STEUBENVILLE - Nate Cline's epiphany - or, at least, his first one - came in the wake of a suggestion more than a decade ago from one of his professors at Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania.
"They'd started a community access channel in the area and were looking for programming," said Cline, a communications major. "I'd been writing a column for a newspaper anyway, and one of my professors came to me and (suggested) turning it into a program."
Cline, an avid outdoorsman, didn't hesitate at the chance to translate his printed words into a video homage to his hobby.
POPULAR HUNTING SHOW — Nate Cline spends hours editing footage of turkey and deer hunts for his cable show, “Tree Stand Buddy’s Game On,” which airs three times a week on the Direct TV and Dish television, averaging 400,000 viewers a week. Cline will be launching a new show, “Game On Gobblers,” in the spring that will focus on turkeys. -- Linda Harris
"My passion has always been hunting," said Cline, who bagged his first deer when he was just 10 years old. "When I was a freshman, as soon as class was over I'd head out into the woods to go hunting or just to be outdoors. I thought I was wasting time if I didn't do one of those."
He graduated in 2001 and got a job at WTOV-TV in Steubenville, allowing him to fine-tune his production skills while working as a jack-of-all-trades at the television station. "I learned so much while I was there about being a reporter, a producer, an editor and cameraman," he said. "But the last five years I was there I was thinking about making a career change."
Cline recalls how back then, whenever he went to the police station on assignment "guys would tell me, 'You should take the test' and I'd say no, I'm happy where I'm at. But toward the end I was saying, 'You know, I may do it.'"
He made the change in 2008, taking a job as patrolman with the Steubenville Police Department a job he says better suits his personality. "At the news station, you're always watching what happens," he explains. "Now, I have a hand in doing something about it."
That career redirection also gave him the flexibility he needed to develop and market his show to a broader audience, an opportunity he couldn't pass up. With the help of his college buddies, Robby Gilbert and Rich Harr, as well as his brother, Jesse, he set to work developing what has turned into a wildly popular satellite show, "Tree Stand Buddy's Game On." Now airing on the Pursuit Channel (Direct television Channel 608 or Dish Channel 240), it plays three times a week and dishes up a host of "this is how we do it" suggestions and demonstrations to an average of 400,000 viewers a week.
The show's premise is simple enough: Cline and his carefully-selected team of hunters from across the country film their hunts, then he edits the footage, turning it into must-see TV. Many of the hunts are here in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, though he and his staff go on location throughout the country as needed.
"Our show right now is basically a deer and turkey show," he said. "But this spring, we're also going to start a show, 'Game On Gobblers.' It will be an all-turkey show."
Cline, a 1997 graduate of Edison High School, said the business, like his staff, has grown over the years, "at least doubling every year." He has hunters at locations around the country now who contribute to the show. Even his fiancee, Melissa Mendenhall, has gotten into the act, designing some of their apparel and even helping him film.
"We're at the point where people are coming to us, we don't have to go banging on doors," he said, though adding he's always in the market for more sponsors. "Back in 2004, I remember thinking there was no way we could reach this point - I'd seen companies come and I'd seen them go. Being able to achieve this much in what, eight years, is an accomplishment."
He remembers releasing his first DVD in 2004. "Four of us went out to the Sherwood Archery Club in Island Creek, with a DVD I'd made and printed in my basement. I printed 20 or 30 of them, and we sold it for $5 from the tailgate of my truck. Now, I do a minimum run of 1,000 DVDs a couple times a year."
He said they hunt turkey in spring and deer in the fall. Summers he spends in his basement office, editing footage of their hunts - it takes about 20 hours of editing per episode. Throughout the winter he does trade shows.
"People think hunting season is is my busy time, but it's not," he said. "Hunting season is when I get to take a breath and go out and do what I actually like."
They film hunts around the country, "though the majority of stuff happens here, in the Ohio Valley, and western Pennsylvania." He figures part of the show's appeal is that viewers "relate to our hunts" because they live and hunt in so many of the same areas.
Cline said they've already hit the 5,000 "friends" ceiling on Facebook, the maximum allowed. He just signed up for Twitter earlier this year and already has 1,150 followers.