ATLANTA -- They easily manage 58 monitors, seven cameras and page after page of commercials and sponsored graphics that must be worked into the telecast, but one of the few things that actually rattles the Raycom/Lincoln Financial crew producing the Army-Georgia Tech game is a rapper.
"It's a guy on the sideline in blue jeans, suspenders and a straw hat," says producer David Barringer as one of the sideline cameras cuts in close. "Anyone know who that is?"
The sight of Andre 3000 -- one half of Grammy Award-winning duo Outkast -- caused a moment of distress in the production truck last Saturday. As the DUET operator typed the recording artist's name into an on-screen graphic, fingers crossed: "I hope [play-by-play announcer] Steve [Martin] says this right," Barringer said as the live feed cuts to Andre 3000. It went off perfectly. To the 600,000 homes watching the ACC regional telecast, it was just another moment in a typical college football telecast.
We've come to take the magic of delivering the game into our homes and favorite sports bars for granted. Sitting inside the Raycom/Lincoln Financial production truck, though, you quickly understand that turning the madness that takes place on and around the field into a seamless program is all about adaptation for the sake of continuity.
"It's a constant adjustment," Barringer said. "You might be set to do this and then a flag or this happens, then a big play or a turnover backs it up."
Barringer oversees a crew of over 50 people that centers around the mobile headquarters of the production trailer. This main production trailer directs the finished product, the satellite truck and the sports media center, which creates the down and distance, red zone and yellow first-down lines on the field. The two-day set up, broadcast and breakdown comes at a weekly cost of $90,000. This seems like a pretty fair price when considering all the work that goes into the broadcast.
Inside the production truck, the pregame show is winding down and assistant director Pat O'Reilly is looking at a hand-held clock, counting down the length of a segment including profiles of the ACC Players of the Week. "Nine-and-a-half fun-filled minutes," she calls out to pregame producer Beverly Rumley, before marking off the final, taped package on the docket.
While O'Reilly counts out the last 30 seconds before the pregame show goes off the air, Barringer comes bounding in, giving a fist pound to each member of the crew before taking Rumley's seat in the front row alongside director Roy Alfers and technical manager Terry DeCarlis as he puts his headset on.
"Hello, Steve and Doc," Barringer says over the headset to Martin and color analyst Doc Walker as they go over plans for a pregame segment on Yellow Jackets running back Tashard Choice.
Once the game begins, Barringer slips into air traffic controller mode. He follows the live action by looking for replay-worthy moments on the tape machine, which has monitors dedicated to both the live and recorded feeds of all seven cameras within the stadium (labeled A, B, X, Y, Dog, Red and Blue). When Barringer finds something he wants, he signals the tape department. Once it's ready, he tells the director, who signals to the technical manager with strange-sounding calls like "Roll two times one sound clean" before it's put on live television.
Barringer also calls in "effects," which are all the graphics you see during the game as well as the sponsored graphics -- either overlays on the field, screen-filling billboards or logos -- that pop up around the televised scoreboard (also known as the "bug"). The effects are produced by the font coordinator and DUET operator, who sit directly behind the producer, director and technical director.
Sitting behind the effects team in the back row is the bug operator -- who deals with the clock, scores and downs -- and the assistant director, O'Reilly, who is in charge with making sure each and every bit of paid advertising is used during the telecast. For this particular game, she has six pages with 20 items each and is constantly reminding Barringer what's available and what has to go where on the screen. Since this is a regional broadcast, and all commercials outside of local ads are run from the truck, she also has to make certain that they don't run competing companies (i.e. auto manufacturers) in the same commercial block. "We'll get it all in," O'Reilly assures me.
"We've got a lot of sponsored elements that we do and that's what helps us do these broadcasts," Barringer says. "You got to find times to put those elements in and try make it natural and pick the right times where it doesn't take away the broadcast. You can't do it on a big pass play and go to the Chick-Fil-A nugget ... That's one of the hardest parts of doing this. If all we had to do was cover football it would be fun."
The game runs smoothly until near the end of the first quarter, when the wind is knocked out of Bobby Dodd Stadium as Choice went down with a knee injury. Barringer goes to work, scouring over every angle and working with the tape department to find the most telling shot of the injury. Once he finds it, he tells Alfers they'll run the tape of the injury, along with a sideline report from Mike Hogewood -- if nothing happens on Army's next play. But adaptation comes into play as the replay is delayed. The Black Knights turn in a 32-yard pass play to set up first-and-goal at the Yellow Jackets' 10. Then Georgia Tech draws a penalty, delaying the Choice footage yet again.
Game issues are manageable, but production issues aren't. When cutting away to an Advanced Auto Parts commercial, there is a delay in the visual on the ad and the audio plays while still showing a shot of Grant Field, drawing a cry from Barringer. Later in the telecast, while playing a promo clip for the following week's Wake Forest-North Carolina game, the production crew cuts back in just as Georgia Teach snaps the ball. "The big deal is you don't want to miss action," O'Reilly says. "It's not excusable."
The other inexcusable sin of the production truck is not getting an ad in. With 2:47 remaining, Army sits on the Georgia Tech 25-yard line facing fourth-and-four and the only ad left on O'Reilly's checklist is an O'Reilly Auto Parts red zone indicator. "If they don't do it, we have to [change the O'Reilly Auto Parts advertisement to] down and distance," Barringer says. "I don't want to do that, but we have to get it in."
The Black Knights are penalized five yards, then on fourth-and-nine turn it over on downs. Georgia Tech takes over on its own 30, giving the production crew a new problem -- the prominent "GT" and "ACC" logos cause havoc with the overlaying ad and both are clearly visible in the shot. Tension's high in the truck as Yellow Jackets backup quarterback Josh Nesbitt runs on three consecutive plays, pushing the ball to the Georgia Tech 49. Barringer gives the effect call and with less than two minutes on the clock, the ad is placed over top of part of the "GT" logo, drawing a round of applause from the truck.
"I have to say that's completely hideous," O'Reilly says.
With one disaster averted, another realization sets in. "We're running late," O'Reilly says as she taps her clock with her pen. "We have to get off the air."
Barringer informs Martin and Walker they have 40 seconds to say their goodbyes, and after they hurriedly sign off, the credits run and the production finally comes to a close.
"It's fun," Barringer says. "But it's draining."