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What Is It Again That You Do?
Written January 2, 2001; last updated July 22, 2004

When I tell people that my job involves televising sports events, they usually ask, "Oh, are you one of the announcers?"

A natural question, I suppose.  As a matter of fact, I started out in this business doing radio play-by-play of football and basketball at Oberlin College.  Also, the announcers are the only people on the broadcast crew who actually appear on the broadcast.

But a sports telecast requires dozens of people behind the scenes, and I'm one of those.  (A typical show might also require six camera operators, a couple of  "utilities" to pull the camera cables out of other peoples' way, three video tape operators for replays, an audio mixer, an audio assistant in the booth and maybe others on the field, a producer and a director plus an associate for each, a video shader to adjust the cameras, a technical director to put the right video on the air, two engineers to hook up and repair the equipment, one or two stage managers to assist the announcers, one or two statisticians, a crew chief, a truck driver ... well, you get the idea.)

My particular specialty is "electronic graphics operator."  I operate a special-purpose computer manufactured by the Chyron Corporation that generates text and other graphics elements.  These graphics are often called Chyrons or Fonts (after an earlier brand of computer, the Vidifont, which I operated as far back as 1982.)  Nowadays there are actually two different Chyron models that I use, depending on the show:  the Infinit! and the Duet.

I type up each graphic, paying special attention to spelling, and store it on the Chyron's hard disk until the producer and director ask for it.  Depending on the situation, I may add updated statistics with the help of statisticians in the booth.  At the proper time, the director tells the technical director to superimpose the graphic over a camera shot or other video.  Then sometimes I'll hit another key to animate the graphic in some way, making the wheels spin and the numbers fly onto the screen.

Ostensibly, the purpose of these graphics is to give information to the viewer, statistical information in particular.  However, in many cases the real purpose is to get a sponsor's logo onto the screen, as for example when we announce our choice for Adidas Player of the Game.  And sometimes we use fancy graphics and animations mainly to set the "style" of the telecast ... and to impress other people in the TV business.

The article Game Day gives hour-by-hour details of my job, circa 1988.

By the way, not all graphic elements come from the machine that I operate.  Some have been recorded on tape, for example.  Also, a separate computer with its own operator generates the "Fox Box," the little scoreboard which appears more or less constantly in the corner of the screen.  And sometimes across the bottom of the screen you'll see the scores of other games around the country; these come from yet another machine, this one back at the studio.

At the stadium, our equipment rides in a semi-trailer truck, typically 53' long with storage bays beneath the floor.  Stairs lead up to working areas.  Usually one side of the truck expands, sliding out to create more space.

The largest room in the truck is called "production."  There's a wall of monitors, at least one for every tape machine and camera and other video source.  The "switcher" is the device with the colored buttons that put these sources on the air, singly or in combinations.

I work further back in the production area.  In the above 2000 photo by Henry Lena, I'm in the green circle.  The people having the most fun are director Ned Tate and producer Tom Huet.  I'm in the shadows of the second row, behind my keyboard and my own little set of monitors.  Beside me sits a person variously referred to as a Font Coordinator or a Broadcast Associate or some other such title.  He gets instructions from the producer, combines them with stats, and tells me what graphics to prepare and when to call them up during the show.

Here I am in a better view, a 1989 photo by Ted Beam.  Hanging from my neck is a press pass which allows me to go into the stadium, although I spend very little time outside the truck.  So I'm present at a lot of sporting events, but I don't actually see the events except on television, just like you.

Where have I been?  Well, I've worked over 100 events a year since 1982, so the total must be over 2,000 events by now.  The higher-profile ones include the 1988 and 1996 Summer Olympics, the 2002 Winter Olympics, the 1990 Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas boxing match in Tokyo, and Wrestlemanias V through XIII.

But I don't hang out with the stars.  I do run into the announcers sometimes — I've shared a restaurant table with such varied people as Benny Parsons, Al McGuire, and Kenny Albert — but I've never met an Olympian or a boxer.  They're the athletes, I'm the technician in the truck outside.



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