It started over a burger at Alt ‘n’ Bach’s back in 1973-74.
Jim Santulli and I got together to talk about the possibility of broadcasting Badger Hockey on radio and TV at the same time.
Santulli was Executive Producer for Badger Sports at Wisconsin Public Television. I was the radio play-by-play announcer for Wisconsin hockey on WIBA radio.
Prior to the ’73-74 season, Badger hockey had been televised on a part-time basis on Wisconsin Public Television.
At that time, Bob Leu was working for the TV station. He started all the coverage that Wisconsin Public Television did for the athletic department. Bob said the first broadcasts were on Wednesday nights when they reviewed the Badger football games. They branched out to other sports from there, including hockey.
In 1973, Leu took a job in the Wisconsin athletic department and he hired Santulli.
Bob told me the hockey coverage originally started when the Badgers played at Hartmeyer Ice Arena back in the late 1960s. He said they built a little broadcast area above the bathrooms and used two cameras for the games.
They did not have a set amount of games that they televised each season, rather it was based on schedules, how the team was doing, financial support and other factors. Wisconsin moved to the Dane County Memorial Coliseum in 1969.
Leu said the first play-by-play announcer was Blake Kellogg, but Bob fired him when he showed up and asked who was playing. At that point Bob Miller took over.
When Santulli and I got together in 1973, Jim’s goal was to have as many Badger hockey games broadcast as possible. His logic for using the audio from radio was for consistency and financial reasons.
There were a number of technical issues that had to be solved, including how the audio would be linked up, how the commercial breaks would work and how pre-game, post-game, and intermission programming would be done?
We also had to decide on the play-by-play style we would use. My job on radio was to describe as much action as I could. For example, I might say down in the right wing corner. On TV you would not have to say the right wing corner because you could see it. The decision was made that we would do it like a radio broadcast.
We also had to decide on how communication between the radio station, TV production truck and broadcast booth would be handled.
Over the years we developed a system so the listener and the viewer did not even notice that we were taking commercial breaks for radio and talking on TV at the same time.
What the viewer didn’t realize was that while we were talking on TV, I was listening to the radio commercials and getting instructions from the production truck at the same time. All this had to be done so we could rejoin the radio broadcast at the appropriate time.
The real challenge was once radio rejoined the broadcast we had to continue with the conversation we were having on TV and hopefully have it make sense for the radio listener as well.
In 1990, the decision was made by both the radio and TV stations to split the broadcast and do separate audio. The reason that was done is that both stations wanted to do more on air promotions and that would have made it very difficult to simulcast the audio.
Wisconsin Public Television picked Ken Syke to do the play-play-play. Since that time, Michael Bahr, Brian Posick, Aaron Sims, and Robb Vogel have also done play-by-play.
Color commentators have included Bob Leu, Bill Howard, Jeff Sauer, Ron Vincent, and Theran Welsh.
A typical broadcast crew normally includes five engineers, five camera people, three replay people a technical director, a producer, a graphics operator, floor manager, a stats person in the booth and two on air broadcasters. That means there are almost 20 people involved with every telecast. If a split television feed is being provided, then even more people would be added to the crew.
On game day, the crew members show up at the Kohl Center by noon. By the time they unload all the equipment, set it up, test it, load all the graphics, televise the game and pack it all back up again, they will have worked a 10-hour day.
Normally it’s the announcers who get most of the feedback, and we really appreciate the comments. However, I must tell you it is the crew members who really are the ones who make the hockey telecast work.
Being a crew member is not an easy job and it’s a lot of hard work. They are also part of a large group of people who work behind the scene and don’t get much recognition, respect and credit that they deserve.
So the next time you are at the Kohl Center, or any other sports venue, and you see one of the TV crew members, give them a thumbs up, a high five, a pat on the back, a firm hand shake or a kind word of appreciation for a job well done.