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Heather O’Rourke ’94: “Don’t Tell me I’m Not Going to Make it, Because I Will”
O’Rourke, ’94, a SC&I JMS alumna and Traffic Anchor at WABC-TV, tells SC&I about the one comment someone made that pushed her towards her career path and being the best she could be.
Heather O’Rourke ’94: “Don’t Tell me I’m Not Going to Make it, Because I Will”

While attending SC&I back in the early 1990s, a faculty member at the time told Heather O’Rourke ‘94 that she was never going to make it in the media business. Her reaction? She said to herself, “Thank you very much, because the challenge has been accepted and I am going to prove you wrong.”

And she did.

Today O’Rourke works as a Traffic Anchor for WABC-TV in New York City.  Her career there began years ago when she was a Rutgers undergraduate interning at Shadow Traffic (now part of WABC) during the summer of her junior year going into senior year.

At the end of her internship, a colleague at Shadow Traffic connected her with Joe Nolan at Metro Traffic in New York City. She called him to set up an introductory meeting, and when he did not return her phone calls, she decided to take a trip to the city to meet Nolan without having an appointment. She surprised him, and although she caught him off guard, he interviewed her anyway and then hired her on the spot.

The company has changed its name multiple times since O’Rourke started - the current name is Total Traffic which is a subsidiary of  iHeartMedia. O’Rourke is a contracted employee working WABC-TV WABC.  O’Rourke said she has worn many “hats” within the company since she began. She started as a producer, then she became an airborne traffic reporter, and then she began as a traffic anchor for various radio stations, until she became a full-time television traffic anchor. 

O’Rourke has also worked as a traffic anchor for almost every radio station in the tri-state area. She was also the part-time fill-in news anchor for WPLJ-FM in the morning for 6 years. She also worked a few DJ shifts on Q1043 in New York City.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Rourke commuted to the city five days a week for her shift that began at 3 a.m. and ended at 9 a.m. However, due to the pandemic, she has set up a little makeshift studio in her basement where she still covers morning traffic reports.

O’Rourke said that the skills she learned as a Journalism and Media Studies major have helped shape how she writes—for example she makes sure to double and triple check all of her copy. She also said Steven Miller was her favorite professor at SC&I. 

O’Rourke said she regrets not taking advantage of all the resources that were available to her while she was an undergraduate, such as getting involved in the university radio station, WRSU. She now advises all current students at SC&I to take advantage of all the opportunities open to them at Rutgers.

“Take advantage of all the resources. I tell my kids this all the time. Don’t tie yourself to something, always try something else,” said O’Rourke. "If you think that you want to be a director at a TV station, go work at the radio station and try that out. Try doing radio for a second because you might end up really liking it. You may end up hating television and loving radio or vice versa. Rutgers gives you the ground to figure out where you want to be one day. Try it all.”

More information about majoring in Journalism and Media Studies at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information is on the website

 

 

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