TV6 anchor Sophie Erber–the classic fish-out-of-water who’s managed to adapt to life in the Upper Peninsula over the last five years.
BC: You’re not from the U.P., are you? Born on the East Coast?
SE: I was born in New York City. My first bedroom was actually facing the World Trade Center. We were there until I was about five, then we moved to New Jersey. We lived in Princeton Junction for a while, until about 2003, then we moved to Florida, and lived there ever since. In Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida.
BC: What was your childhood like?
SE: It was great. It was fun. When we lived in Jersey, we used to go into the city all the time–to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades, stuff like that. New Jersey was beautiful–it was cold but I got into skiing there, and all the kids would come to the retention basin there and we’d all go sliding down on sleds, and I pretended to snowboard. And when we moved to Florida, I really got into the beach lifestyle. So then I stayed in Florida and went to college in Tampa. And afterwards I went to grad school, just across the bay, to Saint Pete.
BC: Were you a happy child?
SE: Oh yeah. I have one sister and we ran my mother ragged with all sorts of activities. I was really into dance and I wanted to do basketball, I wanted to play tennis, lots of musical theater and plays, summer camps. Yeah, I was busy. I wasn’t a bored kid, by any means. And I also loved school.
Sophie on her way to school in New Jersey.
BC: When was the turn to news, to journalism?
SE: Pretty early. I was in high school, freshman year, and I was in VTV, Venice TV. It was basically the morning announcement class. I loved to write and they had me produce and anchor the newscasts which I really enjoyed. You know, we reported on what was for lunch and how the tennis team did and how the bus route loop was being repaired so you’re going to have to walk around the alternate crosswalk…stories like that…Nothing hard or breaking but I was the VTV girl.
BC: What did you like about it?
SE: I liked being in the know and being informative. The school did a good job. We even had sports and weather. We had live shots for weather. If it was raining we’d send our girl outside with an umbrella. It was fun! I always liked watching the news as a kid. And then I really got into editing and started making short films and packages. And then in my senior year, I was recruited by the education channel in Sarasota because they needed a student reporter, but they said it was sports, and I said I love sports! So I was a sports reporter for my senior year.
BC: And then next it was on the the University of Tampa. What were you like in college? A party girl? Studious?
SE: Well, I spent most of my time either in the dance studio or the editing studio. I became every good friends with the janitors because I liked to edit after hours with my nerdy digital design and film kids. Either that or I was dancing in shows, a lot of student-choreographed shows…I loved choreographing.”
Backstage getting ready for the musical “Sweet Charity” at the University of Tampa in 2011.
BC: It sounds like you knew at a pretty early age what you wanted to do and you were pretty committed to it.
SE: Yeah, I used to get very annoyed with professors in my journalism and writing classes who told me, “You know, you’re going to change your mind about what you want to do three to five times before you graduate, and I would tell them, “No, I’m not.” I’d wanted to do it since I was fourteen. I loved to go out dancing–Tampa’s a fun place, great sushi scene. I was frequently the DD (designated driver), but I knew from the start what I wanted to do and that I wanted to get some internships. I did a few of those through college.
BC: So after college, what?
SE: The summer I got out of college, the RNC (Republican National Convention) came to Tampa, and they hired me to do set-up for the convention. An awesome experience. All of the national networks were there–CNN, ABC,, NBC, PBS. I used to think I wanted to do political reporting but then it seemed the climate changed and it didn’t seem as fun or real as news, because it’s not. Local news actually still serves a purpose and people generally trust what’s coming out of your mouth because that’s what we’re here to do whereas everything in the political world has spin. From working behind the scenes, that was very clear.
BC: And then grad school.
SE: Yeah, I did a little media law, theory. I was a TA for a professor who taught race, gender and class in the media. I was there for two years at the University of South Florida St Pete.
Sophie’s first ever newscast with Steve Asplund in 2014.
BC: So you were in Florida finishing up school. How did you end up here in the U.P?
SE: Well, I joke with people that I was imported because I had no family here, I didn’t know where this was but the way it works online is there are these big media companies that have bunch of little stations everywhere and you can essentially shoot your resume out to a lot of different stations. So I was getting calls from all over the country and I didn’t really have a preference of where I wanted to be. Well, someplace with water. Feeling landlocked would not have been fun for me. So I talked to news directors and kind of got a feel for the place and then I’d go on interviews. This was one of the places I was able to visit. They flew me up here–it was July–
SE: It was beautiful here! But growing up in New York and New Jersey, I knew snow but I never had to drive in it. So, anyway, I went on interviews to see where I could learn and grow and have a little bit of a life since it would be a Monday through Friday job.
BC: So what ultimately sold you on the U.P. and TV6?
SE: The news team was a veteran news team. They’ve been here for 40 years, 26 years, 29 years. I knew that I wasn’t going to be around just kids like myself who were just getting out of school. I didn’t want that. Even in some of the bigger markets that I was getting calls from, it seemed like the staff was so fresh and young. I wanted to learn something and join a well-respected station, and it seemed, by all accounts, that TV6 was exactly that.
BC: How long ago was that?
SE: Five years. I just got my five year plaque to prove it.
BC: And you’re still here. Now, some would wonder, since you’re smart and skilled, why you haven’t moved on to a larger market.
SE: It’s funny because about six months after I got here, people started asking me when I was going to leave.
BC: Well, that’s the way it generally works at smaller stations. People move on. Why haven’t you?
SE: I was originally here on a contract for a couple of years and then I signed a mini-extension because management was good to me. I’ve stayed very busy here, I’ve been into berry-picking, Lake Superior’s beautiful, and there are the waterfalls…so I stay very active. These five years have gone very fast.
Hiking Black River Falls in 2017.
BC: So what’s your intention five-ten years down the line?
SE: News is such a fluid business but I’m open to whatever negotiations Gray (WLUC’s corporate owner) wants to suggest.
BC: So you could stay, you could move to another Gray station, or you could move on to any other station?
SE: Yes, if Gray brings a deal to the table, I’m open. I have an open mind. Right now, my contract is up this year.
BC: Okay, enough about your professional situation. What about your personal life? What do you do when you’re not working?
SE: I’ve gotten very into the culture here, I do a lot of hiking. We’ve taken some camping trips, tried to see the entire U.P. I’ve been up to the Porkies, up to the Soo, the Keewenaw. We went to Isle Royale this summer and saw a lot of moose. My sister’s in college here at NMU.
BC: And your mother? Does she live up here?
SE: Most of the time. We have a house still in Florida, but she’s up here and gotten on her skis and her snowshoes.
Sophie snowboards on Marquette Mountain.
BC: So are you a skier?
SE: Well, I’ve been told I can’t break myself. If I broke a leg, it would seriously impede my ability to run a (teleprompter) pedal under the news desk. We’re just told (by contract) we’re not supposed to do anything stupid. I got on a snowboard twice last winter but I’m more into snowshoeing and cross country, and waterfall hiking in the winter.
BC: Okay, now I’m going to pry. No husband, right?
SE: No, not married.
BC: A serious relationship at this time?
SE: Yeah, you could say that. We’ve known each other for a while. It’s been going on for about eight months, I guess.
BC: Is marriage something you’re intent on…or not?
SE: The future looks very positive. I’m very happy, he’s very happy.
BC: What’s been the best part of your five years here in Marquette? What have you enjoyed the most?
SE: Honestly, it’s gone very fast. I love my work. This is not a business where you have a lot of free time, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Journalism is a labor of love, especially local news. It’s been a lot of fun, I’ve had awesome community support, the people here have really embraced me, TV6, everything that we do. The winters, I have to admit, are hard…(she laughs)…especially being from Florida…
BC: Do you get away in the winter?
SE: Not much. That’s probably the hardest part–we don’t get a lot of time off. When I do get off, I try to go back to Florida to warm up, and swim in water that isn’t fifty degrees. But that part’s hard. Even when you’re sick, the news must go on.
BC: You’ve covered a lot of stories. What strikes you as the most memorable?
SE: I think probably the most unique is covering the UP200. That’s something I’ve done four out of the last five years. It’s cold! That tends to be one of the coldest weeks. But I do remember one UP200 when it was so warm, they were worried about the dogs overheating, and I actually took my coat off for one live shot. I think it went up to the high fifties that day. So I’ve really enjoyed the UP 200s. And during the 2016 election campaign, John Kasich came to town and I enjoyed interviewing him. He seemed like a very normal guy–that’s probably why he didn’t get very far in that election. (We laugh) What else? Oh, I learned they make wine here in the UP. I did a series on wine making. But they don’t let me leave here much anymore because they’ve added a newscast (5 pm) and I’ve been added to the Fox newscast.
One of Sophie’s favorite assignments: Reporting live from the UP200, here in 2019.
BC: What do you do on Fox?
SE: I just do a couple of stories every night on Fox now. So I tease on five, I anchor six, I anchor seven, I have a couple of stories on Fox at ten, I anchor at eleven.
BC: Well, thank God you’re paid by the amount of minutes you’re on the air, right?
SE: Nope! (We laugh)
BC: Well, do you enjoy it?
SE: I always say being on the air is the easy part. The behind-the-scenes stuff is the hard part where stories fall through, you’re wrangling reporters to cover stories. TV6 has three different bureaus, you also send reporters out with satellites and laptops to edit, so the craziness and real work happens before we actually get on TV.
BC: Most embarrassing moment on the air?
SE: We’ve had some bloopers. On our old set on the Late News, we used to have Karl (Bohnak) join us at the desk during the First Weather segment. He would walk up to the news desk and sit down. He was supposed to be there when the camera came to him, but a few times he was busy getting last minute information or he lost track of the time or we had moved him up in the newscast, and he wasn’t in the chair, so the shot would come to Greg (Trick) and me…and an empty chair! We’d come up with odd excuses–Well, Karl must be tracking that hurricane! So sometime it’s hard for Greg and me to hold it together.
A celebration by the Early News team after they finished the last newscast on their old set in 2017..
BC: But that’s part of the charm of live TV.
SE: It is live. And that’s proof it is. And when our live shots go a little wonky…It just shows that it’s real. It’s live.
BC: What do you want people to say and think about Sophie Erber when they see you on TV?
SE: I hope they think I’ve done the stories of the UP justice, that I’ve shown homage to the unique culture here. It’s tight-knit but it’s also such a big area. So I hope I’ve made my tiny mark in a positive way.
BC: What are your strengths, your assets as a human being?
SE: I’m kind of a workaholic so when I commit to something, I’m very dedicated to it. I don’t like to do things halfway. I like things to be done right. I’m one of the grammar nazis here. I’m into academics and one day, I want to teach.
BC: And your weaknesses?
SE: I guess, workwise, when I have a vision for something, I can be stubborn. A little bit of perfectionism, OCD. That can be a problem especially in news because if something isn’t working out, you have to move on. The show must go on, literally. Not everything is going to be the way that you envision it. You have to be able to change.
BC: Ultimately, are you happy with where you are at age 29?
SE: Yeah. Or I wouldn’t still be doing it. It’s free will. I chose to go into news. I chose to come here. Now, I don’t think I would have ever guessed that I would end up in the Upper Peninsula for my first job, but I feel like you always have to have a positive attitude. Some people will come here and say, “Oh, it’s so cold!” and it is, but you can either embrace it or not. And I choose the happy route and living every day for as much as I can. Especially in the fall, I get this sinking sense of doom that winter is coming! I want to go on this hike! And look at the leaves! It’s going to snow soon! But overall I love life. It’s beautiful.
BC: Thank you, Sophie.