Stories. We all have them. They are the moments when things go extraordinarily right or extraordinarily wrong, and ultimately become the defining moments of our lives that show us what we are made of. As an added bonus, our stories also allow us to move away from small talk and into the good stuff when we’re trying to connect with people.
But for Robert Braunstein, these kinds of stories become even more than compelling conversation—they become broadcasts that reach 50,000 homes each week. These shows allow Robert, the owner and Emmy-award winning executive producer of Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area, to personally see to it that the community knows who is going places and what obstacles they are overcoming to get there.
The rest of us watch these teams of young athletes work together and we learn of the hardships and hard work of some of the team members. The result of this storytelling for viewers is that our sense of community gets strengthened. And for Robert, the personal benefit is a career that is not just exciting, but gratifying beyond measure.
The love of sports part was easy—Robert’s dad groomed him for it by taking him to 49’er games at Kezar Stadium before there was ever a Candlestick Park or Levi’s Stadium. Dad also made sure they were Oakland A’s fans by taking Robert and his brother to games, including the World Series from 72-74.
But his father’s influence goes beyond the love of the games. William Braunstein made his living as an auditor for the State of California, a field that made people dislike him before he even walked through their office door. He often spoke to Robert about the importance of doing something you love.
This advice helped Robert follow his interest in sports toward a career in journalism. He started his studies at De Anza and Foothill Colleges and then went on to pursue his BA at San Jose State. From there, he went to the University of Missouri to obtain his Masters of Journalism.
After a first job as Sports Director in Laredo, Texas that included some sports coverage of minor league baseball and occasional high school sports stories, Robert knew he was on the right path.
“The people I met in Missouri and Texas were great, the food was fantastic, and I have fond memories of calling Dairy Queen restaurants to find out the scores of all the local games, because we had no cell phones or internet back then,” Robert reflects.
His next goal was to be able to return home to have his own sportscast in the Bay Area before he turned 30.
In 1983, Robert was hired at Channel 36 in San Jose. He was a general news and sports reporter for seven years before becoming Sports Director at the age of 32. He then convinced management that a high school sports show could work.
Well, actually, it wasn’t so much that he persuaded management. In reality, he convinced Courtesy Chevrolet to sponsor a show that didn’t exist yet, which forced management’s hand to produce it. Robert worked with dedicated community partners like Southern Lumber and Atlas Auto Wreckers to design a set on a tight budget and made the show happen.
“In less than six weeks, High School Sports Focus was the highest rated show on the channel. It was never perfect, especially with old technology and tight deadlines, but we made something we were proud of,” Robert says.
Robert’s relationship with High School Sports Focus came to end when Cox Broadcasting purchased Channel 36 in 2001, but his passion for high school sports programming only got stronger.
“I left my show, my father suffered a stroke, and 9/11 happened in the same few months. It was an incredibly stressful time,” Robert explains. “Reflecting on those times helps me relate to some of the students I meet through the show. Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth. I really believe that how you react to that adversity becomes the true indicator of your character.”
Robert’s character rose to the occasion and he decided to start his own small business to produce the show on his own terms. He launched Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area in February of 2002. He started shooting the show in his home with the help of a corporate partner and the continued support of his sponsors.
After six tenacious years, his show beat the corporate goliath in ratings.
“Having a successful show that focuses on positivity is so gratifying to me. When I show up on the field, people are happy to see me because they know by now – after 25 years of putting a spotlight on high school sports – that I am there to put out good stories. Our mission is to put a spotlight on teenagers who have achieved positive goals,” Robert explains.
One of the positive stories that is close to Robert’s heart is the one he produced about Leland high school student Nick Murtha.
Nick was a student determined to play basketball his senior year after having been diagnosed with a brain tumor after a fall during his junior year season. When doctors were checking him for a concussion, they detected a tumor the size of an orange on his brain. Robert was allowed to follow Nick for four months of treatment to track his progress from hospital room to chemotherapy, recovery and practices and, eventually, to see him play in a game again.
“Nick and his family are such an inspiration. It meant so much to me to share their story and cheer them on through his recovery. Without community shows like this, stories like Nick’s don’t get told,” Robert says.
And the telling isn’t easy. Even though Robert has the heart of a sports journalist, much of what keeps his small business in motion has little to do with the actual interviews and filming of games. The rest of his responsibilities include the pressures of seeking and maintaining sponsorships, FCC compliance, keeping up with the most recent technologies, and developing relationships with community partners who help provide scholarships to the athletes.
There are many hats to wear, but Robert is heartened by the community members who see value in the show and in supporting athletes through scholarships. Corporate sponsors like Adobe, Wells Fargo, Stevens Creek Toyota, and DGDG help make the show possible, as do individual supporters like local Panera Bread franchiser Jeff Burrill, the owner of Silver Creek Sports Complex Kevin Compton, the 19 for Life Foundation, and Bruce Edwards, the grandfather of Loukas Angelo, a young athlete from Archbishop Mitty High School whose life was taken much too soon.
“The show happens because of the support of these people and organizations. We were able to secure $37,000 in donations for scholarships and gifts to schools last year that we awarded at our banquet held at Levi’s Stadium for 80 athletes and 350 coaches and family members,” Robert says. The show has given out a total of $350,000 so far.
When asked what comes next, Robert explains that he has been tempted to franchise the show to other markets over the years, but is now comfortable with maintaining the magic of the one he has here.
He plans to do exactly that for the next three years, with the hope of passing the baton at that time to someone who shares his passion for youth and providing a positive vehicle for promoting their work.
The transition time will line up perfectly for his next personal goal of a successful run for San Jose City Council to represent his lifelong home of District 10.
“I grew up here. This place and people have given me the skills to succeed and I want to give back to the city that has given me so much. I still remember taking my first job at the Farrell’s restaurant on the corner of Almaden and Blossom Hill. I was a shy kid who came out of his shell by interacting with people from the neighborhood I still call home,” Robert says.
“I hope to bring together the many passionate, creative, and intelligent people who make up our community to make San Jose a place we want our own children to call home, for generations to come,” he adds.
This is precisely why Robert Braunstein makes us proud to call him our friend, neighbor, journalist, and city council candidate who makes the Bay better through his dedication to our community.