The University of Tennessee at Martin Department of Communications presented Jim Leighton (’79) with the 2019 Department of Communications Distinguished Alumni Award during a reception April 3. Pictured after the presentation are (l-r) Dr. Richard Robinson, professor of communications; Leighton; Rodney Freed, instructor of communications; and Dr. Robert Nanney, chair, Department of Communications.

Jim Leighton recognized as Department of Communications Distinguished Alum

The University of Tennessee at Martin Department of Communications presented Jim Leighton (’79) with the 2019 Department of Communications Distinguished Alumni Award during a reception April 3. Leighton is retired from work with Sony, ESPN, The Disney Company and other corporations throughout the broadcasting industry.

While describing his career for a crowd of communications students and faculty members, Leighton noted a few of his most interesting projects, including working with the engineering team that designed and installed the infrastructure to support the broadcast of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The broadcast was actually controlled from the Saturday Night Live soundstage at 30 Rock in New York City, New York.

Leighton also worked on the design team for the first Direct TV upload facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and managed the engineering team that designed and implemented the analog infrastructure at Oprah Winfrey’s studio in Chicago. He has worked with E! Entertainment, The Weather Channel and other stations to design and deliver programing as well and has experienced great change in the industry over the past four decades.

“During my 40 years, I experienced a transformation in (the broadcasting) industry like no other. I remember when I first came to Martin, that’s when I experienced cable TV for the first time. … I saw the evolution of audio and video recording technology. When I started with this business, we were using two-inch open-roll videotape. It went from that to cassettes, and now they’re using hard drives and solid-state media that can either be on-premise or in the cloud. … It’s not like it used to be,” he said.

Leighton also took the time to deliver three lessons to the assembled students, many of whom are preparing to graduate. First, he stressed the importance of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in any career field.

“These three traits will become the measure of you as a person and as a professional. Your colleagues, your employers, your customers will all measure you on how you exemplify those three traits,” he said.

He also encouraged students to begin building their personal networks early and to collect a business card or social media connection from every person they meet, because you never know which person might be able to help you get to where you need to go.

“That network will open doors for you that you can’t open for yourself in many cases,” he said. “It will expose you to jobs that you wouldn’t ordinarily know were out there. It will get you an interview for that job that you really want that you haven’t been able to get an interview for. It will open doors to people that you need to see for whatever reason that you haven’t been able to get in to see. It will become the most valuable asset you will have in your career.”

Finally, he urged students to evaluate not only a position’s potential paycheck but also the benefits a company might offer to stretch their money further into retirement, such as insurance benefits, on-site gym and childcare facilities, and matching funds for retirement plans.

“There’s no time like the present to start planning for the future,” he said. “Have a plan for where you’re going to be in five years, 10 years, and so on.”

Leighton joins a group of distinguished alumni award-winners that includes broadcast personality Van Jones, meteorologist Charlie Neese and radio station owner Nick Martin.

For more information, contact the Department of Communications at 731-881-7546.


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