Legends Behind the Lens: Ken Aagaard
One of the industry's most influential behind-the-scenes figures continues to give back today
The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.
Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.
By Ken Kerschbaumer
There are those who are passionate about their careers and use that passion to move themselves forward. And then there are the exceptions like Ken Aagaard, former EVP of operations and production services at CBS Sports, who has spent a career providing a rising tide for those around him.
“Ken has been a gift to our industry for some five decades and has brought one of the most innovative minds to sports broadcasting that our business will ever know,” says CBS Sports lead play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz. “Moreover, his care and compassion for everyone in the industry is what truly sets him apart.”
During his long career, Aagaard has just about done it all. He has worked on 20 Super Bowls, five World Series, a half dozen Wimbledon and French Open tennis tournaments, three Olympics — including the 1988 Games in Seoul, when he was VP of operations for NBC Olympics — and even three World Cups.
“I’ve been really blessed in my career” is Aagaard’s refrain. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve been able to do just about everything across the board, work with most all of the broadcasters, and meet most everybody with all of the networks. People laugh because they say most everyone worked with me or for me or I worked for them. But I’ve been blessed and lucky to have all those opportunities.”
Those opportunities include the chance to work for and with ABC, CBS, Channel One, CNBC, ESPN, Fox, HBO, MLB Network, MTV, NBC, and Showtime.
“Ken has had such a tremendous impact on so many people in this industry, from production to technical staff and suppliers and manufacturers,” says NEP Chairman and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Deb Honkus. “He demands your best at all times and pushes you to do what he knows you are capable of. Through this leadership, he has had a hand in creating some great television and has had a significant role in driving this industry forward.”
A Chicago native, Aagaard graduated from the University of Iowa in 1969 and began working as an operations director at WMAQ-TV Chicago, an NBC affiliate. In 1977, he had a chance to work for NBC in a summer-relief role and, in 1978, joined NBC broadcast-operations control. He was named VP of operations for NBC Sports in 1983.
“Ken has been a gift to our industry for some five decades and has brought one of the most innovative minds to sports broadcasting that our business will ever know. Moreover, his care and compassion for everyone in the industry is what truly sets him apart.” – Jim Nantz
“The thing that really made it for me was when I came to New York I started to travel and do a lot of remote sports,” Aagaard explains. “I got to work on Wimbledon, the French Open, boxing all over Europe and Africa, the World Series, and Super Bowls.”
He also had the chance to form CBT, his own company. Besides working on everything from concerts to boxing and soccer, he did integration work for CNBC, Nickelodeon Universal Studios, Euro Disney, and MLB Network.
He began consulting for CBS in 1997 and joined CBS Sports full time in 1998 as VP of operations and engineering, but he continues to work on CBT projects.
Aagaard cites NBC VP of Broadcasting and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Jack Weir as a mentor, along with NBC producer/director and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Don Ohlmeyer.
“From an operations point of view, Jack was a complete innovator,” Aagaard says. “As an operations guy, he was very important in my career because he taught me so much. And Don made all of us do a lot more than we thought we could do ourselves.”
Says Ohlmeyer, “What I always loved about Ken was, you would present him with a challenge that other people would think is impossible and he would approach it as if it was only a minor hurdle. He was always very positive, and his attention to detail was extraordinary. And, when you were trying to do the complex things we were trying to do in those days, that was a necessity.”
Today, it is Aagaard in the mentor role. His wide range of relationships helped lead him to serve as founding chairman of the Sports Video Group, the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and the Sports Broadcasting Fund.
“No one has devoted more time, energy, and passion to ensuring the legacy of the sports-television industry for generations to come than Ken,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer and ESPN executive Geoff Mason. “And that is something to be remembered for.”
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2014. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.