Rams support Rams: How 3 CSU grads landed at a small TV station in Mississippi

Ethan, Sydney and Janae

Ethan Bird, Sydney Wicker and Janae Hancock pose with their awards (courtesy Janae Hancock)

Moving to a faraway city and working odd hours is a rite of passage for anyone who wants to start a career in TV news, but three Colorado State University Rams have a rare leg up: They aren’t doing it alone. 

“This is the first time I’ve ever had three employees come to my station back-to-back-to-back from the same institution, and I’ve been in this business for 33 years,” said Jacque Harms, the general manager of WTOK-TV, the ABC affiliate in Meridian, Mississippi.

Janae Hancock, Sydney Wicker and Ethan Bird all worked together at CSU’s on-campus television station CTV, and they’re back together again at their first jobs more than 1,300 miles away in market No. 191, where Rams make up a disproportionate number of the station’s 17 newsroom employees.

“It’s like home, it’s so nice to have people I know out here,” Wicker said. “In the newsroom, we always joke about some of our favorites in Fort Collins like Bondi and Krazy Karl’s, and Janae even put something on her professional Facebook page about how cream cheese is the superior pizza topping.” 

‘Are you Colorado people just taking over?’

Ethan, Sydney and Janae CTV

Ethan Bird, Sydney Wicker and Janae Hancock all pose for a photo with their team at CTV News at CSU. (Photo courtesy Janae Hancock)

Their journeys to Mississippi started with Hancock, who was offered her job after meeting Harms through CSU Senior Instructor Sarah Pooler, a veteran of the broadcast news industry who regularly arranges networking events for her students. 

Hancock moved to Mississippi in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, and had never been to the state before. She’s now the morning anchor, and arrives at work at midnight to help produce multiple hours of news while most people are sleeping. 

Ethan Bird and Sydney Wicker
Ethan Bird and Sydney Wicker pose for a photo together promoting WTOK’s sports reporting. (Photo courtesy Sydney Wicker)

A few months after Hancock was hired, Wicker reached out and mentioned that she was considering coming to WTOK and working as a sports reporter. She got the job, and moved to Meridian in late July 2021. 

Bird started as a multimedia journalist a few weeks later, and he and his former CTV coworker Wicker became both coworkers and roommates. 

“When they introduced Sydney at the station, it was like ‘oh cool, another person from Colorado,’” Hancock said. “And then when they introduced Ethan, it was like ‘are you Colorado people just taking over?’” 

In her role, Wicker has the opportunity to cover everything from Mississippi’s robust high school football scene to the SEC, where she’s had the chance to cover titans like the University of Alabama and Mississippi State. 

Bird, who wants to be a sports reporter, has thrived as what Harms referred to as a “utility player.” This has meant producing shows, working as a photographer, covering general assignment stories after tornadoes swept through their region, and even occasionally presenting the weather – something he discovered he has an unexpected talent at. 

“That’s what’s great about small market television: You get to learn how to do it all,” Harms said. “You get to learn how to produce, do the weather, anchor, make contacts and just be a journalist. When you get into medium or large markets, you don’t have that luxury.” 

A unique support system

Janae and Sydney

Janae Hancock and Sydney Wicker pose for a photo at their office at WTOK-TV in Meridian, Mississippi. (Photo courtesy Janae Hancock)

Pooler doesn’t hesitate to tell her students that getting a start in TV news is tough. She made $11,500 a year at her first job, and would have to use her gas card to buy food at the end of the month. 

“I knew it was temporary,” she said. “I’m very up front with them: I say, ‘You have to love this, and want to do this. And it will get better.’” 

Hancock, Wicker and Bird didn’t have family or friends in Meridian before they started their jobs. Luckily, their CSU ties have created a unique support system in a career that involves overnight shifts, working weekends and holidays, stressful deadlines and covering the aftermath of tragedies. 

“When you have these tense moments and feel down and defeated after the work day, I know I can reach out to Sydney and Ethan because they understand me, know what I’m going through and where I came from, and have my best interests at heart,” Hancock said. 

This year marked Wicker and Bird’s first Christmas away from home, but they weren’t alone. 

“We were able to hang out together, it was so nice to have each other and have someone to open presents with,” Wicker said.

“It’s a safety net I didn’t know I needed,” Bird added. 

Making a name for CSU in Mississippi 

Etha Bird reporting

Ethan Bird reporting in the field (photo courtesy Jacque Harms)

Janae Hancock headshot
A photo of Janae Hancock anchoring at WTOK.

During her nearly two years at WTOK, Hancock has distinguished herself as the station’s morning anchor, so much so that she was awarded Rookie of the Year by the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters. 

Wicker won the same honor the next year for her sports reporting, and the hope is that fellow CSU alum Bird can score the three-peat in 2023.  

“Ethan’s a very good candidate for Rookie of the Year,” Harms said. 

By taking a risk and moving to Mississippi, all three CSU alums have learned valuable skills that will propel them in the industry, but they couldn’t have done it without everything they learned in Fort Collins.  

“I don’t think there’s anything that can prepare you for what the job is,” Bird said. “A year ago, I didn’t imagine that I could turn a package in an hour and a half, and now I do it regularly. But, I came in with a leg up having the foundation and the skill that I got from CTV, and I doubt I’d be here without it.” 

And Hancock, Wicker and Bird are helping each other throughout the journey. 

“We always say Rams take care of Rams, we’re always taking care of each other,” Wicker said.