Earlier this season I was in the audience at a weekly KSL Radio Coaches Show in the Loge at LES. During the show, I heard Greg Wrubell, voice of the Cougars, do a live commercial promoting a sponsored competition that is available weekly to BYU fans which allows the winner(s) to sit in the press box with the radio crew for the game that week. The contest has ran for a couple years now and I'd always thought it was a great idea, however I've never been one to win anything, so I knew my chances were next to none.
However, for multiple football and basketball seasons now, I've seen and talked to Greg numerous times at different venues and airports as we've criss-crossed the nation following the Cougars. One of us is paid to do so; one of us just an avid fan with some decent connections and an amateur blog. I half-heartedly tossed the idea out that just like the contest winners in Provo, I'd love to take a seat in the booth on one of my road trips this season.
As you can imagine, I was surprised and quite excited when Greg entertained the idea and asked if I was serious. I told him I for sure was, and would be available for any road game that would work for him. He couldn't commit to the plan quite yet, but said he liked the idea and would possibly have an extra credential available for the GT game...we'd be in touch.
A few weeks passed by and I refrained from mentioning the idea again. I didn't want to become that guy who is over-bearing and annoying. I waited until a couple weeks ago when I was in attendance at another BYU Radio Coaches show and mentioned it again. Greg said he'd remembered and was pretty sure everything was set, but he'd have to check the week of the game just to be sure. Sure enough, a few days later I got a message that he had my press credential in-hand! I was ecstatic.
As a longtime BYU and Wrubell fan, I knew this was going to be an amazing experience and give me a whole new perspective of both a football game and the preparations that go into producing a quality broadcast. Let me tell you, boy were my eyes opened wide at just how much goes on behind-the-scenes with "The Voice of the Cougars" each week to bring fans a quality production.
I was advised that KSL's pregame show would go on air a couple hours before the 3:00 EST kickoff, so I arrived at the stadium just before 1:00. It felt kind of strange being able to walk into the stadium before gates were open for fans and take in an un-checked backpack. I made my way up to the press box where there was a decent pregame buffet laid out, along with GT programs, stat sheets, media guides and even a good compilation of BYU stat sheets available to all media members.
The press box at Bobby Dodd Stadium is quite spacious and open. There are three outdoor levels that are available for the print media to choose from, all of which are open air seating. The print media space isn't booth type seating, but long rows of countertop space with electrical outlets. The radio/TV booths that are off to the side a bit are individual booths that hold 6-10 crew members. The radio booths are open-air as well, which was a welcomed surprise. Greg told me that a majority of the radio booths across the country are closed, which is nice for the late November games that can be chilly or have inclement weather. However in general, he's a big fan of open air booths because you really feel like you're part of the stadium atmosphere. The GT booth was also a bit lower and closer to the field than many other stadiums, so our vantage point was almost ideal. Not a bad setup at all.
The KSL Booth Setup
Inside the visiting team radio booth, there were three levels. The lower level had a countertop that comfortable would fit three people, however KSL uses four spaces due to their superior quality (Statistician, Play by Play, Spotter, Color analyst). Therefore, due to the mess of cords, headsets, chairs, notes and bags, Greg joked that it was like the space shuttle, "Once you're in...you're in." Just a step above the floor level, was another level with a couple chairs, a small table and more electrical outlets. This was my home for the day. It was quite nice to have a table and ample room to spread out. The top level had a sturdy desk and a bit more floor space, this was where the KSL engineer setup shop with all of the hardware, mic cords, mixer and computer monitor.
One of the added benefits that I wasn't used to was having in-stadium wi-fi access. I'm so used to being in "black hole" stadiums and basically giving up on texts or Twitter during a game. But at GT, I was able to stream stats and twitter on my IPad while taking pics and video on my phone without missing a beat. It was also nice having a flat screen TV mounted in the booth for replays. Since I'm not quite up to full blue-hair status, I'm not used to having such amenities at my finger tips. The only negative to the in-booth TV was that the actual TV broadcast was delayed about 10 seconds from live action. So if you wanted to catch the broadcast replay or slow-mo, many times it was running during the next live play on the field.
Radio Broadcast Team
Each member of the crew has a vital role to play in bringing the best product possible to BYU fans across the globe. Everyone knows Greg and Marc when they tune in and listen each week, but they are just a couple of the integral pieces that make KSL's coverage a success. I never knew how much else was going on behind the scenes to make a broadcast possible. Each game, KSL has a live studio crew back at the broadcast house in SLC. They are tied into the broadcast and can communicate with the team on-site at the stadium. It kind of caught me off guard to hear Andrew Adams and other voices pop in during the game with tidbits of info, scheduling or a heads up about upcoming segments.
Easily the most thankless job of the radio crew is that of John Dehnel, the on-site engineer. John sets up the large maze of technical equipment that is necessary to broadcast BYU football across the land. He is responsible to get all of the mics hooked up, headsets tuned in and multiple feeds tied together so they can be presented over the airwaves. He's also responsible for sound mixing and making any needed adjustments on the fly. The engineer is essentially the man behind the curtain who is pulling all the strings that allow the show to go on. Though not many recognize John, he's an integral part of KSL's weekly BYU broadcasts.
KSL's stats guru is Ralph Sokolowsky. Fans will never know just how hard he works during a game. Of everyone in the booth, I think Ralph has the least amount of time to actually watch and enjoy the game. He was charting and taking notes literally on every play of the game. His organization was amazing and he had so many moving parts to control. He had multiple media guides and binders in front of him to supply Greg with stats and tidbits during the game. He also kept the active game stats going and would hand Greg notes or point to stats as a play happened so he didn't skip a beat in his play call.
For example, as Greg is calling a punt play, Ralph is doing the math of where the ball is snapped, punted, caught by the return man and where it was returned to if not fair-caught. He instantly would show Greg a note of "Punt: 51 yds; Return: 6" which Greg could relay on to listeners. On the same note, many of the historical stats Greg recites during a game are produced by the endless notes and prep done by Ralph. With that said, we all know Greg also has a wealth of BYU statistical knowledge stored in his head that could possibly fill its own encyclopedia. Both men are equally impressive when it comes to crunching numbers.
For the last 25 years, Doug Martin has been BYU's spotter. Doug has what I discovered is my BYU Football dream job. Until Saturday, I really didn't fully understand what a spotter did. Basically, his job is to keep his eyes on the ball/play at all times and relay who made a tackle, reception, recovery, etc. immediately. He keeps a color coded spotting board in front of him at all times. It contains the 2-deep at each offensive and defensive position for each team. When a play happens, he can simply point to who made the play so Greg can keep up to speed on the call without pausing. Many times Greg already is on top of it and makes the call instantly on his own, however on occasion his view may have been blocked or he didn't have the right angle, and having Doug pointing to the player on the spotting board allows him to make the call.
I noticed Doug had another game duty that I never even knew existed...he's in charge of getting the in-game commercial spots or sponsor spots taken care of. He had a card with each KSL Sponsor listed on it; each had a string of numbers next to them. At dead spots in the action, he would hold the card up and point to a sponsor, Chuck-a-Rama for example. Greg would recite a memorized mini commercial on air and Doug would then cross of one of the numbers. Each sponsor pays for an allotted number of spots during a game and Doug makes sure Greg gets each one taken care of. It's one less thing Greg has to focus on and he simply recites the advertisement as Doug choreographs it in.
The Color Commentator
We all know and love Marc Lyons as BYU's color analyst. I've always known Marc as the guy who provided a change of pace and outside perspective to counter Greg's factual and analytical calls. However, I had no clue what a mass of odds and ends, tidbits and stories he's amassed over the years. For example, the wi-fi password in the GT booth was "Cumberland1916". As I read that aloud to Ralph, Marc piped in with, "Oh, of course, that's the old 222-0 game!" The rest of us obviously had no clue what he was talking about, but he enlightened us with the story of how and why GT beat Cumberland 222-0 in 1916, without ever facing a 4th down. Who knows that kind of thing off the top of their head? Marc Lyons does! He keeps the broadcast lively and balanced with a factoid or story throughout the day, I learned quite a bit from him.
Marc also keeps a drive-chart during the game which tracks where on the field drives start, their duration, time, etc. The drive chart can be used as a reference throughout the game as needed, or in the case of GT, the initial drive-chart made a decent paper airplane in the middle of the first quarter as a gust of wind sent it flying into the seats below. An epic moment -- as three sets of arms jumped at once and lunged for the paper only to see it flutter away in the wind as Marc waved good-bye.
As we all know, Greg is BYU's PxP announcer for both football and basketball broadcasts. What many don't know is just how much preparation and research Greg puts in the other six days of the week in order to put the best product possible over the airwaves each week. One of the most daunting tasks Greg undertakes each week is memorizing the opposing team's roster numerically, by both first and last names. For example, the day before a game you could walk up to him and ask "Who's number X for [insert current opponent]," and he'll give you their name and position on the spot. I can understand doing that for a basketball game, there are only 12 names. But for football rosters?! And to purge the memory bank and re-do it all again the following week? That's impressive.
Greg also puts hours into his pregame prep memorizing stats, situations and depth charts. To many this may go un-noticed, but when you listen to Greg call a game and realize there's hardly a pause, hesitation or dead moment, well that consistent flow doesn't happen just by chance. I actually tested myself last night while watching the replay on DVR. Alone in my man-cave, I muted my TV and tried to call a few plays in the game out loud. I did alright for a bit, but then the speed of the game, the numerous players that were subbing in and out and trying to insert random facts into my faux call became overwhelming. If you don't believe me, try it yourself sometime, it will give you a greater respect for what "The Voice of the Cougars" does week in and week out without missing a beat.
Another side note that many take for granted is how interactive Greg is with Cougar fans not only throughout the week, but during the game as well. During most timeouts and occasionally between plays, Greg is checking his twitter feed. Just like the rest of us, he has to sift through his TL constantly skimming for informative or useful tweets. He also gets an above average number of tweets or questions directed at him during a game, many of which he takes the time to reply to. Doing this during the week is one thing, but finding time to do it in the fog of war is admirable. Hopefully fans appreciate the time Greg dedicates each week to fan interaction, it's something that not many PxP guys take the time to do.
Nate Meikle is KSL's sideline reporter this season. As a former player, he provides good insight throughout the broadcast and brings a new perspective to the broadcast team. Nate roams the sideline with a wireless mic and headset that allow him to chime in from time to time with in-game thoughts, player updates or noteworthy items he's seen. Having Nate on the sidelines gives KSL Radio fans an up close and personal tie that's literally shoulder to shoulder with players during the game.
The Finished Product
With each piece of the broadcast team prepared to do their part, they are a work of art when all is flowing together. It was like watching a perfectly-choreographed work of art in motion. As a play unfolds, Greg is making a descriptive call, painting a picture in the minds of viewers at home. As he does it, Doug is watching like a hawk to pinpoint who made a tackle and signal that name to Greg. As the player(s) receive credit for the play, Ralph has already charted the play and is pointing to the yards gained/lost so Greg doesn't have to even think. All of that takes place in 10-12 seconds and no one even blinks. The second the play ends. On occasion a flag is thrown and Greg simply raises his arm in the air, on cue, John cuts into the Referee's live mic and the penalty call is heard live by those tuned in. Without a hitch the next play resumes and the whole cycle starts over.
Seeing these guys do their thing live is pretty spectacular. Papers are flying, fingers are pointing, hand signals are being passed along the desk. With nothing more than eye contact or a nod, they are able to communicate and stay on the same page. Growing up as an athlete myself, I've always appreciated good chemistry within a team, but until I spent time with these guys, I never realized how important it is in broadcasting as well. The only difference is these guys don't get to practice...it's all done on the fly with tens of thousands listening intently to their every word.
Postgame Show & Interviews
Once the game is over, the team shifts immediately to the Postgame and Locker Room Shows. Nate is the man doing most of the leg work for the post game shows as he's a mobile member of the broadcast team and able to sit in on press conferences and conduct live player interviews in the locker room. Greg and Marc handle most of the questions, but Nate is actually the one standing with the player and with the mic in hand. The same process is used to bring you Bronco's postgame interview. Since the team busses depart straight from the locker room to the airport, Bronco doesn't have time to make the trek across the field and upstairs to the radio booth.
It was rather interesting to sit in the booth and watch/listen while we could see Nate and Bronco standing in the endzone on the other end of the line. I've said it before, but I wish all BYU fans could see the Bronco Mendenhall that shows up each week for the mid-week radio show, or hear the off-air banter that he has while the post game show is at commercial. It's a side of Bronco and real personality that many have never seen. Most are used to the stoic and pensive coach, but very few ever see the smiling and casual side of him. Listening in while he and the crew informally chatted between segments was great.
Cougar Nation Now
One of my favorite parts of the broadcast every week is the segments that many of you have never tuned in for and might not even know exist? Cougar Nation Now is the final hour and change of each week's broadcast. Nate probably coined the best description for the segment last week when he joked that Cougar Nation Now is like listening to the reality TV version of KSL Sports Radio. It's the point in the show when everyone is loosened up, jackets are unbuttoned and just about anything goes. The jokes flow more freely, the sarcasm meter is turned up and the quality of entertainment is high.
The other aspect of Cougar Nation Now that adds to the fun is it's 100% interactive with BYU fans through a plethora of multimedia options. Fans can reach the booth by Twitter, email ("that's cougarradio; one word, two R's"), text or phone. Fan comments, questions and thoughts are discussed freely over the air. If you've ever tuned in, you'll also notice that comments and answers during the show are generally a bit more candid, making it not only enjoyable, but very informative as well. If you've never tuned into a BYU postgame show, or turned the radio off before Cougar Nation Now banter begins, I suggest you tune in and participate soon, you'll be glad you did. It usually begins about an hour after the game ends and generally runs for an hour to 90 minutes. It's pure radio gold for all involved. Also of note, don't be discouraged if your tweet, text or email isn't used during the show. I was blown away at the volume of social media hits that are sent in, there's simply no way the crew could get to all of them.
I find myself needing to apologize again for another extended post. However, I hope it was an informative view and new perspective on what happens behind the mics of a KSL BYU Radio broadcast. A very special thanks to Greg, Marc, Doug, Ralph, Nate and John for allowing me to be a guest member of the team for a day. Each was very professional and patient to answer my questions and put up with my sarcastic banter from time to time.
I had an awesome time tagging along for the day and hope to join them again sometime down the road in another venue far from Provo. I'm never the type of fan who sits in the stands and has a radio in my ear, so I've never realized how much information I was missing. After my experience in Atlanta, I may have discovered a new game day tradition that will only improve my experience as a fan. I'm fairly attentive to the live action on the field, but now that I know just how much more information is available, I'm excited to have it all accessible from my seat.
I'll talk to you in a few weeks as I recap my first BYU Basketball trip of the season with the boys in Brooklyn -- The Coaches vs Cancer Classic and the house that Jay-Z built await! I feel that stealing Greg's patented weekly sign off line would be the only appropriate way to end this post. So "In the mean time and in between time," thanks for reading.