NYC Marathon Telecast; A view from working in the booth

Broadcast day: this small booth housed 10 TV monitors, 4 Commentators, 1 Audio Operator, 1 Cameraman, 1 Director, and 1 makeup artist.
The bank of monitors inside the booth where we “called” the race from. Often times significant moments took place while we were in commercial break. The Producer would then save the “move” as an instant replay to create continuity for the viewing audience. It was critical to the telecast to close gaps that may not been seen live so the viewer knew how we got to this moment. All communication behind the scene is done through an IFB, which is a looped communication between producers, directors and talent. This integral communication allows everybody in the broadcast loop to know what was to transpire next.

Over the course of nearly a decade I had worked in many high profile broadcast jobs. Each and every one had its own particular complexity, and NYC was no exception. As a matter of fact, this was perhaps the most high pressure environment I had worked in. This job was perhaps the pinnacle of the running universe, and I had worked exceptionally hard to get there. For those of you who raced throughout the 80s and 90s you will know that NYC was not particularly crazy about hosting a chair race. Then finally in the early 2000’s they started doing an invitational field and I went after this job full force. While essentially a studio environment, it was complicated by the fact that it was an outdoor booth, assembled right on the finish line of the marathon. This meant stairs, not just stair, steep and semi slippery metal stairs. I think it was the 3rd year when the bouncer sized security guards nearly dropped me halfway up! Fortunately that did not happen and we went on to have a great telecast.

From Left to right, Al Trautwig was the principal host, running commentators Toni Reavis (who was also co-host of In Pursuit), Tim Hutchings and me.

This is the stage desk set up so to speak. I didn’t have a jacket on so I’m fairly sure this is rehearsal. There was a lot that went into having a successful broadcast, in particular, preparation. This year that was especially pertinent for me as the Producer made a technical decision to focus on the Women’s chair race due to the fact that Australian racing star, Kurt Fearnley made it a runaway. Sorry Kurt, but nothing makes worse TV than one guy wheeling for 20 miles. The women’s race on the other hand was great. Swiss racer Edith Hunkler was on a roll during that time period, and though she controlled the race, there was some great back and forth action to the tape. This was a very comfortable year in terms of temperature, however we had one year when it was excruciatingly hot, and I mean hot. We were sweating like dogs and the makeup artist was constantly busy mopping up sweat. In the “Booth” environment you are expected to be ready for change, which is true for any live telecast, but it would look really bad for the producer to ask you to switch gears and not know how to react. Its just part of the stationary telecast. I always went in knowing individual racers strengths and weaknesses, personal records, where they had won previously that season and much more. This was made a little easier in NY as I it was a late season race, meaning I had already called the Los Angeles Marathon, on occasion the Boston Marathon, and the Peachtree 10k. Nonetheless, when the red light comes on your camera you need to be ready to deliver.

The view from just behind out backs, also known as a “Beauty Shot.” The NYC crew did not mess around, they knew exactly what was going to make the glitziest TV. Almost nothing was left to chance, down to the angle the booth was situated for maximum effectiveness of shot.

When it was all said and done, the chair race probably had a collective 30 minutes on TV. Now proportionately that was not bad considering there were 2 running divisions, all the interviews, all the fill and thrill moments surrounding a big city telecast and much more. What I am saying is that they did the chair race justice. I always dug the post race interview as I was finally in a spot where I could talk racing with the winners. It was also a relief to finally get out of that booth after about 3 hours of sitting in one place. Between all those people in the booth, all the monitors, lighting, and so much other electronic equipment plus the acoustic foam lining the walls, the temp rose quickly. I’m not sure where I would rank the NYC telecast, but suffice to say, it was a right up there with the best. After all, they don’t call it the “Big Apple” for nothing. I only had the chance to call the NYC Marathon 3 times until they pulled the plug, but I can say it was a first class experience top to bottom.

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