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What to Do When the Fake Crowd Goes Quiet

Buc Fitch recalls how a young Al Michaels handled the situation

by Charles S. Fitch

When I got out of the army in May 1970, my first civilian job was as the chief engineer of a radio station on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The station was carrying the Hawaiian Islanders baseball games and the lead sportscaster was a very young Al Michaels.

Now the local games were played in a stadium, which if memory serves was on the grounds of the University of Hawaii, the Manoa campus.

The play-by-play was done from a booth in the stadium and by phone line was sent over to the studio of KGU for airing. Our little station in Hilo took KGU off the air for rebroadcast.

In a small station everyone does everything; and so in addition to being chief engineer I did the mixing and announcing chores to insert the local commercials in Hilo during the games.

The first week I was there, all the games were played in Honolulu, and then the team went on the road to Phoenix or someplace.

Now I grew up in Baltimore; all baseball games there were carried live from wherever they were played. So I didn’t know anything about “re-creations.”

A re-creation, as you probably know, was done by having the game progress called in or telegraphed periodically from location in a sort of sports shorthand and then that information was dramatically recreated by spirited announcers and sound effects.

The first night I heard an Islanders re-creation, there were only two thoughts on my mind: This is a very quiet mainland phone circuit; and Al Michaels is really getting into this.

Well the “crowd noise” was supplied by an endless cart of indistinct but noisy stadium din (probably like the laugh tracks on TV comedies, all those people were dead so they didn’t have to pay any royalties LOL).

Seven or eight innings and Michaels had me convinced he was there on the mainland until the cart tape broke and the crowd din stopped. Total silence.

Michaels’ extemporaneous comment ran something like: “The crowd is speechless while mighty Casey is at the bat.”

I also encountered this re-creation situation in an odd way several years later.

While working at RCA broadcast in the mid-1970s I was on the OB design team. OB in this case is “Outside Broadcast.” What this really translates into is live remote trucks such as we did for the NFL, the Clay/Foreman fight, the Rumble in the Jungle, which was interesting in that it was less than a round and was one of the first international satellite events … but I digress.

We also did four OB trailers for networks in Brazil. The first one shipped was a glorious unit with several million in gear including six color cameras, microwave, miles of cable and stereo audio mainly for FM simulcast from the Opera house.

In the audio part of the vehicle there was a reel-to-reel tape machine; and our custom shop made little tape idlers so that an endless loop could be played on this machine.

When I inquired what this would be used for, I was told that it was for crowd background at the soccer games. I was incredulous why this was needed as attendance was usually about 55,000 in the massive stadium in San Paulo. Why could they possibly need canned crowd noise.

The producers were afraid that the cardinal might be watching. It seems the crowds could get pretty raunchy.

There is still a little re-creation going on.

The Latin radio and TV networks arrange for video for major soccer etc. games from all over the world and then supply their own commentary stateside. Occasionally the audio operator must be asleep at the switch. Recently I was watching soccer video from Mexico with stateside commentary and in a thundering last-minute push a goal was made against horrendous opposition. The hometown crowd went ballistic, pouring out onto the field in thousands — but you couldn’t tell from the audio, which was still stuck in time-out murmur.