On basketball and radio

In my last post, I mentioned something that I was going to “get back to” later.  This isn’t it. Smile  Actually, that unspoken situation resolved itself, so think nothing of it.

It’s going to be an interesting season for college basketball here in the Capital of the Commonwealth, if the last 4 days are any indication…

  • On Wednesday night, VCU gave Tennessee (a favorite in the SEC) all they could handle at the pre-season NIT tournament in New York before losing by 5.
  • VCU could have mailed it in on Friday afternoon against UCLA in the NIT consolation game.  They’d have been excused (the mid-major gave it their best shot and ran out of gas) – but instead, they took the lead with the first basket – and never lost it.  The Rams did in NYC what they didn’t in Philadelphia 18 months earlier (2009 NCAA tournament) – and beat the Bruins.
  • The same night, Richmond went to the Chicago Invitational tournament (in the suburb of Hoffman Estates, actually – no relation) and beat Wright State (a similar mid-major school) in a close game.
  • Tonight, they played #8 Purdue (Big 11 12 10) in the championship game of the tournament – and ran the Boilermakers out of the gym.  Purdue didn’t sink a basket for the last 12+ minutes of the first half, and was never really in the game.

For those who follow college basketball, you know it’s all about the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) – the better your team’s RPI, the better your chances of making the NCAA tournament.  VCU’s close loss to Tennessee and convincing win over UCLA will help their RPI greatly.  Richmond’s RPI gets a boost from the Purdue win.  Both local schools are playing good basketball – which makes the December 11 Black-and-Blue Classic at Richmond’s Robins Center a big game.  The winner gets not only city bragging rights, but an RPI boost by beating a team that beat a “Power Six” conference team.  As long as they don’t stumble, and yes, that could well happen, we could see both VCU and Richmond in the NCAAs this year.

If we do, hopefully we’ll see it from a venue better run than the Sears Centre (home of the Chicago Invitational).  I was listening last night, and on the board tonight (at Richmond’s secondary affiliate, 93.1 the Wolf – we get the games from ESPN 950 WXGI), for two nights of repeated line drops and silence.  Why?  This actually needs a sidebar.

There are three methods generally used to transmit audio from a distant remote site to a radio station.

1. ISDN – the use of a pair of standard phone lines to transmit digital data at higher speeds and reliability than a single line.  Most major sports arenas have these lines installed.

2. Modem – yes, that’s correct, we still use modems that are similar to those you used to use to dial the Internet.  Good news – spoken-word audio quality is good.  Bad news – they are horribly sensitive to bad phone lines and will drop audio if anything untoward happens.

3. POTS (plain ol’ telephone service) – right, hook up the sound board to a phone line and it’ll sound just great.  If by great, you mean “sounds like it fell out of 1977”.

So where was I?  Right, the Richmond games.  Bob Black, Richmond’s play-by-play announcer and communications director, had to feed the games back to WXGI using method #2 – modem.  Why?  Because the Sears Centre, a 4-year-old arena in the second-largest media market in the country, apparently didn’t have ISDN lines installed.  Both of Richmond’s college basketball venues have in-season ISDN lines. Smile

Based on comments Bob made at the end of the game tonight, someone missed a memo (and work order) and completely failed to install ISDN lines for the tournament – all eight schools playing at Sears this weekend had to either send audio by modem, or by POTS.  And they all had line problems, indicating that the basic phone lines out of the Sears Centre are… um… lousy.

And it gets better – on Friday night, someone apparently kicked out the one power cable for all of press row… and tonight, they turned off all the power in the building while Richmond’s post-game show (and, presumably, Purdue’s) was airing.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – local reports indicate that the Sears Centre has been mismanaged from inception – but you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be sitting at a radio board listening to dead air on your station and knowing you can’t do a damn thing to fix it.

Of course, there’s a bit of schadenfreude involved in seeing the Sears Centre having problems.  Maybe it’s karma, actually.  Either way, considering that the owners of the Richmond Riverdogs of the UHL cut and ran on the city to become the original tenant at Sears (their first game there was cancelled due to bad ice, and the team folded after one season), I don’t feel all THAT badly for the arena.  I do hope that, in the future, Richmond makes reliable power (and ISDN lines) a condition of playing in neutral-site tournaments. Smile

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), improv tech guy, generally nice person (if you ask me).

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