Behind The Cameras Preparation Is Essential

by Robin Lane

Ryan Recker, Sports Anchor on KVOA, NBC Tucson says that preparation is essential in a sports broadcast. The World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship is a very special event for NBC and Golf Channel. According to Ryan, the presentation is the simple part. Behind the scenes is so much more complex. It takes a collection of people, an army to make a quality, high level production. There is a special crew of volunteers who have worked extra hard behind the scenes for the past six years to make our golf tournament here in Marana appear seamless.

As you watch the matches on TV, you hear the broadcasters calling the shots on hole number 7 as the action heats up and then the camera quickly shifts to hole number 12 where a great shot is happening. Ever wonder how they do that? How do they know? It is more than magic; it is the hard work of a group of individuals that feeds the right information to the producers at exactly the right time working together. The TV crews are an army of 36 dedicated volunteers who are special. They do not wear uniforms, they wear comfortable walking shoes. They do not carry signs to quiet the crowd; they wear a headset and a microphone. They do not know how to direct the crowd to the restrooms because they do not stop much. They stay inside of the ropes and walk along with the players during each match. It is their job to ALWAYS know what is going on in that match. The headsets are tuned to a channel with the production truck. The volunteers hear 32 matches on the radio. They answer questions and let the camera and producers know who is away and where their particular match stands.

At the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, a single loop is 7 miles of walking up and down hills. Each of the volunteers will “walk” the course with their match. When the first match ends, they are often told over the radio to get over and pick up another match already in progress. They may be standing on hole number 16, but they had better hoof it quickly to number 3 and tune into the action. Conversations are flying on the radio and they can hear it, but they must focus on their match so they can answer when called upon. They will hear their name on the radio and a quick question to be answered.

It sounds like very complicated work, but these volunteers are seasoned and professional. They are all golfers so they know the terms. They have all learned over time to speak clearly, speak quickly and clear the channel. They have to stay alert and be ready at any time to answer questions like, “How far away is Tiger from his ball?”; “What is Mickelson putting for?”; “Can this match end here on this hole or do we have time for a commercial break?” “Holy Cow! Did he just chili dip that wedge shot?” Although there is a 7 second delay between what is taped and what is broadcasted, that is not enough time to get it wrong. There are dozens of cameras around the course rolling film at all times. Highlights can be happening at any moment and it is the job of the TV volunteers to narrate the action. Each volunteer has a page of information and sometimes a clipboard to keep track of the action.

The TV volunteers have learned valuable lessons over the six years here in Marana. Stay ahead of the action. Never get trapped behind the players on the course or they will be running to catch up. They cannot speak on the radio while running to catch up. Stay far enough away from the players that they can speak on the radio while play is going on. If they are asked a question and the player is putting, it is bad to talk while standing too close. Keep the radio on at all times because you never know when the producer will need to talk with you. There are codes for bathroom breaks and there are ways to let the producer know when you ended up too close to speak freely.

Did you ever wonder how Johnny Miller can tell which club the pro is hitting on a par three? Well there is a volunteer on the tee with the golfer peeking into his bag or asking for a hand signal from the player’s caddie to tell the spotter what he is hitting. It is always a big secret on the tee so the other player does not know. The difficulty is getting the info as soon as the club is chosen and before the golfer hits it so the folks at home can marvel over the shot. Does it sound strange that the broadcaster knows the distance left to a long par five? Simple! The spotter is out there in the fairway pacing it off and calling it into the producer while the golfers are walking down the fairway. By the time the golfer and caddie arrive at the ball, the distance is measured and relayed on the radio channel.

There are handheld cameras out there with many of the matches. There are volunteers shadowing each of the camera crews. They are the folks hoisting a tripod and carrying spare batteries while staying ahead of the spectators.

At the end of the day, the TV crew will all sit down and say, “Wow! That was fun but MAN do my feet hurt!” At 7am the next day they are back out there to do it all again. NBC pays these volunteers $50 per loop for their hard work and dedication. As a group, these folks offer up the monies they earn to the First Tee of Tucson. Last year the donation totaled over $3,000 for the youth of Tucson.

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