Brian sits down with Steve Asplund, TV6’s longtime anchor and current news director. If you talk to the scores of reporters, anchors, photographers and producers who’ve worked at the station over the last few decades, they’ll tell you that Steve is the hardest-working, most devoted newsman they’ve ever met. So who is he, exactly, as a person?
BC: Where’d you grow up?
SA: I was born and raised in Brookfield, Wisconsin which is a suburb of Milwaukee. It was just a small, suburban community. When I was growing up, it was just a group of homes with farm fields surrounding it. Over the years, though, it’s blossomed into something much more.
BC: Was there an overall message–a philosophy of life–that your parents tried to convey to you?
SA: The message that I always got was, if you wanted to do something, make sure you do it well. Just don’t go about it half-heartedly. Make sure you complete the job and you’re proud of it in the end.
BC: Do you remember the first time you watched TV news when you were a boy?
SA: Yeah, I remember it well because in those days, you had to wait until the station signed on–the Indian headdress that was on there for the test pattern and then the tone that would come through–and then the news would come on after that. Of course, it was black and white, and it was the type of news where you had Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsoring the sports, and Schlitz sponsoring the weather segment. In Milwaukee, the guy doing the weather on WTMJ, Bill Carlson, used to sip Butternut Coffee in the middle of his weather cast because they were a big sponsor.
BC: Did you have an idol when you were younger?
SA: Not really. I had kind of a quirky childhood because I’d go to sleep at night by listening to WBBM news radio out of Chicago. I mean, how many kids do that? It wasn’t even our city! I was just intrigued by what they were saying and what was happening. They were telling us things that were happening around the world and what was happening in Chicago. It was just interesting to me to hear what other people were doing.
BC: So what do you think accounted for this fascination with news at such an early age?
SA: I don’t know because at that time, it seemed like just a passing interest. It wasn’t something I really focused on. And after I went through high school, I had the opportunity to go in the military but then a guy offered me a job driving a semi. I had always wondered about that, so I did that and also went to college, driving a truck and delivering milk to grocery stores. In college I didn’t really have any direction but my dad was a CPA so I figured I’d study business. I did business for about two years and said, “This is really boring. I can’t handle this.” I’d always had this interest in radio and TV so I looked into those courses and decided to take them. And I found out news was fun, it was interesting. It came easily.
BC: Where’d you go to school?
SA: University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
BC: How would you describe yourself as a student there?
SA: An above average student, nothing outstanding. I was really kind of a workaholic. I was not only in school but during the last half of college, I was an RA in the dorms, I worked at the public radio station there, I was still driving a semi on the weekends, and working at UPS, Monday through Friday, early mornings, so I was working and going to school all the time. I wasn’t laying around and partying.
BC: Where’d you get your work ethic from?
SA: I think from my father and my uncles. They were very work-oriented and disciplined. Even to this day, my uncle is 86 years old and lives on a lake and still gets up every day and works around his property. He never just sits down and does nothing.
BC: Do you remember your first moment on the air on radio?
SA: I do. In radio, you know, you cut your story and then you turn it in. And, in college, it was like, well, if it’s good enough we’ll use it and if not…Well, you hope they do. And then you’re sitting there listening to the public station, and suddenly your story comes on and it’s like, “Oh my God! That’s me! I’ve hit the big time!” (He laughs)
BC: Let’s talk about some personal things. How’d you meet your wife Anne?
SA: At my older sister’s wedding. Anne was playing violin as part of the music. We met and struck up a conversation. It came really easy. The fact that she was in Milwaukee in school, and I was in the U.P. working made it a little difficult at first but we stuck with it, and it’s been great ever since. We both have an attitude of making things work no matter what. We love to laugh and have a good time. It started well and it’s been growing ever since.
BC: Now, before you got married, was she aware that you had a mistress–namely TV news?
SA: (He laughs) She was. That was one of the concerns I had back then and I told her, “You know, this is what I do” and she said, “Yes, I understand” but I was afraid that she really didn’t understand. And one time she came up to visit me, and I was doing the news, and she made a meal for us to have after the newscast–a big spaghetti dinner–but then I had to call her up and tell her that I wouldn’t be coming home because I had to go out and cover another story. I got home at 2:30 in the morning, and the food was still there and she was up, and I started to apologize and she said, “I know. I know. It’s not a problem.” And I thought, wow, she really does understand.
BC: Has there been any friction with her over the years because of your devotion to your job?
SA: Not really. We don’t get into fights. We might have discussions but we really don’t hold a grudge or anything like that. At my son’s wedding, the man who presided over the service said there’s one thing to remember as you go through life–When you get up in the morning, always make the bed. And that’s something we’ve always done every morning. It’s always made so when you come back to bed at night, it’s fresh.
BC: Back to TV…what’s the most embarrassing moment for you that you can remember?
SA: The slip-ups with words are the ones that come to mind. I had a story on Michigan Tech where they had a giant banana split at the beginning of the semester for new students, so they can build togetherness and have fun. So I’ve got only twenty seconds to read this story, but it’s a thirty second story. So I realize I have to read it really fast. I’m screaming through it–“…100 pounds of bananas, 200 pounds of ice cream, 20 pounds of penis–I mean peanuts!…” (BC laughs) And I just kept going while everybody around me was laughing.
BC: What’s been the most gratifying story for you?
SA: I don’t know about a particular story, but for me personally, the most gratifying part of the job as been the adventures I’ve been on. This job takes you everywhere to do anything. I’ve flown with the Thunderbirds, I’ve been on an ore boat for two days doing stories, I’ve been on a B-52, I’ve been on a KC-135. I love flying. The job has taken me to different areas and allowed me to meet people and hear their stories–especially the common person that you might see and think nothing of, and then you talk to him and you realize that he was shot down in Europe in a B-17. And he and his buddies were in a prison camp. And until you talk to him, you wouldn’t have realized it because he just looks like a guy from down the street.
BC: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in TV since you started?
SA: It has to be technology. When I started here, it was 16 millimeter film and you had to go through a processor and you typed on manual typewriters. We didn’t even have a fax machine, so you’d use the phone and take dictation. Now, it’s infinitely changed. It’s much smaller and automatic. With the push of a button, you’re able to do a number of things that used to take a lot of effort.
BC: Has editorial quality declined at all?
SA: I think everybody tries to adhere to good standards but it’s been compromised over the years. In the early days we used to need two independent sources for confirmation on a story. That’s now waned quit a bit to point where we say, “Well we’ve heard this and social media confirms it so…” I still subscribe to the belief that we have to have somebody in an official capacity to actually confirm something. We don’t just throw stuff out there to be first with a story.
BC: What’s the perfect day for Steve Asplund?
SA: Where everything goes smoothly and there’s no complaints.
BC: What about, aside from your job?
SA: The thing is, the job consumes so much of your time that it is your life. It’s a passion, it’s a lifestyle. People do take a secondary role sometimes, including my wife. I’ve often told her that I appreciate that she’s stuck around even though she hasn’t always been the top priority.
BC: What do you do when you’re not in the newsroom and not working?
SA: I enjoy watching movies and television shows. We’ve gone camping from time to time and cross country skiing. We like to travel although we don’t seem to have much time to travel. Family, I love to get together with them, especially around Christmastime. So I’m able to detach myself sometimes (from news) but it never really leaves you. Because you look at everything, and everything’s a story.
BC: Is there anything really strange about you that most people don’t know about?
SA: It’s not strange to me but I love semi’s, I love driving a truck. An 18 wheeler? I used to do that, and at times I think that I could chuck all this and go back to driving a truck. Me and the truck! That’s it! (SA and BC laugh)
BC: So when do you retire from your real job?
SA: I don’t know. I’ve always said, as long as I’m having fun at what I’m doing, I’ll continue to do it. And right now, I still enjoy my job. I still have fun doing it. I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future.
BC: If and when you do retire, what would you then like to do?
SA: I’d like to get around the country more. I’d like to visit my children and spend time with them. I’d just like to take time with things instead of worrying about a schedule, a deadline. Because with this job, it’s always been about deadlines.
BC: Looking back, any regrets?
SA: I don’t know whether I’d call them regrets but sometimes I wonder if I’d followed this path, I would have ended up this way. I mean, I’m very happy with the way my life has gone. I see it as being successful and enjoyable. I’ve had a great time doing it, I still do. But I do sometimes look back and wonder what would have happened if I had stayed with UPS or if I had driven a truck. Where would I be today? But really I have no regrets. I have a great family, loving kids and a loving wife. That, I think, is what really matters.
BC: Thank you, Steve.