Excerpt from the December 2023 Legacy Ledger:
We end the year with our “broadcasters’ issue”, returning to a theme first introduced in May 2021: storytelling. Whether it’s behind the anchor desk or at a game in the broadcasters’ booth, telling a story is integral to reporting the news, sports or weather.
We present two accomplished alumni who tell stories on air. They incorporate analysis, color commentary and personalities. They frequently compose their “lines”, sometimes shooting from the hip… or writing the words that appear on the teleprompter. They cultivate the trust of their audiences. They know that viewers will change the channel if they’re not believable, clear and concise, fun and interesting to watch.
While they graduated in different decades, Mike Olmstead and Larra Overton are each in that mid-career sweet spot, in their prime… with loyal audiences in their respective communities. As teens, Mike and Larra both developed a passion for the printed page. They went on to take different pathways to become broadcasters. We think you’ll enjoy learning about how their stories unfolded.
Introduction and spotlights by Rex Bickers (FCHS ‘70)
In a grade school play, Mike Olmstead got a big laugh from the crowd when he delivered a single line. He wanted more of that, daring to dream of becoming a performer when he grew up.
At Floyd Central, he did well in choir. In theatre, he found motivation in the “tough love” of Glenn Edwards, But college seemed different; he felt unprepared. He credits a classmate of his younger brother Rob (FCHS ’91): Travis Schraffenberger as just the kind of friend he needed. Travis was at Franklin College; a relatively new TV station had been launched on campus. He told him straight up: “You should transfer here”. Mike did and studied broadcast journalism before leaving Franklin in 1995, after his junior year.
In broadcasting, he chose to focus on sports. In high school, he hadn’t been a varsity athlete in any sport. And yet, he really admired the classroom teachers who were also coaches: Cerqueira. Hinton, Rick Miller, as well as both Bob and Dave Caple. At Franklin, he got to cover some sports and campus news stories; he racked up various demo video tapes. He set out to find an entry-level TV job in sports and a promising call came from Joplin, Missouri: KSNF, the local NBC affiliate. Mike landed the job over the phone without any face-to-face interview. (Funny anecdote: he initially thought “Wow, I guess I’m pretty good”. As he later learned, KSNF had no budget to fly candidates in for interviews!)
He succeeded in Joplin. He got better offers: four years there landed him in Fayetteville, Arkansas, then Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 2007, he got the chance to come “back home” to Kentuckiana, at WDRB. Curious twist: he was a mentor to Larra Overton, who was interning there! He developed a strong resume of work at WDRB, and at WAVE-3 also, gaining extensive producer experience.
Back in Joplin, various people remembered Mike from the 90’s and they were careful to keep tabs on his career. In 2011, the Fox affiliate KFJX asked him to return to Joplin as a news anchor and executive producer. He was there for eight years; in 2015, he was recognized as Best News Anchor in the state by the Missouri Broadcasters Association. In 2018, he was recruited by Missouri Southern State University to head their media relations. By early 2021, local television reeled him back in… to KSNF, where he first started.
Later that year, ABC affiliate KODE chose him as their main news anchor (the two stations share the same building and the same ownership). Working for three of the four networks in Joplin, Mike has also earned awards from the Associated Press and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. It seems likely that the accolades will keep on coming.
Mike and his wife, Cynthia, live in Joplin and have three children: Chandler, Mykala and Jude.
Larra Overton told us flat out: she loved “stories in print” as a kid. An early shadowing opportunity with newspaper columnist Bob Hill was a big catalyst. Each week, she awaited the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, especially its “Faces in the Crowd” feature. Yet magazine stories were very much eclipsed in her own home, with tales of the legendary (’77). Bulldog track team. Her father ran the 440, setting a school record…but the triple threat was Hall of Famer Jeff Woodard with conference records twice (long jump and 880 relay) and the state high jump record.
No surprise then, that Larra also ran for NAHS excelling in both track and cross-country. She was just a ninth grader when she first met coach (Hall of Famer) Tom Chapala. With no seniors on the team in (fall) 1997, New Albany sent Indiana’s “youngest” group of girls to state in cross-country… and then did it again in ’98, ’99 and 2000. Larra was also varsity in track all four years and set a school record in the 800. It led to a full athletic scholarship at IU (once again in track and cross-country). She captained the track team her final two years, with NCAA championship appearances twice in XC and twice in track.
Despite her successes as a high school athlete, Larra never let sports push storytelling to the back burner. She was a yearbook sports editor as a junior and editor-in-chief her senior year. Yet it was WNAS where two more Hall of Famers made a huge difference. Just as NAHS was a pioneer in radio, the station stretched the envelope further, tackling live election night coverage. This was the crucible that forged a partnership between the late Lee Kelly and government teacher Bob Dusch. It helped shape Larra’s plan to double major in journalism and political science. She had sportscasting squarely in mind, but she sought to prepare herself for a broader range of television reporting.
As ”the Voice of the Bulldogs,” Lee Kelly left a rich “sound bite” in Larra’s head. It’s been there for over twenty years, especially through the beginning of her broadcasting career at WDRB in Louisville. Her first experiences as a reporter were with Big Ten Network, covering IU and Purdue football. She went on to become the weekend sports anchor and reporter at Terre Haute‘s WTWO. After relocating to Indianapolis, she wore various hats for the Indiana Pacers, Fox Sports and IUPUI’s National Sports Journalism Center.
Today, Larra Overton appears across Colts media platforms as producer, host and reporter for Colts Productions. She joined the team in July 2019 after five years at Fox59 WXIN and CBS 4 WTTV in Indianapolis. In addition to her various roles with the Colts, she also works as an analyst and sideline reporter for USATF, ESPN and BTN.
Larra can often be found running and competing in local road races, walking with her English Mastiff, Tugboat, or biking with her husband, Dan.
Special thanks to Matt Uhl (FCHS ’97) for collaborating on Larra Overton’s Spotlight.