Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

The Play-by-Play

Sep 22, 2023 04:21PM ● By Michael Kelly
Celebrated Sportscaster Ross Jernstrom Lends His Voice and Expertise to Aspiring Journalists profile october 2023

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

A familiar face and voice in his hometown, Ross Jernstrom enjoyed two long stretches as an Omaha sportscaster—14 years at KETV and 26 at WOWT. But in retirement, he’s found a new role and a third act.

Today, he’s an educator. Not exactly a teacher, but as a daily adviser to journalism students at his 1974 alma mater, Westside High School. And he’s loving it.

“It’s a joy to be with the students,” said Jernstrom, 67. “I have about 50 in my classes, and most are on the honor roll— sharp and confident. I’m fortunate to get to share my expertise and knowledge from all my years in broadcast journalism.”

After retiring in August, 2020, he took a few months off but was ready for something new when Westside called in February, 2021.

“I was totally surprised,” Jernstrom said. “They’d had a resignation, and I asked what my responsibilities would be. It sounded good and I asked when they’d like me to start. The response was, ‘How about tomorrow?’”

He started right away, and for the past two-and-a-half years has not only helped students hone skills in a classroom setting, but also on athletic fields. Some volunteer for the student television station, WTV, and swing into action for broadcasts.

“As soon as school lets out at 3:10pm,” Jernstrom said, “we’re out on the football field setting up for the game at 7 with 15 students and as many as four cameras to live-stream the game. They are free on YouTube and we average 6,000 viewers. We had a total of 50,000 last football season; you might have grandparents in Arizona who want to watch.”

Not every athletic event is televised, but students cover beats for all 20 Westside sports. Stories appear on the student-run news site, Westside Wired, at, which covers not just sports, but all school-related topics.

That’s good for the school community, but the experience also lays a career groundwork for aspiring journalists. At the spring Nebraska School Activities Association journalism competition, the names of eight finalists in sports were announced in descending order—and the final two were from Westside. “For an adviser,” Jernstrom said, “that’s your proudest moment.”

Tom Kerkman, athletic director at 2,100-student Westside High, said Jernstrom has emceed school banquets for many years,  knows all the coaches, and helped start the athletic hall of fame. 

“Ross is like a walking encyclopedia and he’s a true Westside supporter,” Kerkman said. “He was a newscaster for 40 years, and he’s a calming presence for the students when they broadcast the games. He’s a real mentor to student journalists.”

In the early ’70s, Jernstrom ran cross country and track at Westside before enrolling at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a political science major. He took a broadcasting course, though, and volunteered when ABC needed someone to hold a sideline cone-microphone. (He accidentally bumped into legendary Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who said in his deep drawl, “Excuse me, son.”)

Ross eventually shared meals with famous broadcasters, heard their stories, and switched his major to broadcast journalism. 

“I got big eyes and thought this is what I want to do,” he said.

As a student, he also served as a busboy at the Alpha Phi sorority where he met UNL cheerleader and future kindergarten teacher Julie O’Meara of Omaha. They married in 1980 and raised two children, Jay and Holly.

Jernstrom says his most memorable interview came at the 1985 World Series in St. Louis. He had scheduled a Kansas City player, who bailed at the last minute to take infield practice. Left high and dry seconds before going on air, Ross quickly buttonholed KC manager Dick Howser, who fortunately agreed to the “live shot.”

Dave Webber, retired WOWT sports director, called Jernstrom “a hard-working, generous soul,” always looking to help. They shared many car trips to away Husker football games as well as flights to bowl games.

“After bowl games,” Webber said, “Ross would give up being on the air chit-chatting. Instead, he was finding players to bring to me. He would whisper in my ear who it was, and might even mention a play he made in the game. It made everything smooth.”

Jernstrom never wanted to be a physician like his brother and father, the late Dr. Roger Jernstrom, who delivered about 10,000 babies. One was Andy Roddick, who grew up to become the 2003 U.S. Open tennis champion. ESPN interviewed Dr. Jernstrom about the emergency procedure he had performed on Aug. 30, 1982, when the umbilical cord was wrapped three times around baby Andy’s neck.

Years later, Ross spotted Roddick on the Husker sideline, said ‘Hello,’ and introduced him to the doctor in the Memorial Stadium tenth row who had safely guided him into the world.

Ross Jernstrom hosted years of his popular Sunday Sports Extra half-hour shows, covered 25 Husker bowl games, and became WOWT sports director in 2009. He has emceed countless banquets and received numerous awards. And he never had to bounce from one job market to another. “To stay in one place in sports on TV,” he said, “is almost unheard of.”

No, he never left home. And now he is pleased to hold a new hometown title, “journalist in residence,” helping students back at his old high school. 

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, 
click here to subscribe.  
Evvnt Calendar