Waking up with Jason DeRusha

A look behind the scenes with the hardest-working man in Minnesota media

It was around this time that DeRusha realized the power of television news. He was fascinated by the Tiananmen Square protests as he listened to a Nightline producer describe the scene for audiences on the other side of the globe.

"I just thought it was amazing watching this in my suburban folding chair, in my parents' living room," he recalls. "I wanted to be a part of that."

That passion took him to Marquette University, where he studied broadcasting and political science on a full academic scholarship. As a freshman, DeRusha quickly took over the student television station and earned a reputation as a star in the making.

Tony Nelson
DeRusha hard at work on a food segment with authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Tony Nelson
DeRusha hard at work on a food segment with authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

Tim Vetscher, a former classmate who works as the managing editor at the NBC affiliate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, remembers being impressed by how calm and collected DeRusha was in front of a camera.

"We were all so green," Vetscher says. "As soon as that red light went on, most of us would get nervous, like a deer in the headlights. And Jason, it was like nothing fazed him."

That first summer, DeRusha drew an entirely different reaction while interning for ABC New York.

"I was the one intern who wasn't a rich kid. They viewed me as very much an oddity, being from Milwaukee," DeRusha says. "They literally asked me if there were cows walking down the street."

At Marquette, he organized a platonic version of The Newlywed Game in which roommates tried to answer questions about the others' habits.

Outside the studio, DeRusha was about to take a big step toward his own nuptials. After years of feeling insecure about his weight, he summoned the courage to ask out his crush, Alyssa Bannochie. The opportunity came when his roommate invited Jason to see a polka band at a church festival. DeRusha needed a date. He sent Alyssa a message over the school's primitive version of g-chat, explaining that he didn't want his friend to be his dance partner.

"I should have asked her out instead of beating around the bush like a little wimp," DeRusha says in retrospect. "I was very afraid of rejection."

But he was fearless in front of the camera. His Friday nights were sometimes spent as an overnight editor for WISN-TV. When he did show up to campus parties, he hardly drank. He'd pay for a cup but dump half of it out. Because he always made sure his friends got home safe, they began referring to him as "mom."

"Today as someone who drinks somewhat professionally, I'm embarrassed to tell these stories of my college loserness," DeRusha says.

Of course, he couldn't get through college without having some fun. Temptation caught up with him during his senior year, while on a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to cover the college basketball team's NCAA tournament game. DeRusha and three classmates convened over a couple of rum-filled fish bowls at what his friend Vetscher describes as "a chain of douche-kind-of-'80s bars."

Memories of the night are hazy, but each version shares a punch line: While stumbling home, one classmate fell into a fountain and DeRusha chased after her. About the only detail he remembers with certainty is that he was 22 at the time.

"I'm such a loser that my first story of getting drunk happened after I was legal," he says. "It's so disappointing."

But all his hard work paid off. After graduation, he took an internship with WREX-TV in Rockford, Illinois. Soon, however, he scored a weekend anchor gig for KWQC-TV in Davenport, Iowa. Alyssa graduated second in her class the next year and followed him on what would be the first of several moves.

At home in Maple Grove, DeRusha checks to see whether his two boys, ages 8 and 6, are asleep, then heads into the kitchen and grabs an IPA out of his fridge. He takes a sip and settles the bottle on his concrete kitchen table top, smiling as his wife reminisces about their college days.

Soon after they started dating, he sat her down to make sure she knew what kind of life she was signing up for. He'd be working nights, weekends, holidays — whatever it took.

"I never really had it laid out for me in such detail," Alyssa remembers. "When you're not in the middle of it, you're like, 'Sure, I can handle that.'"

Jason's smile fades. "I still think sometimes, you didn't quite sign up for all of these shenanigans."

The words hang in the air for several seconds as they look at each other.

"Well," Alyssa says, "the shenanigans get weirder by the year."

DeRusha's getting the urge. It's been four hours since his last tweet — a rarity for the man with 21,943 Twitter followers. But every time he opens his iPhone, it seems someone else is grabbing his attention.

He's spending his Saturday advising student journalists at the U of M on what it takes to thrive in TV news. Tilting his camera phone, he captures his view from the stage: a mass of wannabe anchors, reporters, and producers that's obstructed partly by the microphone in his face. Two students in the audience tweet back with pictures of the stage.

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