Have you ever wanted to watch an SUU sports game or performing arts show but could not attend in person? If so, you probably tuned in to SUTV to stream it on your phone or computer. SUU’s television department is Cedar City’s main source for its televised and broadcasted local events. Much of its success is owed to Lee Byers, who has been managing the team for 28 years.
Becoming a videographer
Lee Byers’ journey to Cedar City began in Provo, Utah. He attended Brigham Young University as a theatre major in 1977. However, he wasn’t passionate about it and felt it did not fit him well.
Luckily, BYU’s theatre department and television studio were in the same building, which led Lee to explore the news program. He quickly developed an interest in the material and the technical work.
With the permission of his department chair, Byers built his own major, consisting of both film production and theatrical directing. He dreamed of making his career directing scripted television shows.
During his studies, Lee started working for KBYU on the tech and camera crew. Over time, Byers’ workload increased. In addition to his job and schooling in Provo, he started working as a freelancer and technical director in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, this strained Lee’s physical health.
“I woke up one day … because I’d fallen asleep at the wheel and was about to rear-end a semi-truck,” Byers stated. “And I said, ‘You know, it’s time [to quit].’”
Lee dropped out of school and moved permanently to Salt Lake City. In 1981, Byers started working for Channel 2 News, where he won two regional Emmy Awards for directing.
Eventually, Lee settled down and started a family. He then enrolled back in school and studied at home through BYU, graduating more than 12 years after starting.
Moving to Cedar City
After completing his degree, Byers started looking for a new job. He befriended a now-former Southern Utah University faculty member, Lionel Grady, who spent his summers in northern Utah. In the summer of 1994, Grady contacted Lee about a job at SUU’s radio and television stations.
“[Cedar City] had what we wanted: a university town with a vibrant arts community and a small place,” Byers said.
Lee applied and was hired. For the first three years of his new career, he managed the radio and television stations, as well as several production projects on campus.
“We were excited to bring on a television professional to take SUTV to a new level,” said Jon Smith, an SUU communications professor. “With Lee’s professional television experience, we knew that SUTV and its students would be able to produce professional quality productions.”
Along with being the stations’ manager, Byers helped rebuild parts of SUU campus. He replaced and rewired the television station, switcher, cameras, arena and football stadium.
“Lee has a quiet and calm approach to television production,” Smith said. “In the real world, some people get way out of control, but Lee is able to calmly move to solve problems and complete a task.”
Arts and awards
Lee has not only managed the stations but has worked hands-on within them as well. He has operated cameras and switchboards to stream and record several speaking events, concerts and theatrical performances on YouTube. This was especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic since he could broadcast events when live audiences weren’t permitted.
As he had planned back as a student, Byers has also applied his knowledge of theatre and television production together in award-winning film projects. Smith and he have produced several documentaries together, including “Back Up the Mountain,” a docudrama of SUU’s origins.
“As part of SUTV’s mission, we produce professional-quality videos,” said Smith. “It has been a real reward for me to write, produce and shoot videos knowing that Lee would do a fantastic job editing them. His knowledge of editing software is great.”
The rise of ThunderVision
ThunderVision, SUTV’s live broadcasting team, is not only responsible for filming events for the arts but for sports as well. When asked about ThunderVision’s beginnings, Byers reflected, “It kind of grew organically as the athletic department grew.”
At first, sporting events were filmed by volunteers. During the fall, football games were run by Lee and high school students since football season would start before the university’s semester started.
“It was a lot of fun working with the students,” Byers recalled.
He hoped that televising games would raise awareness and money for the station. However, because of Cedar City’s easy availability to attend these events in person, this goal was not reached.
Eventually, Byers switched to filming and editing highlight reels on his own, then sharing them with news stations in Salt Lake City.
“Ultimately, it worked really well and got a lot of publicity for the university,” Byers said.
In 2010, the university’s athletic department purchased a multimedia scoreboard for the football field. A film company was hired out of Logan to film the games while SUTV would operate the scoreboard and live video feed. However, it was very expensive. Because Lee wouldn’t charge travel fees and paid student wages instead of freelance wages, the school gave SUTV, Byers and his employees full control of filming and broadcasting sporting events.
SUU eventually became part of the Big Sky Conference’s streaming contract. This allowed all their sporting events to be shared over the internet instead of just a live feed on the scoreboards. In the summer of 2021, ThunderVision joined ESPN+, making SUU sports available for viewing all over the country. The contract would not have been possible without Byers’ contributions and successes.
Byers’ many years of service have helped individuals and teams share their talents for their loved ones to watch and support, even from great distances. His contributions to SUTV and the communications department have edified both SUU and the entire Cedar City community.
Article by: Andrea Rodgers
Photos courtesy of: Lee Byers
This article was originally published in the October 2022 edition of the University Journal. Pick up a free copy at any of the stands on SUU campus.