With 22 appearances since they moved from Minneapolis in 1960, the Los Angeles Lakers are no strangers to the NBA finals. The flagship radio station for the Lakers, KLAC-AM 570, is no stranger to NBA broadcasts either, hosting the games for the last 27 years. “The station has had a couple different formats, but the Lakers are the one thing that's remained consistent,” said Frank Polak, executive producer of Lakers Radio.
Color analyst (and former Laker) Mychal Thompson (left) and play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers (right). Meyers was the play-by-play announcer for the Spurs last season, so this is his second trip in a row to the finals.
Feeding a network of 16 English-language stations in California, Nevada and New Mexico with a remote broadcast almost every other night during the basketball season, KLAC has honed its process. “We cover the finals the same way we do the pre-season, there are just a few more people around,” said Polak.
The Lakers home radio broadcasts begin from the Chick Hearn announce position, Section 111 of the Staples Center. Unlike most NBA broadcast locations, this one is not courtside, but several rows up in the arena for a better view.
Contractor Mike Dooley serves as the broadcast engineer for the Lakers home games providing all his own remote equipment. From a Mackie 1402 mixer, Dooley runs an eight-channel snake to a patch panel in the wall connecting to the Staples Center main patch room where the Lakers ISDN codecs are housed.
To provide consistency across the league's radio broadcasts, the NBA requires each team to have two ISDN codecs at the arena and provide ISDN lines for the visiting team. The league provides the hardware at both the arena and the station: a Comrex DXR with an Adtran terminal adapter.
The KLAC Lakers basketball studio.
With only one seat at a six-foot table, Dooley's equipment has to be compact. To reduce setup and teardown time, a portable rack unit holds Dooley's headphone amplifier, limiter and wireless mic receiver. A switch box on the mixer allows him to listen in cue on one ear and program on the other. An effects feed from TV provides the crowd noise for the radio broadcast. Mic and headphone feeds run to each announcer's Cough Drop boxes, to which Dooley added a volume control so each can control his own headphone volume.
Not one to take chances, Dooley also brings a consumer-style computer UPS power unit to every game. He learned his lesson one night during the regular season when his main ac power was accidentally cut off during the pre-game show. Now, the UPS provides a 15-minute power reserve in case of unexpected outages.
Even after a season of broadcasts, Dooley keeps busy with pre-game set up and monitoring during the game, however, it's the end of the night that really tests his skill.
The remote setup at the Staples Center.
"The 20 minutes after the last buzzer goes off is the most intense 20 minutes of my week," said Dooley. That is when he is running a post-game show, switching between the locker room and post game press conferences and feeding tape back to the station, all at the same time.
Opening Oct. 20, 1999, the Staples Center in Los Angeles was designed with broadcasters in mind. Planned to be a state of the art venue when it opened, the building houses 3.87 million feet of broadcast cable, 141,000 feet of fiber, and 500 phone lines.
"This is a high-profile building doing high-profile events, so we wanted it to be media friendly," said Steve Thrap, director of broadcast services at the Staples Center.
The Chick Hearn Broadcast Position at Staples Center.
The only arena in the country with its own full-time broadcast department, the Staples center has 69 media panels throughout the building, linking all the common locations for camera and radio positions. All panels route to the main patch room where there are nearly 11,000 terminations for audio and video. The centralized location allows Thrap and his engineers to route the audio anywhere in the building. Old fashioned, copper patch cords provide the connections between the locations.
"Copper works, but if it doesn't we can route around it until we get it fixed," said Thrap.
Other arenas and stadiums have internal cabling, but it can be up to engineers to plug in themselves. Staples Center keeps computer records of every visiting team and network's preferences.
"They tell us they are coming and we set it up for them ahead of time," said Thrap. During the NBA finals as many as seven radio broadcasts can come out of the arena at once. “It's a snap for them to just plug and play,” said Thrap.
Audio patch panels in patch room of the Staples Center, wired for a radio broadcast of the WNBA Sparks.
In May 2004, KLAC, part of Clear Channel Radio, Los Angeles moved to new studios in Burbank. John Paoli, chief engineer of KFI, KXTA and KLAC, coordinated the move. (Read the Facility Showcase on Clear Channel LA in the May 2004 issue of Radio magazine.)
Overview of the patch room in the Staples Center, pre-wired for audio and video routing of NBA finals broadcast.
The Lakers signal from the Staples Center comes into the studio across the ISDN lines and NBA-provided codecs. The codecs are programmed as a local source in the studio, but can be brought in to the Harris Vistamax router, allowing them to be routed to any room in the building. Pre-saved sessions on the Harris BMXD allow the console to recall settings for a variety of shows, taking only seconds to set the console for a Lakers game.
In addition to the signal from the arena, a third ISDN line is used to send a signal to Skyview Satellite Services in Arizona, which uplinks the broadcast for the Lakers Radio Network.
Frank Polak, who began producing the Lakers radio broadcasts 25 seasons ago, works out of a studio and office combination. During the games, the broadcasts originate from Polak's studio while the main KLAC air studio is used as a voice booth. Polak controls all the production elements across a dual-screen Prophet automation system and a talkback system keeps him in touch with the announce team at the arena. Three feeds leave the Lakers' studio, one to the transmitter, the second to the network and the third returns to the arena.
While KLAC is home to the Lakers from October to June, come summer, they don't just leave on vacation. That is when they switch to coverage of the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks broadcasts, following the same process and using the same systems honed for the Lakers.
Snyder is a consultant based in Los Angeles, CA.
Photos provided by Mike Dooley, John Paoli and Stephanie Snyder.