Brian Shactman '90

Year of Graduation: 
Brian Shactman

"I love the privilege of being able to enter people’s worlds and, no matter how foreign, make those connections.”

Hockey, soccer, baseball, football, tennis: athlete Brian Shactman ’90 arrived on campus upper year with serious sports chops. So when he decided senior spring not to play lacrosse, a sport he picked up at Exeter, and audition for Senior Acting Ensemble, his friends were surprised.

In fact, Shactman had long wanted to act, but hadn’t mustered the self-confidence. In his hometown of Swampscott, Massachusetts, he says it felt like you were either a “jock” or a “drama guy” or a “science geek,” not all three. “Exeter was an eye-opener because some of the athletes I looked up to the most were just as talented in a bunch of different things,” he says. Teachers, particularly English Instructor James Valhouli, helped him overcome his academic insecurity and classroom shyness. 

Senior spring, Shactman acted in two productions (“Brechtian atypical stuff,” he remembers). He loved the camaraderie, the character exploration and the shared purpose. “To go from zero to 100, no one knows their lines, then six weeks later you put on a show,” he says. “It was one of the best experiences of my entire life.”

Exeter was so transformative, Shactman decided to pursue teaching. But an encounter with a local newspaper editor spawned a sportswriting gig. Then a chance meeting with a producer at sparked what became a globetrotting television and radio career at ESPN, NBC Connecticut, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC10 Boston and NECN. 

To date, Shactman has covered three Olympic Games, the World Cup, the Super Bowl and the World Series. For his documentary about basketball coach Geno Auriemma he earned the Associated Press Award. He’s anchored and co-anchored shows at MSNBC and CNBC, and covered the presidential primaries for NBC10 Boston and NECN. As lead correspondent, he’s reported on the exotic-animal trade from LaGuardia’s Customs Department, and on lithium-ion batteries from Bolivia’s salt flats (where his crew, stranded at 14,000 feet, was rescued by the Bolivian military).

Years later, he still has the bottles of homemade moonshine bestowed on him by workers at a Tennessee farm, where he spent three days reporting for CNBC on cotton prices. “I love meeting people I would never have any business getting to meet,” he says. “I love the privilege of being able to enter people’s worlds and, no matter how foreign, make those connections.”

Nor do the connections end when the set goes dark. “I feel you have to give at least 10% of your time to something that’s not about you,” he says. His teenage mentorship of a boy with Down syndrome ultimately inspired his involvement with Special Olympics. After meeting a local father crusading for his son, Shactman joined the board of Beat Childhood Cancer. He emceed a fundraiser for School on Wheels of Massachusetts, and “loved the mission and people so much” that he joined the board.

At Exeter, he’s fundraised, organized reunions and recently interviewed Tom Steyer ’75 for the Academy’s Creating Conversations series. This May, he is hosting the signature Saturday evening event at Exeter’s virtual reunion celebration. Exeter “changed my life,” Shactman says. “I try to do what I can in kind to help the school.”

Seeking a saner work-life balance, Shactman and family recently moved to Connecticut, where he co-hosts WTIC-AM1080’s “Mornings with Ray and Brian.” He’s hoping to feature front-line workers. His first guest? Tune in for details.

— Juliet Eastland ’86