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Published: Friday, 3/16/2007

Storyteller's story: Frank Rao's abilities overwhelm his disability

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE MEDIA COLUMNIST
What Frank Rao does is even more impressive when you consider that he not only lugs around a 35-pound camera and the equipment, he often has to conduct the interviews himself.
What Frank Rao does is even more impressive when you consider that he not only lugs around a 35-pound camera and the equipment, he often has to conduct the interviews himself.
THE BLADE/ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Frank Rao was born with a birth defect.

His left arm never developed below the elbow.

Doctors haven't been able to provide Rao with an explanation for his abnormality.

That's not unusual.

The causes for about 70 percent of all birth defects nationwide are unknown.

Rao, 40, may be physically challenged, but he has not let it drag him down. He has been the chief photographer at WUPW-TV, Channel 36, for the last year.

"I don't want to sound cocky, but to me, there isn't anything I can't do," Rao said. "I have found a way to adapt and overcome my problem. I've never known what it's like to have two hands, so it doesn't bother me."

Whether it's shooting breaking news, a feature, a sports assignment, or editing video, Rao's work is solid.

What he does is even more impressive when you consider that he not only lugs around a 35-pound camera and the equipment, he often has to conduct the interviews himself.

"Frank is able to do with one arm what most people can't do with two," said WUPW news director Steve France, himself long regarded as one of the best TV photographers in the Toledo market. "I think that's very apparent in the way he operates a camera and his style of shooting."

Rao, who has been employed as a photographer at WUPW since 2004, says his goal is to excel at whatever assignment he tackles.

"I'm a one-man show a lot of times when I go out on a story," he said. "Usually, I can use a tripod, and I can just sit there and hold the microphone next to the camera. But when all four [Toledo] stations are there and it'scrowded, I've learned to balance the camera on my shoulder."

Rao was an all-conference kicker as a senior at Upper St. Clair High School in suburban Pittsburgh, and played two years of football at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Rao graduated from IUP in 1989 and came to northwest Ohio a few months later. He worked five years as a reporter/photographer for a weekly newspaper in Millbury, Ohio.

He spent sixth months as a Chyron operator, generating words and graphics on the TV screen, at WTVG-TV, Channel 13, before landing a job as a photographer at WNWO-TV, Channel 24. He later doubled as a weekend sports anchor and left the NBC affiliate after six years to join WUPW.

People frequently ask Rao what happened to his left arm.

He typically jokes with them, just as he has with his fellow station employees through the years.

"You've got to have a sense of humor about it," he said. "If you can't laugh at yourself, you'll go nuts. I've heard it all over the years."

Rao is good at what he does. He knows how to use video to tell a story. And he can handle tight deadlines.

"I named him chief photographer a year ago because of his commitment to excellence in the job," France said. "He demonstrates day after day that he is a leader, and he is great at helping the younger photographers at the station."

Rao never sees obstacles in front of him, just opportunities.



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