Local TV visionary receives lofty honor
Debbie Honkus once worked for Total Communication Systems of New Kensington, using one production truck to cover Penn State football on a Saturday afternoon.
Now, the Lower Burrell native is the CEO of NEP Broadcasting in Harmar, with 60 production trucks and a crew of 3,000 on any given sports weekend.
For her accomplishments in running the nation's largest television production firm, Honkus became the first woman inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame last week in ceremonies at the New York Hilton.
"It's been exciting," Honkus said. "I had about 100 family and friends there. Jim Nantz was the MC."
Aspinwall's George Hoover, NEP's chief technology officer, also was inducted.
Other members of the 13th induction class included NFL Films great Steve Sabol, NBC executive Dick Ebersol, NASCAR impresario Bill France Jr., IMG founder Mark McCormack and visionary audio mixer Ron Scalise of ESPN. Fabled St. Louis broadcaster Jack Buck was inducted posthumously.
NEP has 750 employees, with about 150 Alle-Kiski Valley residents working locally. Honkus has produced everything from weekly NFL games to the Olympics and Golf Channel coverage.
Honkus has taken advantage of several big breaks that have allowed her company to flourish. A 1984 lawsuit overturned the NCAA's policy of restricting how many times a football team can appear on television. Now, the top collegiate programs have every game on some form of television.
"That was a big break, absolutely," Honkus said. "There became a need for more production trucks."
Another break came when TV networks such as NBC got rid of its production trucks, thus creating the need for independent producers such as NEP to supply production trucks.
NEP in its original form was WNEP-TV from Wilkes-Barre, whose trucks were spun off into North East productions.
"In 1995, the networks outsourced their trucks to get out from under the cost of technology," Honkus said. "The same year, the Golf Channel was launched -- that was another big turning point."
NEP also has produced every Olympics since the Seoul Games of 1988.
"Deb is a brilliant strategist, and she knows exactly what our clients want," said Hoover. "She has the pulse of the industry from a camera guy on "Monday Night Football" to the to network executives and leagues."
What's in the future for Honkus and NEP?
All the networks that carry NFL football have renewed their contracts for the next nine years, and the company plans to cover as many as 60 golf tournaments for Golf Channel to carry.
Honkus will continue looking for new hires from the Pittsburgh region.
"We work very closely with local technology schools," Honkus said. "They've supplied some of our best new hires, We always need new, young, talented people to go through our company's training program."
The company's headquarters will continue to be located in Harmarville, with its proximity to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Route 28 Expressway.