Celebrating the End of a Curse

Beantown TV crews cover Red Sox victory parade
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Beantown TV crews cover Red Sox victory parade

BOSTON

(Editor's note: Veteran Red Sox fan and WCVB-TV cameraman John Premack covered the Red Sox victory parade in Boston.)

It wasn't until the afternoon after the Boston Red Sox's 86-year championship drought ended in St. Louis that team and municipal officials sat down with corporate sponsors to map out details for what would become the largest public gathering in the city's history.

By the time they were ready to share their plans with area television stations, only 36 hours remained to prepare for wall-to-wall live coverage of this mega event.

Despite our recently gained expertise at televising victory parades and rallies for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, it quickly became clear that this celebration would present several unprecedented challenges. At 3.2 miles, the planned parade route was 50 percent longer than the one used for the Patriots' parades. The rally's 10 a.m. Saturday start, coupled with a crowd expected to number in the millions, meant that all transmission vehicles and camera risers had to be in place Friday night.

ROLL OUT THE DUCK BOATS

Pre-rally ceremonies would be held inside Fenway Park, which was closed to the public, but concerns about security and crowd control along the route led planners to embrace the concept of a rolling rally, with no stops or assembly points that would cause people to cluster. Players would ride atop 17 World War II era "duck boats." These eight-foot-high, square-hulled vehicles positioned members of the Red Sox organization where they would be visible from a distance, but not approachable.

Seven area stations--WBZ, WCVB, WHDH, WFXT, WLVI, WMUR and NECN--joined with sports channel NESN and Fox Sports Network to create an ad hoc pool. NESN, which televises regular-season homes games in Fenway Park, would provide a multicamera-switched feed of the pre-parade ceremonies. Seven pool participants were each assigned a fixed position along the route, and WCVB provided a rolling camera from within the parade.

As all pool feeds were to be distributed via satellite, with mobile uplinks located at each camera position, care had to be taken to choose locations that would provide line-of-sight to the necessary slice of sky. The 2 GHz COFDM digital signal from our Roadrunner mobile unit, positioned directly in front of the first duck carrying Red Sox team members, was relayed back to the studio via one of WCVB's regular ENG receive sites and uplinked with our fixed dish. A total of nine feeds on five birds were up at once, using three digital data rates as well as full-bandwidth analog on C- and Ku-band.

Pre-planning also included arranging security for all pre-positioned ENG and SNG vehicles, both to keep them secure overnight and to prevent Saturday's crowds from climbing atop them in search of a vantage point. Ladders were removed or covered with bolt-on panels, and steel barricades were placed around camera risers and vehicles.

Anticipating that cellphone circuits would be unreliable at best and unavailable at worst, we were able to arrange for the installation of a landline to provide IFB at our most critical field anchor position. We relied on an existing high-power 450 MHz IFB transmitter to support or backstop our other unilateral locations. WCVB's field coverage plan was divided into three elements--pool coverage from Fenway Park and along the route, unilateral standup locations, and aerials from our helicopter to help fill in the gaps between fixed cameras. We established camera positions inside and outside the ballpark using permanent fiber and satellite for backhaul. Both locations along the parade route relied on ENG microwave circuits.

Coverage from WCVB's NewsCopter 5 became an even more important part of our production plan when, the night before the event, the city announced it was doubling the length of the parade route by sending the amphibious ducks swimming one-and-a-half miles up and then back down alongside the banks of the Charles River. One of the pool uplinks was redeployed to a bridge at the turnaround point, but this still left a significant gap in what the pool would be able to provide.

A crowd estimated at 3.2 million people lined the route by the time the rally rolled out of Fenway Park Saturday morning, with fans standing 20 to 30 deep in many places. The light rain falling since dawn did nothing to dampen their spirits, although it must have caused a quiet curse or two in more than one television control room. With the mist so dense that the upper stories of the Prudential and Hancock towers were obscured, the ceiling was too low for helicopters to fly. The parade was broadcast without any aerial views.

Oh well, that's television... or is it a new curse of the Bambino? Wait 'til next year