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Threads: Atlanta and After

Letters written by me, updated May 2006
to include the period 1996-1998

More About Threads



Background:  I now had more than a decade of experience as a TV sports graphics operator, and I was being booked for some major events.  The invitation to the biggest one, my second Summer Olympics, had been offered on November 18, 1994 — twenty months in advance.

 

Wednesday, June 5, 1996

The local baseball team having left for a West Coast trip, I actually have a few consecutive days off.  But I don't know how to handle the free time.

I see something that needs to be read, so I sit down and read it.  It starts to rain outside, so I go to the window and watch it.  The piano catches my eye, so I sit down and play something.  Then maybe I pick an item at random from my "to do" list and work on it for a while.  Most of those items don't have a definite deadline, so there's not much pressure to tackle any of them, and I get lazy.

But I do need to get this letter in the mail so that you'll receive it by your birthday.  Therefore, you are now on the top of the priority list, well ahead of taking my car in for an oil change.  (Maybe I'll get to that on Friday.)

Atlanta '96

A big chunk of my summer will be spent at the Olympics in Atlanta.  Eight years ago in Seoul I was working for NBC; this time around I'll be working for AOB, the "host broadcaster" that makes coverage of all the events available to all the countries that want it.

Not all countries want it.  For example, the United States and Japan are among those that will produce their own telecasts instead; therefore, I don't expect any of my work will be seen in this country.  But most of the smaller nations will take parts of AOB's feed and add their own announcers (who may actually be sitting in a studio back home).  So the graphics on which I work will be seen far and wide.

Because of the different languages involved, I expect that most of the graphics will be not English sentences but simply flags and names and numbers.  And much of that data will come directly from the scoring computer system, so I won't have to type it, just call it up.  But I'll also be working on the opening and closing ceremonies, in addition to track & field (or "athletics" as it's called), because I'll be in Control Room A at the Olympic Stadium.

I'm told that those of us working there will be housed at a place called Carter Hall.  It's either an old hotel which has been renovated and will become a dormitory after the Olympics, or an old dormitory which has been renovated and will become a hotel after the Olympics.  Anyway, it's only a couple of blocks from the stadium, so I shouldn't have to contend with the traffic problems in Atlanta. 

Carter Hall, the white high-rise across the corner from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, is marked with a red arrow in this postcard view.  Tom Brokaw's NBC Nightly News originated from a makeshift studio on the roof of this building.

Olympic Stadium, in the foreground, was reconfigured after the Olympics.  It's now Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. 

 
Oberlin LGBU

I was in Cleveland for the opening day of baseball season in April and found this article in the Plain Dealer under "Oberlin":

The college's sixth annual Drag Ball will be Saturday night.  Last year the event drew more than 1,500 of the college's 2,700 students and was covered by Rolling Stone magazine, which called it the "Mardi Gras of the Midwest."  The ball raised $4,000 for the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual Union, the sponsor.  The evening includes a runway competition where a drag king and queen are chosen.

I seem to recall that when you were on Social Board, you suggested a runway competition where a Miss Oberlin would be chosen, but that idea was deemed politically incorrect.  Times have changed, more than once.

The college's alumni publication, trying to avoid offense to wealthy benefactors, didn't mention the runway but referred to the "all-campus party" as "Oberlin's greatest event of community spirit and bonding."

Rock and Roll

As it turns out, the baseball game in Cleveland was snowed out.  (This has been a very cool spring, hasn't it?)  So I had a free day.  I took the opportunity to visit for the first time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, having worked at the museum's opening concert seven months earlier.

As I expected, I found the museum only mildly interesting.  Of course, different displays interest different people.  I noticed certain pieces of electronic equipment.  There were three Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorders similar to those we had at WOBC, and I noted that the museum staff had threaded one of them incorrectly!  There was also a 1968 Moog synthesizer, which reminded me of the analog computer we worked with one day in a physics lab.  The idea was to run a patch cord from the output of this oscillator to the control input of this other oscillator over here, and then patch the second oscillator's output into a frequency-controlled variable-Q filter, and so on.  Of course, nowadays almost all computers and synthesizers are digital.

There was also displayed a sheet of paper on which Neil Young had scribbled down in red ink the words that became the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song "Ohio," about the Kent State shootings.  ("Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/We're finally on our own.")  The paper looked like it had been folded and stuck in an inside jacket pocket; I've seen that pattern of perspiration-induced wrinkles before.

This filled in a gap in my knowledge, because I had never heard clearly the first eight words of the later lines, "What if you knew her and / Found her dead on the ground?"  And it reminded me of those somber times, when classes at Syracuse shut down for a time, campus streets were barricaded, and I later played this quickly-released song on WAER.

 

Wednesday, June 5, 1996

Yes, I'll be in Atlanta for the Games, from July 11 through August 6.

We'll start out with rehearsing and then televising the opening ceremonies July 19, and then switch over to "athletics" (track) for a couple of weeks until it's time for the closing ceremonies.  [See also here.]

Inside the stadium, I understand that the control-room air conditioning is working very well; so believe it or not, I'll have to take some warm clothes to work in Atlanta in July.  If our paths should cross, I'll be the one in the jacket and long pants.

The Olympics organizers actually supplied those long pants, along with the rest of our uniform:  belts, utility packs, hats, and shirts (being modeled here by a representative of Hanes), plus even shoes and socks.

There was a color code for the shirts:  gold rings for ushers and ticket takers, red rings for medics, and teal rings for staff members on the field of play.

When my coordinator Al Bernstein and I were leaving the stadium after the final night of competition, people offered to buy the shirts off our backs as souvenirs.  We declined.  Ten years later, I still have the three shirts I was assigned, and I wear them occasionally to work baseball telecasts.

For my security background check, in December 1995 I had been required to list all my foreign travel during the previous 15 years.  It took quite a bit of research, though all but three of the trips had been to Canada.

Rather than let that work go to waste, I reproduce the list here.

Montreal

June 10-11, 1987

Montreal

August 8-10, 1990

Montreal

June 23-25, 1988

Montreal

Sept. 14-16, 1990

Toronto

July 15-18, 1988

Montreal

April 23-25, 1991

Montreal

August 10-12, 1988

Montreal

June 28-July 1, 1991

Seoul

Sept. 2-Oct. 4, 1988

Toronto

March 13-14, 1992

Montreal

Sept. 7, 1989

Montreal

April 21-22, 1992

Tokyo

Feb. 8-12, 1990

Montreal

June 26-29, 1992

Toronto

March 30-April 2, 1990

London

August 28-30, 1992

Montreal

June 22-24, 1990

Montreal 

Sept. 23-25, 1992

Montreal

July 23-26, 1990

Montreal

October 1-2, 1993

 

   Opening ceremony performers recreate the images on a Grecian urn.Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame.

My biggest Opening Ceremony job was the parade of nations:  197 of them (Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba...), each with its own tricode (CRC, CIV, CRO, CUB...) and flag character (!, @, #, $...).

When we got the list of 197 flagbearers (here's part of it), we compared it to the official list of athletes and found that 36 names had been misspelled.

Only 25 or 30 nations had their own cameras in Atlanta.  The rest depended on us.  We had a potential audience of 4.36 billion people.

Once competition began at our venue on July 26, we received lane assignments and results and the like from a pair of "RES12" IBM computer terminals that fed data to our Infinit graphics generators.

Of course, there were glitches, many of them involving an animation of a spinning globe.  Here are some of my notes.

Going to disk utilities?  EXIT message compose (don't SUSPEND, else later the "globe" will crash).

If 8010 works once, it'll work again in that session.

If no globe, don't use space bar — it'll crash!  Instead, for immediate recovery:  ESC out of function, CTRL Q out of multieffects, ERASE the rgb, CTRL T ESC to exit transform, set mix to 2-0-3 (excluding frame buffer 1 because it thinks the cell animation is still there).  When you can, MODE-SELECT S SETUP B to reboot.

The medals transform complains OBJECTS MISSING.  The only objects in C/ATHLETICS now are ATHLETOPE and FINALTEAL.

If you abort medal animation, you must go back and delete script VICTORY3OBJ.

And then the Olympics were a memory.


I moved on to national cable telecasts of college football.  Former TCS colleagues Tom Huet and Tami Rippy booked me for the Conference USA season on Prime Sports, beginning with the September 7, 1996, Kentucky at Cincinnati game.

For Prime Sports in Pittsburgh, I was also preparing for the hockey season.  I made some notes for other graphics operators who would have to use my system on the road.

 

Friday, October 4, 1996

Hint on changing the team logos or pennants:  Usually you can just type a lower-case letter.  The tab field will select the font, either logo or pennant, and will force upper case if the larger version is required.

On the scoreboards, you can change the periods manually; but you may find it easier to use one of the "cycle" functions º3, º13, º18, or º23.  With the scoreboard on the screen, call up the function and space through your options.  When you find the one you want, ESC out of the function and DEL REC to store the result.

For the power play clock, from 1 A AIR, call up a function like º91.  The function will put scoreboard 5 on Preview, while Air will be a mix of the clock 688 (in buffer 1) and the backpiece 94 (in buffer 3).  The function will wait for three keystrokes to preset the timer, M:SS.  Then at the right moment, press S to start the timer.

To get out of the clock when it has run down to zero, press F2, replacing the timer with "Even Strength" and waiting.  After the director loses that graphic, hit the space bar to reset the mix and erase the page.

The regional Prime Sports networks became Fox Sports Net on November 1, 1996.

 

On my 50th birthday, February 20, 1997, I flew from Pittsburgh to Memphis, where I killed some time on a rainy Thursday afternoon.  For supper I had a platter of good old Southern fried catfish.

On Friday, we prepared for the Georgetown at Memphis basketball telecast the next day on CBS.  I would be one of two Infinit operators in a room inside the Pyramid.  One of our Infinit machines was on board the production truck outside, while the other was a rental unit located in the room with us.  We called the first machine FONT and the other one SCORE, as its main purpose was to show the score at the bottom of the screen.

The technicians ran three "coax mults" (A, B, and C) to carry multiple video lines between the TV truck and our graphics room.  I was responsible for hooking up our graphics equipment to these mults, so I drew up this chart of which signals should be on each cable.

Truck to room

Room to truck

"A"

"B"

"C"

CBS Off-Air

.

green

.

.

Truck Program

.

red

red

.

Router Output (also feeds FONT video input)

.

blue

.

.

Clock camera (aimed at scoreboard)

.

white

.

.

Computer feed of stats

.

yellow

.

.

FONT prompt

.

.

green

.

FONT edit 1

.

.

brown

.

FONT edit 2

.

.

orange

.

.

FONT keyboard

.

yellow

.

.

SCORE output 1

.

.

red

.

SCORE key signal 1

.

.

green

.

SCORE output 2

.

.

blue

Genlock for SCORE

.

.

.

white

 

Wednesday, March 26, 1997

I was booked today by Fox Sports Network for 44 national baseball telecasts (half of them on the FX network) in various cities this summer.  So although I told you six weeks ago that I was available for the following 24 dates for local hockey playoffs and baseball, I'm no longer available. . . .

 

Wednesday, June 4, 1997

Last month was the coldest May in the history of Pittsburgh.  Yesterday was damp, overcast and windy.  This morning dawns with a temperature of 45º.  Yes, all of Nature is denying the calendar's claim, that the month of your fiftieth birthday has arrived.

I had my fiftieth in February (the weather was similar) and can report that one experiences no sudden physical change, although there is a psychological jolt when the mail brings an invitation to join AARP.  The aches and pains of old age come on gradually.  Currently, my left thumb and left heel are a little sore.

I can't complain, though.  My 87-year-old father is a different story.  He can get around now only with great difficulty, using a walker, and they say he needs someone with him 24 hours a day lest he fall.  So he's hired a Richwood woman and her mother and her sister and another woman to take turns staying with him at his house, where he should be much happier than at a nursing home.  They help him dress, fix his meals, drive him places, keep track of his medication, and so on.  It's costing almost a thousand dollars a week, and he's worried about that, but he can afford to go on this way for several years if necessary.

I can't help out in Richwood much because I live five hours away.  I can't even drive over to visit very often this summer; I've got a busy schedule of baseball, including a game on FX most Mondays and a game on Fox Sports Net on Thursdays.  Each game is in a different city, so I'm usually in an airport four days a week.

Sometimes my television work doesn't involve sports.  For example, last fall (September 24, 1996) I was at the Cleveland Clinic for a medical closed-circuit telecast:  Minimally Invasive Valve Replacement Surgical Techniques.  The cardiac surgeon, one Dr. Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, wore an earphone and a microphone so he could converse during the operation with the TV host and with viewers calling in with their questions.  The patient had no part in the telecast — we never saw his or her face — but we had plenty of views of the heart, including a live echocardiogram and a small camera in the hand of one of the doctors.

 

Summer 1997

When the Giants met the Rangers in the first regular-season interleague game ever played, I was there for Fox Sports Net. 

However, I spent most of my time during pregame preparation trying to download from Los Angeles a just-completed graphic promoting the CaPCURE Home Run Challenge that was to start the next day.


I worked two World Wrestling Federation shows in Alberta:  Calgary on July 6 (during the Calgary Stampede) and Edmonton on July 7.  I was surprised at the length of the day above the 51st parallel.  In the far North in July, the sky didn't get fully dark until after 11 pm, as I recall.

I was also surprised by the itinerary for the half-dozen of us who were from Pittsburgh.  The travel agency booked us on American Airlines.  Going to Calgary, we had a one-stop flight.

But returning from Edmonton, we left at 6:50 am to fly back to Calgary.  Then we flew southeast to Dallas-Fort Worth, arriving at 1:38 pm.  Then we flew northeast to Pittsburgh, arriving at 6:05 pm.


On Saturday, September 13, we were getting ready to televise the Pittsburgh at Houston college football game.  Spectators were starting to arrive.  In the broadcast booth, our announcers had their TV monitors on the window ledge overlooking the field, as usual.  To rehearse the opening of the show, they stood up and turned their back on the field to face the camera.  Then apparently the stage manager asked them to back up a little more.  Anyway, this story appeared in the Houston Chronicle the next day:

Joe Schroeder, a member of the UH media service department, probably got more than he bargained for as a spectator at Robertson Stadium on Saturday.

Shortly before kickoff, Schroeder, sitting near the top of the stands and below the press box, narrowly escaped serious injury when a Telestrator to be used by the Fox Sports Net crew fell out of the upper level of the press box before the game, bounced off a row of seats and hit Schroeder, bruising his shoulder.

A large dent was left in the metal seats where the object landed.

— Jerry Wizig

 

Our Fox Sports Net college football traveling crew poses before our final game of the season at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, November 22, 1997.

Standing, L to R:>

Ned Tate, director

>

Russell Anderson, Conference USA

>

Brian Baldinger, analyst

>

Mitch Rubenstein, graphics coordinator

>

Brett Smith, technical manager

>

Tom Thomas, Infinit operator

>

Gary Nicholas, assistant director

>

Paul Kennedy, play by play

>

Matt Benedict, audio

Kneeling, L to R:>

Tom Huet, producer

>

Todd Kulis, video tape

>

Dave Kennedy, engineer in charge

>

Adele Eustis, technical director

Not shown:>

Don Johnson, sideline reporter

>

locally-hired crew members

We traveled around televising a different Conference USA football game each week. 

Sometimes our analyst would want to discuss the great job being done by, for example, Memphis defensive coordinator Jim Pletcher.  We naturally would want to show Pletcher to our viewers, but of all those guys around the Memphis bench, which one was he?

To prepare, director Ned Tate found the coaches' mug shots in the press guide and assembled a sheet like this.  He gave a copy to each cameraman.

 

The Day of the Fog

The IHSA Illinois High School Football Championships were held at Illinois State University in Bloomington on the day after Thanksgiving, November 28, 1997.  There were five games starting at 10:00 AM.  I worked the first two.

My return travel to Pittsburgh the next day, a foggy Saturday, was an adventure.  I arose at 4:00 AM, checked out at 5:30, and headed to the nearby Bloomington airport.  When I arrived, no one was behind the Northwest Airlines counter.  Calling Northwest's 800 number, I found out that my 6:40 AM commuter flight had been canceled due to the weather.

Eventually, they put me on another commuter flight to Springfield and on to Chicago, where I would catch an 8:35 AM jet to Pittsburgh.  But when we landed in Springfield, the pilot announced that we couldn't continue to Chicago because of the weather, so we returned to Bloomington!

The airline arranged for a car and driver to take me to another airport at Champaign, about 50 miles away, but by the time I got there my flight had already left.  At this point I called Pittsburgh to warn the folks there that I probably would be late for that evening's hockey telecast.

Northwest put me on a TWA commuter flight from Champaign to St. Louis.  From there, I would take a TWA jet leaving at 2:05 PM for Pittsburgh.

This plan worked fine until the Pittsburgh airport got fogged in, forcing the jet to make an unscheduled stop at Columbus.  After an hour or so we were able to continue, and I finally made it home, though not in time for the start of the hockey game.  Fortunately, someone else was able to fill in for me for the first period.

 

Tuesday, December 2, 1997 (to Al Bernstein)

I enjoyed working with you again at the ECW event, Sunday night at the Golden Dome Arena in Monaca.  But I do have a couple of thoughts about how the Infinit could work more smoothly in the future.

The look was designed using a special Master Font called "Wooly Bully" or something like that.  That font, unfortunately, is not available on your average Infinit in the field.  I could call up existing lower thirds, but if I wanted to type a new one I had to use a different font.

If you want to use this special Master Font for your next show in March, you should have it made into Machine Fonts.  Just go to the particular Infinit where the Master Font lives and have the operator use the "Advanced Font Create" program to make a set of shaded Machine Fonts with various sizes and aspect ratios, then record them onto a Bernoulli.

Secondly, when we planned which lower thirds we would use, we were working from a show format.  I assumed that the wrestlers would be fonted when they entered.  Once the show began, it became apparent that the executive producer wanted them fonted later, when they were introduced by the ring announcer.

Unfortunately, they were not always introduced the way we expected.  For example, in the last match the first entrance was by "Bam Bam Bigelow" and the second was by "The Franchise with Francine," so those were the two lower thirds I had ready.  But the ring announcer introduced the manager "Francine" before the challenger "The Franchise" and saved the champion "Bam Bam" for last.  Because it takes time to dump out of one transform and load another, we weren't able to use any lower thirds here.  We should have planned our lower thirds using not the format but the ring announcer's script.

As you do more live shows, I'm sure that details like these will gradually get worked out.  Good luck!

 

While the Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh cameras shoot a pregame discussion between Pirates announcers Greg Brown and Steve Blass, director Dennis Galloway turns away from his monitors to pose for photographer Peter Diana.  The feature story would run in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 24, 1998.

 

Friday, June 5, 1998

By now you should be starting to help musicians learn the technical details of MIDI.  I enjoy that sort of thing.  I don't know much about your computer specialty; but I do know a fair amount about mine, which is Chyron character generators, and it's fun to share the tricks of the trade with other operators who are just getting started.

Most of my work continues to be in sports:  at this time of year, mostly baseball.

But this spring, the local public TV station WQED bought a couple Chyron Maxine graphics machines.  They replaced an older model, and the technology had advanced so much in twenty years that nobody at the station had a clue how to operate the new models.  So they brought me in, both to teach the Chyron and also to operate it sometimes.  (I'm better at it than any of the neophytes, and they also have other jobs to perform.)

It turns out that most of the programs I've worked on at WQED have been medical teleconferences, up to five hours in length.  The audiences are generally not MDs, though; these programs are aimed at nurses, therapists, and administrators.  For example, every couple of months we do a "coding show" about what five-digit code to assign to each step of a surgery so that the insurance company can be properly billed.  I had no idea there were so many ways (each with its own code) to perform a bunionectomy.

Some of the graphics I built on May 6, 1998:

See codes 35180-35190 for repair of a congenital or acquired traumatic AV fistula.

Do not assign code 36145 (introduction of needle or intracatheter into AV fistula) for the creation or revision of an AV fistula.  This code is combined with code 75790 to report an angiography of an AV fistula.

Code 37785 denotes a "secondary" procedure, or the second time the procedure is performed due to recurring veins.  This code would only be used when a re-operation of varicosed vessels is performed.

I have a few days off this coming week, and I'm going to make a quick trip back to Richwood to visit my 88-year-old father.  He's slowly going downhill.  A year ago he was using a walker, but now he can hardly stand up long enough for his caretaker to help him from the bed to the wheelchair.  He's becoming more confused mentally, too.  It's becoming difficult to talk to him on the phone because he's having trouble forming and expressing ideas.  He sometimes reports his dream activities as if they were real, and he sometimes insists that his house is not his house, that he has another one just like it and he wants to go there.

How are you doing?  As your sons go west to college, is your house seeming less like the house you've known?  Can all musical artists learn to grasp technological concepts, or do some give up too easily?  Write when you get a chance.

 

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TBT

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