John Luff professional photo

1969 Alumnus Credits WOUB Public Media for Putting Him on Path to Success

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John Luff says WOUB was “magical experience” 

ATHENS, OH – John Luff, a 1969 Honors College graduate, wasn’t ever supposed to enter the Radio and Television Building on College Street in Athens, Ohio. But, once he did, there was no turning back.

“I was actually a physics major and had no intention of doing television,” said Luff. “However, I was taking a technical theater course that taught us about lighting and set design. I was always late to the class because I washed dishes in one of the East Green dining halls right before my class. Professor Bob Winters told me that instead of washing dishes to make my budget work, I should build sets for the TV station, which was located right next door, and then I wouldn’t be late to class. When I learned that the TV station paid 85 cents an hour, rather than the 35 cents an hour I was making washing dishes, it was easy to make the decision to get a job at the TV station.”

Luff admits that working at WOUB in the November of 1965 was purely financial at first, but that quickly changed.

“I got hooked,” said Luff. “The staff at WOUB was very small at the time, probably only eight or 10 full-time staff. And because of that, everything was open for students to get involved in. They needed to staff the whole station, both on-air operations and production, with student staff. The experience was very intense. You learned a tremendous amount in a very short period of time. It created a real bond between people who were learning a lot of things in a rapid-fire situation.”

After working at WOUB in several different positions, Luff developed a passion for television. He served as a camera operator, video tape operator, duty director, video engineer and transmitter engineer.

“The reality is that WOUB became a second home for a lot of us. We worked more hours than was rational. It just became obvious to me that I was going to end up working in television,” said Luff. “WOUB staff had the ability to teach and involve students, and it made a tremendous difference for me and many others. Ron Stutzman, a staff engineer at WOUB, told me I had a real talent for the technology and should pursue it as a career. I am fortunate he was convincing!”

After graduating from Ohio University, Luff had a long, successful and storied career which came from working hard and building connections in the industry. He says relationships that started at WOUB put him on the path to some wonderful experiences. Luff’s credits include hundreds of commercials and entertainment programs, and 15 years of sports and entertainment television events across North America, including cutting NHL highlights with a razor blade on quad tape and editing The Johnny Cash Show for ABC and Screen Gems, shot weekly in the Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Olde Opry in Nashville.

The Johnny Cash Show was a springboard that changed my career path in a quantum way,” said Luff. “I just watched the Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music on PBS, and when they showed clips from that show it brought tears to my eyes. I wouldn’t have ended up there if I hadn’t started at WOUB at Ohio University. I got crucial experience in Athens, and it had a big impact in the early part of career.”

Later in his career, Luff managed the technical coverage of large news events around the world. He was responsible for coverage of 10 U.S. political party conventions, economic summits in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, as well as events including the Hong Kong Handover, the Middle East Peace Conference in Spain, elections in South Africa, Hungary, the Czech Republic, East Germany and the Pro-Democracy Movement in Beijing. Luff also managed the broadcast center air operations for the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow.

“I’ve had my passport stamped in about 45 different countries,” said Luff. “It’s an odd thing to look back and see that a chance meeting with somebody at a hockey game in Boston built the connection that ended up putting me in Hong Kong for the Handover, but those things happen. Those kinds of accidental meetings lead to jobs and career opportunities that you can’t predict.”

As the founder and owner of Synergistic Technologies in Pittsburgh, he managed an engineering company that built stations and production operations as far away as Moscow, including the first HDTV mobile unit to produce Monday Night Football. Luff has been retired since 2017 and has this advice for students as they start on their own career journey.

“I think everybody has a vision of themselves doing something at a very high level and making a career out of it. It’s a career that they can see in their mind’s eye fitting together in a picture they can paint,” said Luff. “But, nobody at age 18, 19 or 20 can understand the size of the painting or the color of the paint. People should instead find something that creates a passion in them and become good at it. Listen to your own advice as loudly as you would listen to someone else. No one can truly understand what drives you emotionally. Students need to find something that excites them, learn how to do it in the best possible way, and they will be rewarded for it.”

Luff says that passion was ignited for him at WOUB in 1965, and it’s something he will always be grateful for.

“WOUB is not unique. There’s not only one place in the country where students can learn about media and technology and get hands-on experience, but WOUB is one of the places where the chemistry is exactly right to nurture people and lead them to do their best work, and to challenge them in ways they would not otherwise be challenged,” said Luff. “When the chemistry is right, it’s magical. The students that come out of WOUB become lifelong friends and rely on each other. That magical piece of it is hard to make happen, but when it happens, and it sustains for a while it produces real results and significant careers. The reason I want to continue to be involved with Ohio University is to make sure others have the same opportunity to have a magical experience like I had.”