Going the distance

Founded in 1976 by Giovanni Bertini, and run with his son Fabio, Telerecord is based in San Mauro a Signa, a small town near Florence, Italy. The company's fleet of HDTV OB vans (which have anywhere from four to 12 camera units) are familiar sights at high-profile sports and music events not only throughout Italy, but also worldwide, such as at the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul — the company's first foreign HD project.

Apart from its coverage of conventional projects, the company broadcasts a unique world-famous event staged annually in the nearby town of Siena: the Palio di Siena bareback horse race. The event attracts tourists from all over the world. In fact, seats are booked nine months in advance.

The race has historic origins. The very first palio was run to commemorate the battle of Montaperti in 1260. The bloodiest battle in medieval Italian history, it involved more than 50,000 troops and was fought between Florence and Siena during the conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines.

The race

Siena's present-day palio takes place on July 2 and August 16 each year. In the July 2 event, in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano, 10 of the town's 17 contradas or districts compete — the seven that didn't run the previous year and three drawn among those who did. The same procedure is used for the August palio, which is in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption. The riders race around Siena's main square, Piazza del Campo, which is covered with a layer of tuff earth for the occasion.

After two days of trials with 50 or 60 horses, the contrada captains choose the 10 they consider most suitable, and the town's mayor holds a draw to assign the horses to the contradas. On the day before the race, a mass is held at which the jockeys are blessed and swear to be loyal to the contrada. From that moment on, horses and jockeys can't be substituted, so if either is hurt on the last trial run (after the mass and swearing-in), the contrada can't compete.

On the afternoon of the race, the horses are blessed, the huge bell of the Mangia tower begins to toll, and the historical procession, with more than 600 extras in period costume and featuring the town's famous flag throwers, winds its way through the town to the square. The procession lasts about two hours and reaches its climax when a replica of the Florentine war wagon captured at Montaperti enters the square with the Palio.

Once the track is cleared, the jockeys come out of the town hall, taking their whips from the officials at the door. During the race, no holds are barred, but the horses must start with a preset line-up — all but one start from the ropes, while the tenth horse has a running start. The race cannot begin until all the horses are in position.

Then three laps around the square at breakneck speed and a mere 90 seconds later, one of the jockeys raises his whip to celebrate his victory, and the contrada's inhabitants swarm on to the track to claim their winning banner.

Covering the palio

Telerecord first covered the palio in 1982, with cameras connected via multicore cables. It has now produced the event annually for eight years.

For the most recent palio, the company's Unit 22 HD OB truck produced the event for the Consorzio per la Tutela del Palio di Siena, the organization responsible for managing the event. Three more cameras were used with Telerecord's HD Unit 14 to integrate transmissions for RAI, the Italian state broadcaster.

The six-day coverage of the palio and its preparations were also aired live by three regional channels: RTV38, Canale 3 and Siena's Civic Channel. RAI coverage was beamed out via satellite, whereas for the local broadcasters, the signal was transmitted with microwave links.

When covering the palio years ago, Telerecord tried using wireless cameras, but the event organizers insisted on just one antenna, and it had to be positioned where they wanted. Telerecord lost the camera signal two or three times and, therefore, decided not to use a wireless camera again.

So the challenge became installing the long fiber-optic cable runs required to connect the cameras to the respective CCU in the trucks — about 600m per camera. The cables are indispensable, but must not be seen so they don't distract from the beauty of Siena's historic square. The cables are installed in the middle of the night because the square is thronged with tourists during the day. The cables pass along the balconies and terraces and, to ensure no unsightly sags, Telerecord must not use fancy, colored cable ties, but rather material that fits into the surroundings, such as hemp string.

Rigging the shoot

Telerecord fielded eight Sony HDC-1500 cameras in Piazza Del Campo and three in each of the two churches in which various celebrations connected with the race are held: July 2 at the Church of the Madonna of Provenzano and August 16 at Siena Cathedral. This is where the winners go immediately after the race for the Gubilo, when they thank the Madonna for the victory.

Camera 1 with a 72X lens was on a tripod at San Paolo to cover La Mossa, which is the start of the race. Telerecord also used three shoulder cameras. The first was at the San Martino curve, where there are often quite a few falls. The second was at the Casato curve. Here, the cameras were actually on the race track, but well off the trajectory of the horses. The third was used by a cameraman at the wooden barrier around the inside of the track, where the horses line up for the start. Its cable run passed in a duct under the square's paving, also used to pass the controls for the starting ropes.

All three shoulder cameras had wide-angle lenses, so their views of the shell-shaped square were really breathtaking. A platform-mounted camera with a 72X lens was used at San Martino, one with a 22X lens at the Casato and another (with an 18X lens) on a tripod alongside the authorities' platform at the start.

The company installed another camera with a wide-angle lens on the roof of Palazzo Sansedoni with an 8m jimmy-jib. From a height of about 30m, it covered the race from above and was also used for shots of the surrounding countryside. It also had a wide-angle lens that gave some spectacular effects in 16:9. Telerecord had to run a cable up the tower of the building. Because Palazzo Sansedoni officials were strict regarding the use of cables, a technician from Milan put a connector on the custom fiber cable.

Regarding his choice of Sony HDC-1500 cameras, Giovanni Bertini says, “Covering an event of this type necessitates practical, easily handled equipment enabling operators to move around at will — and quickly to avoid the horses if necessary — but also ensures high-quality images, indispensable for communicating every detail of the exciting atmosphere from start to finish.”

The HD trucks

Telerecord switched over to HD production in 2005, as the format offers new creative opportunities and a much higher image quality. Currently, the event airs in SD. However, on the basis of numerous requests, specifically from Europe and Japan, the company will be airing the HD version in the near future.

Telerecord also builds OB vans for other broadcasters and has fitted an incredible amount of technology into the 10m Unit 22 (an Iveco Eurocargo truck). The seven-seat production area hosts a Sony MVS-8000 multiformat HD/SD production switcher and associated MVE-8000 multiformat DME processor, a Miranda Kaleido-X multiviewer, four LCD 40in full HD and four 20in LCDs (all Sony), and Genelec audio monitors.

The VTR area equipment includes two Sony HDW-D2000 HDCAMs, two Sony DVW-A500P Digital Betacams, three BLT HD four-channel hard disk recorders and a two-channel model, as well as two DVD recorders.

The engineering area, on the other hand, features a Harris NEO sync generator with changeover, QuStream Cheetah 64 × 96 HD/SD video router, nine Sony HDCU camera base stations (one 1000 and eight 1500), nine remote control units, a Sony MSU-900 master setup unit, three FOR-A F9000 HD/SD frame synchronizers and a Harris VTM-4100 HD/SD on-screen monitor.

The sound engineer mans a Yamaha PM5RH 96-channel digital audio console with additional DSP 5 RH. Other hardware includes a DP571 Dolby E encoder, two DP563 Dolby Surround and Pro Logic II encoders, a Clear-Com Eclipse 48-port intercom, four Glensound digital commentator stations (each for three commentators) and a Harris D/A audio distribution system. Apart from a SoundField microphone for surround recordings, wireless and hardwired microphones are Sennheiser throughout.


Covering a historic event like the palio presents many challenges for an outside broadcast crew. Although it is different from the usual sports coverage from an arena or stadium, Telerecord rose to the challenge of bringing this spectacle to the television audience.

Mike Clark is a UK journalist based in Italy who specializes in entertainment technology.