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Threads:  The Teens

Letters written by me, updated January 2021
to include the period beginning 2010

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Background:  Since I launched this website in the year 2000, I haven't written many letters detailing my adventures in broadcasting.  Some of those adventures have been described in articles on the website itself, and I write my friends advising them to go online to find out what I've been doing.

Another factor is that since 2001, I haven't traveled to exotic locations as often as before.  But I told a few tales in the previous thread, Century XXI, and here are a few more.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 2010 hockey playoffs ended this week.

Two weeks ago, while they were hosting Montreal in the second round, I was hired to work the graphics machine for two telecasts by RDS, the French Canadian version of ESPN.  I had not worked for RDS for years, and I don’t speak French.  Fortunately, the graphics coordinator is used to dealing with this problem when they televise games in the U.S., and he spelled everything out for me.  Also fortunately, I’m a quick learner.  There was one full-page graphic called something like “The Numbers Game” that we had to build rather rapidly.  After we did so, he told me that I was the first non-French-speaking operator who had been able to do it.  Usually, he has to wave the operator away and take over the keyboard himself in order to get the thing typed in time.

French pronunciation remains incomprehensible, but I can more or less read French if the subject is sports stats.  However, I had to type one phrase whose meaning eluded me.  Although teams only play 82 games in a season, I could tell this phrase referred to a team this season that somehow had 237 games of a certain type.  The word blessé was in there somewhere.  Eventually I discovered that blessé means “injured,” so the stat must have been “man-games lost to injury.”  But I didn’t discover that until later in the game, when a couple of players were blesséd.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ice hockey is a winter sport.  Players welcome freezing conditions.

Otherwise, it would be water hockey, and who would want that?

On the other hand, when NHL games are played indoors, the spectators have some expectation of comfort.

And so do we telecasters in the shirtsleeves environment inside our mobile unit.  In fact, the racks of TV gear generate so much heat that most trucks require two air conditioners.  However, the graphics crew usually sits in a separate section that slides out from the side of the truck – a section that is not well insulated.

Thus it was that for a recent game, although my seat was adjacent to the glowing monitors in front of me, I was not surrounded on all sides by warm equipment.  Neither was the scorebug operator, nor our graphics coordinator Becky Hawranko.

Now Beck in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long Penguins hockey telecast, when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a camera in the hands of the technical director.  Seated in the warmer part of the truck, he was amused by the defenses we had deployed against the air conditioning.  I hope his photo chills not your holiday spirit.


Monday, February 6, 2012

I’m working on a big college basketball telecast this Wednesday:  Indiana at California.  But it’s not what you think.  It’s not an intersectional game between the Hoosiers of the Big Ten and “Cal” of the Pac-12.  I’m not flying to the West Coast.

No, Indiana and California happen to be two towns in Western Pennsylvania, 73 miles apart by car.  Each town has an institution of higher learning that bears its name:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and California University of Pennsylvania (CalU).  Each of those schools plays in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.  And they’ve had some success in basketball:  CalU’s women were the Division II national champions in 2004, and IUP’s men reached the Division II championship game in 2010.

The Vulcan Sports Network will tape both games of Wednesday’s women/men doubleheader, to be aired Saturday evening starting at 5:30 pm on the CW affiliate in Pittsburgh.

We were at CalU on January 28 as well, and those games aired live on the CW station.  However, we doubt that many viewers were watching us, because on another channel Pitt was upsetting Georgetown.

Not many fans watched in person, either, even though it was Alumni Day.  The official attendance for the women’s game was 353.  There were 743 in the stands for the men’s game, but it went into overtime and a lot of spectators had departed by then.

The visiting team that day was Mercyhurst University.  (One of our announcers repeatedly mispronounced it as Mercyhouse.)

And the venue was CalU’s brand-new Convocation Center.  (The same announcer tried to call it the Convention Center or even the Conversation Center.)

Did the university overextend itself in spending $59 million to build this fancy new facility?  According to an article in the March 21, 2012, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the annual balance sheet looks like this:

Operating revenue

$0.4 million

Operating costs

- $1.1 million

Debt payments on construction bonds

- $2.5 million

Net annual loss

- $3.2 million

Of course, the Convocation Center benefits the university in many ways that don’t directly bring in cash.  Also, as more events are booked, revenue is expected to increase.  But it will have to increase 800% just to break even.

Another problem:  During the decade from 2010 to 2019, enrollment at CalU decreased from 9,400 to 6,800.

The building seats about 5,000 people, and 3,128 were in the stands for the first game there on December 3.  However, after the opening weekend, attendance had never topped 386 until our January 28 men’s game.

Even the pep band didn’t show up, which left the “student section” in the end zone completely empty.  There were plenty of better seats available.

But our HD telecast looked good.  Maybe the big rivalry with IUP will encourage enough fans to visit the “Conversation Center” this Wednesday to boost the attendance into four figures.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

The National Hockey League season was supposed to start tonight.  My first regular-season telecast was supposed to be tomorrow night.  However, due to a lockout, those games are not going to be played.

Nevertheless, I’ve been keeping busy with football telecasts.  These games involve small colleges and high schools here in western Pennsylvania.

We use a mobile unit from Viewpoint Production Services.  That company has posted some photos from last month’s productions on their Facebook page, and I’ve edited a few of those pictures and re-posted them below.

Viewpoint’s first college game this season was September 8, Carnegie Mellon at Allegheny (Division III).  I prepared some of the graphics beforehand, but I was scheduled to work baseball telecasts in Pittsburgh all that weekend.  So although I've been to Meadville before, I didn’t get to go this year.

Still, this setup outside the stadium looks familiar.  In the foreground is Viewpoint’s 38HD mobile unit, with a green generator in the background to provide electrical power and, beyond that, another Viewpoint truck to transport the cameras and other bulky equipment.

Half an hour before the start of the telecast, sitting in front of the monitor wall, producer Richard Sutphen (left) and director Mike Kendlick (right) discuss their plans.

The following Saturday, I followed 38HD even farther north for a Division II game, California (PA) at Edinboro.  Notice the deep blue Northwest Pennsylvania sky.  It’s that color because we’re looking north at noon.  That tells us that our camera positions are on the east side of the stadium — an unfortunate location, because it meant our cameras and announcers would be looking west, directly into the setting sun, when the game began at 6:00.  The first quarter was not pretty. 

We didn’t have to worry about the sun on September 27, a rainy Thursday.  Our  game was at Seneca Valley, the third-largest high school in the Pittsburgh area.  Here the trucks could park in a convenient location directly behind the pressbox.

After the cameras were set up and properly protected against the elements, the crew took cover indoors.

From left to right above:  cameramen Chris Dahl and Rick Rhodes, scorebox operator John Vivirito, audio assistant Dave Nichols, and cameraman Dan Corso.

When he’s not operating a camera, Danny (right) writes songs and plays lead guitar for the local band Sacred Dominion.

Our ROOT Sports announcers Rob King and Craig Wolfley normally introduce the show from the sideline, but the weather outside was frightful, so we brought their camera into the pressbox as well (below).


Finally, where was I in all of this?

Mr. Vivirito and I took our positions inside the truck, operating two graphics computers. 

John's scorebox (on the left above) generates the strip at the top of the screen that gives the score, the time, the down and distance, and so on.  My Chyron Duet (on the right) generates the larger-scale graphics.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Driving down to Tanglewood in August [from Lake George, New York, to western Massachusetts]?  Sounds like fun.

But I have a friend, Mark Vidonic, who had tickets to Tanglewood to hear James Taylor a few years ago.  So he flew into Albany, an hour's drive away, and figured he'd allow three hours to get to the Shed.

He was still several miles away in a traffic jam when the concert began.  It seems the promoters had failed to properly staff the parking lots, or something.  The rest of our TV crew was back in Pittsburgh televising a Pirates game, and Mark kept calling us with lack-of-progress reports.  Finally, an hour after the start of the concert, he figured he'd missed it completely, so he turned around and drove back to Albany.

Moral:  although your cabin is only 2¼ hours away, you might want to set out in the morning.  If you arrive sooner than necessary, explore the Berkshires for an hour or so.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

A scene from the classic 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap begins inside a dressing room in a Cleveland arena where “the world’s loudest rock band” is getting ready to perform.  When it's time to start their show, they pump up their energy, grab their guitars, and head for the stage.  But they can’t find it.  The musicians wander through the bowels of the building (sometimes in circles) for 45 minutes.

I visited a real dressing room this week.  We were televising a corporate awards show from Heinz Hall, the home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Actually this “dressing room” was the guest conductor’s office, and it was not difficult to locate.  We parked our TV truck in the loading dock, walked past the usual backstage clutter including the towering aluminum shipping cases for the orchestra’s double basses, and found the guest conductor’s office just off the wings stage left.

Inside were a desk and a couch and a battered black Steinway upright piano.  There was a lavatory with a full-length mirror where the conductor could check the fit of his tuxedo and tails.  The walls were lined with framed reproductions of music manuscripts and portraits of some of the renowned directors who have led the PSO since its founding in 1895.

I couldn’t help noticing that when the guest conductor leaves this office to walk to the podium 40 feet away, as he steps out the door, directly in front of him is a broad pillar.  On this white wall there is a single sign, firmly affixed at eye level.  In letters half a foot tall it offers this unambiguous guidance:  

The confusing streets and bridges of Pittsburgh already disorient too many of our visitors.  We can’t allow even the slightest possibility that a distinguished guest might become lost in the wings.



Sunday, April 5, 2020

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.  Therefore I'm sitting at home, contentedly social distancing.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

I'm doing well, though like 94% of Americans I haven't yet received my first Covid-19 vaccination.  I'll get it eventually, but I'm not in a high-risk group.  (One of those is defined as people over 75; I won't even be 74 until next month!)  Problems with vaccine distribution have driven some folks to desperation, so I'll leave the first doses to them, health care workers, and so on.

Meanwhile, I'm wearing a mask and avoiding crowds.  I'm introverted anyway, so I don't mind staying home almost all the time.  After I pick up groceries at curbside this afternoon, I plan to avoid the next two days' cold temperatures and not venture outside again until Saturday.

Having officially retired from sports televising, I watch the games with somewhat less intensity these days.  In the first round of the NFL playoffs, when the Steelers lost to the Browns (which they never do), I wasn't surprised, but some folks around here couldn't contain their outrage and disappointment.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

How am I spending time in retirement?  Reading and writing, for the most part.  My reading is largely online; I follow several bloggers and read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and highlights from four other publications including the Times and the Post and The Atlantic.  Often a tidbit will remind me of something and for my website, I’ll write a little item like an opinion column.  I seem to be an editor by disposition; I enjoy organizing all of the words (and pictures) and moving the phrases around until they’re easy to follow.

When I do leave my apartment, occasional errands can serve as adventures.  For example, my car was due for an oil change, so on Thursday I took it to the dealer 20 miles away.  I decided to return via other roads, got lost in the rain, enlisted the aid of a navigation app to get back to civilization, and stopped for gas and a shrimp taco before returning home.  Such fun!  Tonight I get to reset all my clocks.



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