The next time you watch golf on TV, make sure to thank the smellies who make it possible

Thursday October 22nd, 2009
Victor Juhasz

One of the things that amazes me about televised golf is our CBS crew's ability to tear down miles of cable, pack up tons of equipment, haul it to the next venue, and have it set up and ready to broadcast in less time than it takes me to write this column.

Literally minutes after we get off the air, as I am speeding toward the airport in my smelly rental car, our smelly techs (as they are affectionately known), don gloves and kneepads, protective outerwear (and in some cases women's underwear) and strike camp. Cables spread out from our trucks in a blindingly confusing pattern. Audio wires run to every tower and all the microphones on the tees and around the greens. Then there are wires to "bird mikes," which disappear into the undergrowth and shoot like creepers up trees to capture ambient sounds from rare indigenous wildlife, such as the Purple Throbbing Bung-Warbler, or the Crested Loogie.

But I digress. A lot of this is concealed in slits in the turf and "yellowjackets," which are the yellow and black rubber conduits that protect cables as they cross roads and other hard surfaces. Tearing this buried stuff up is hard work, and everyone is assigned a sector of the course and a golf cart to bring back the coiled copper for loading.

Other teams work on the fiber optic cable, which as I found out, has to be treated differently. There is no bending, knot-tying or knitting with this stuff, as you can it shatter it easily and annoy the production manager, who is the person who can have you assigned to the dumper crew, or worse still, McCord's tower next week. While all this cable is being pulled, other smellies are swarming the towers like Mexicans at the Alamo, disconnecting the transformers, dismantling the cameras and, in the case of McCord's 16th, sweeping makeup and hauling away trash bags full of adult diapers and empty Flomax packets.

Back in the mini room at the compound, the cameramen pack up their cameras, pointers, and tripods into made-to-measure hard cases, ready to be loaded into the submix, or C unit, one of three 18-wheelers that form the nucleus of the mobile broadcasting machine. A simple mini-cam tripod costs about $10K, and the little shoulder-mount camera that sits on top of it runs $125K, so these guys are careful. Over at Moxie, the $2M RV post-edit facility, Moxie Mike is loading sets of golf clubs, bicycles, boxes of videotape and other bits and pieces of actual broadcasting stuff, while the crane drivers are retracting and lowering the massive booms (that catch the signals pointed to them from all our wireless equipment) back onto their trailer beds.

Back in the compound, smellies form a line from the boxed-up electronics to a loading smelly, who is an expert in the shape and capacity of each individual truck, and the gear is passed hand to hand and packed in floor to ceiling like a puzzle, until all available space is filled, leaving no room for anything to move. Right about this time, I am drooling on my neighbor and hearing, "Be careful when opening overhead bins, as items may have shifted in flight, and could fall." Hopefully on the head of my neighbor.

The A unit, a $10M HD trailer with a bank of about a hundred monitors and several massive TiVo machines (it makes the cockpit of a 747 look like your iPod) is plugged into the B unit, which holds a similar load of video, graphics, and other impossibly computerized machines that I pretend I know something about, and is, you've guessed it, plugged into the C unit. Somewhere in this maze, our raw feed is compressed and all of this techno-crap is hitched to the satellite uplink, a mobile dish that shoots it to our space-toaster (the bird, a satellite), and then down to the broadcast center in New York, where they send it to you.

About six hours after we get off the air, I am stumbling off an American Airlines plane at DFW, yawning and trying to find my underpants, as my heroic smellies are loading up several 600-pound coils of generator cable, which will be the first stuff to come out at the other end. Slappy, Royce and the other drivers roll out after midnight and head for the next stop, which might be a thousand miles away, but come Tuesday night, the whole web will be untangled, connected, and ready for me to talk garbage over the magnificent images that somehow end up in your living rooms.

I hope this at least explains the process a little, but to be honest, after 13 years of doing this, I still have no clue how it works, or how our men and women get it done in time. All I can say is this: I am not sure we actually landed on the moon, and you can ask anyone in the TV business, from smelly to suit, and they'll probably agree.

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