Experiencing Raycom’s TV production of a Syracuse basketball game: It’s controlled chaos in the truck!
From the voices to the stats, from the manned and static cameras to the graphics, sponsor reads, overlapping telecasts, the truck can be a madhouse of activity!
Regardless of the role crew members play in the truck, producing a sports telecast is a difficult challenge. For fans at home, the experience is completely different. The hypothetical I envisioned goes something like this:
You finally make it home to watch the game you’ve been looking forward to seeing for the past week. You invite a few friends over to watch it together and for the most part everyone enjoys the telecast for what it is and has a good time. One of your friends though consistently points out small oversights in the broadcast when they occur; an errant camera angle, an inane graphic or a missed replay opportunity.
The fan knows exactly what should be shown at any given time, or so he says. The reality is that a ton more goes into producing a telecast than the average viewer would ever imagine.
I’m a graduate student at Syracuse University and hope to pursue a career as a sportswriter. I was recently given the opportunity to sit in on the Raycom Sports production of a Syracuse-Boston College men’s basketball game. Experiencing a full day in the truck enabled me to appreciate the complexities from start to finish. It’s hardly a simple task. It requires a team of dedicated employees, who work diligently from tipoff through the final buzzer and from stage setup time until the dismantling of equipment.
But showtime produces the real test. No one involved has much margin for error. Decision making is instantaneous.
My day with Raycom starts early but not as early as those responsible for the truck itself.
- The 40 to 50 foot truck appears large enough from the outside, but it’s still somewhat cramped on the inside. As someone quipped, it’s still bigger than many New York City apartments. About a dozen employees cram into it for a majority of the day. Because the truck is split up into three distinct compartments, the contained area can feel a bit claustrophobic. Extreme visual stimuli are everywhere. Screens are blindingly bright and control panels litter just about every inch of the truck. It’s hardly palatial or at all spacious.
- The truck itself and Raycom’s first few employees, arrived at 5:30am. Keep in mind, the game wouldn’t begin for a whole eight and a half hours, not until 2pm.
- At 7:30am, I met the game’s producer, Alex Farmartino, who had just arrived along with a number of other crew members, all of whom had plenty to set up. He took me through the entirety of the truck, giving me a crash course in live production.
- The engineering section in the back is responsible for transition, making sure that the feed is delivered without a hitch to affiliates and other distribution platforms.
- The middle compartment serves as the tape room and houses those responsible for putting together replays. Tape might be a misnomer in today’s digital world. Still it’s where everything is recorded and played.
- The nerve-center is in the front of the truck where crew members actively display images onscreen; 20-or-so monitors filled wall to wall with various camera angles and graphics; Near the back of this room, farthest from the monitors, sits the bug operator, whose entire job is, you guessed it, to keep the bug at the bottom of the screen displayed correctly. This is the graphic that is shown for the entirety of the game and includes the score, the game clock, and shot clock. Those graphics that pop up about individual statistics and game trends also fall under the operator’s responsibility.
- The next row consists of the graphics operator and font coordinator, who work as a team to show the large graphics onscreen. These give a more micro in depth look at a player or at a team as a whole.
- Next to them is the associate director, who helps things run smoothly and, in my experience, kept the crew on track by letting everyone know when a media timeout was coming up.
- In the very front row of the truck is the director who snaps orders to the technical director on the shots he wants viewers to see. The director, for this particular game, had ten separate cameras, five of which were man operated and five were static; a “slam cam” directly behind each backboard, one on the scoreboard and one on the shot clock and a beauty shot of the Carrier Dome.
- Different scenarios call for the use of each of these cameras at different times. With eight minutes and 15 seconds left in the game, for example, before Boston College could set up its defense, the Orange’s Elijah Hughes threw an alley-oop to Tyus Battle, who dunked the ball. After the main game camera captured the play in real time, the director asked for a replay using the shot taken by the camera operator sitting at the baseline. It showed Battle smashing through for the dunk.
- Finally, sitting next to them, is Farmartino, who has more to worry about than anyone in the truck. In fact, he spends the days leading up to the game, gathering information from online sources and the schools’ sports information directors as well as watching previous games in order to better develop potential storylines.
The experience was an eye-opener. I was completely unaware of how many people it takes to produce a live telecast. It’s overwhelming and takes people with a tough stomach to cope with the unending pressure.
Nothing though is guaranteed. Always vigilant, Farmartino had to keep an eye on the screen showing the North Carolina – Miami game. The unranked Canes and the mighty Tar Heels extended into overtime, encroaching on the starting time of the Syracuse game. The affiliates showing both games would miss the beginning of the Carrier Dome game.
Though this seems somewhat inconsequential, advertisers drive the financials. Overlapping games threw the commercial schedule off balance. So Farmartino had to think quickly in order to accommodate every sponsor.
Announcers Tom Werme and Mike Gminski were also required to make quick changes on the move too and they did so seamlessly.
Producer Farmartino has the final say on major decisions. As the game progresses, he might be talking to the crew in the tape room to pull up a specific highlight to run as an outcue to a commercial break, to the bug operator to pull up a particular statistic or even the game announcers to discuss a potential storyline.
This need for constant communication means there is rarely a moment of peace in the truck. Each crew member must be able to focus on whatever task is at hand while also keeping their ears open for one, two, or maybe even three other people who might need something from them at any moment, requiring what Farmartino referred to as “three-dimensional hearing.”
The crew is a mixed bag of Raycom and school people so it’s an absolute necessity to communicate effectively. Trust is integral in producing a quality product. While I sat in the truck, I witnessed multiple people walking in, shaking hands, and introducing themselves for the first time. They would then have to collaborate flawlessly during the game broadcast. Relying on someone unfamiliar is yet another layer of intricacy that makes the job so much more difficult.
Scanning the crowd for the Bojangles’ fan of the game, planning a tight shot after a breakaway dunk, or shouting for a sponsor’s graphic to be pulled up, there is never a dull moment . Nevertheless, it is almost thankless work, because if the crew is doing its job well, then the viewers at home probably won’t notice. It is only when something goes wrong that a fan, like that hypothetical friend I mentioned actually realizes what takes places behind the scenes. But as Farmartino explained to me, live sports production is a lot like life, in that when something goes wrong, you just have to move on to the next thing and make the best of it.
At the end of the day, Syracuse came out on top of Boston College 67-56 and my day with Alex Farmartino and his crew was unforgettable.
It’s a labor intensive undertaking. Much of the Raycom crew – not the entire crew:
List of Crew Members:
Producer: Alex Farmartino
Director: Michael Miller
Venue Information: Peter Sala
SID/ PR. Director: Peter Moore
EIC: Chris Fournier
Maintenance: Will Morrison
Driver: Brenda Penny
Play-by-Play: Tom Werme
Color: Mike Gminski
Tech Manager: Anthony Vadala
Associate Director: Kristin Hennessey
Font Coordinator: Bill Hill
Stage Manager: Mark Mangicaro
Clock/Score: Scott Ellison
Stats Official: Tommy Valentine
Stats Talent: Joe Insel
Utility: James Cassidy
Utility: Tad Fundalinski
Utility: Jeff Meyer
Video: Charles Thomas
Technical Director: Jim Lamanna
Duet: Becky Hardwick
Audio 1: Mike Moran
Audio 2: Todd Torrance
Camera: Christopher Baycura
Camera: Bill Corbett
Camera: Grant Dobbins
Camera: Jim Hamilton
Camera: Dave Williams
EVS: Nick Giarrusso
EVS-RO: Jacob Butchko