About Site


Soft Landing
Written April 5, 2020

The United States orbited its first satellite in January of 1958 and then, only seven months later, boldly tried to launch an unmanned rocket all the way to the moon.  The rocket fizzled.  The next lunar attempt made it more than a quarter of the way there before falling back.  These were the first of eight unsuccessful Pioneer missions.  Then came four unsuccessful Rangers.

Success finally came after six years of trying.  Ranger 7 made a “hard landing” on July 31, 1964.  Its television cameras showed the lunar surface until a fraction of a second before impact.

The last images revealed craters as small as a couple of feet across — a thousand times better resolution than earth-based telescopes could achieve.  But the impact at nearly 6,000 miles per hour smashed the cameras to smithereens. 

Watching the news on TV, my grandmother wondered, “How did they get the pictures back?”

It was nearly another two years before Surveyor 1 used a rocket motor to slow down and achieve a non-destructive “soft landing.”  Four more Surveyors would do likewise, followed by astronauts.

In November of 1969, the crew of Apollo 12 walked a couple hundred yards to visit Surveyor 3.

Some people's careers end with a “hard landing.”  One day they're working, then the boss hands them a gold watch and they're retired.  The sudden stop smashes their everyday life to smithereens.

However, my career has experienced a “soft landing.”

It used to be hectic.  In one five-week span in 1993, I operated the TV graphics machine at 21 events in various cities and had only four off days at home.  My peak year was 2006, when I worked telecasts of about half of the Penguins hockey games (40) and half of the Pirates baseball games (82).

Even in 2012, I was doing over a hundred of those events a year.  But after I turned 66, the retrorockets began to fire.

One reason is obsolescence.  In 2004 I learned a graphics machine called a Chyron Duet, including eight days of instruction at Chyron's factory on Long Island.  Then I spent 16 years operating the Duet.  (It's now become “ChyronHego® Lyric PRO software running on Mosaic® and HyperX3 platforms,” which themselves run on the no-longer-supported Windows XP operating system.)

Nowadays, however, the machine with which I'm familiar is being used by fewer and fewer of the production companies that televise live sports.  Most of them have gone to other manufacturers, including Vizrt.

I could have returned to school for instruction on the “Viz,” but I'm getting to be too old a dog to learn new tricks.  (I'm now 73.)  I decided to stay with what I knew and concede the newfangled contraptions to more energetic up-and-coming whippersnappers, thereby giving myself more time off.

Since October 2019, I've worked only six hockey and two basketball games plus one football matchup.  (Don't worry, I've saved plenty for retirement.)

My most recent event, and quite possibly my last, was a Capitals at Penguins game on March 7, 2020.  The coronavirus pandemic was beginning to spread.  At the end of the evening, I dared to accept a handshake from my graphics coordinator; I may never shake hands with a person again.  Five days later, the NHL joined all other sports in suspending its season.

That universal shutdown means lost paychecks for many of my colleagues.  Many union members (though not I) filed for state unemployment compensation benefits.  They encountered long delays, so Local No. 5's Welfare Benefit Plan sent every member a check “to lessen the severity of this difficult situation.”  I donated my $200 to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Also cushioning the blow, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  “AT&T SportsNet, the TV home of the Pirates and Penguins, will compensate production personnel for lost work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who would normally be working Pirates games will be paid through their first 10 scheduled home assignments.”  For most, that would have been April 2 through 23.  Good for them!

I wasn't included in that because I don't work for AT&T SportsNet but rather for the visiting telecasters.  Therefore I'm sitting at home, contentedly social distancing.

Some years ago the union gave me a gold pin.  It's not a retiree's gold watch, but it's something.



Back to Top
More BroadcastMore Broadcast