Power Hitter Profile: Tom Sahara: Remote Sports Specialist, Master of the Multiplatform
Few people in sports production are as industrious, meticulous, and open-minded as Tom Sahara. A native of Hawaii, to which he attributes his multicultural curiosity, he lent his talents to the production of three Olympic Games and multiple sports as a freelancer before settling in at Turner Sports, where he now serves as vice president of Operations & Technology. A master of multiplatform production, father of three, and part-time musician, Sahara is one of the most industrious and well-respected professionals in the industry.
Entertainment to Sports
He began his television career in entertainment, working as the technical director for Hawaiian entertainment legend Don Ho.
“That’s how my interest in television started,” Sahara says. “Don Ho gave me the exposure to the exciting careers that were available around the entertainment world. It was fun: in every night’s performance, you had to give 110%. And television is much the same.”
He moved from the Don Ho set to the tape room at the local ABC affiliate, where he was tasked with recording Monday Night Football.
“In Hawaii, Monday Night Football was shown on a tape delay,” Sahara explains. “I came in every Monday to make sure Monday Night Football was recorded and ready for playback in primetime.”
Within a few years, he progressed to audio and maintenance. His primary responsibilities at the station were working for the early and late evening news. It was the premier job at the station, but Sahara did not like the news environment and the thought of waiting for the next catastrophe to make his job exciting.
“The only time we would get excited was if there was a big event, a storm or some kind of disaster,” he says. “I didn’t like that feeling of waiting for the next disaster. Sports really appealed to me because it was excitement on a regular basis, it was fun. I got to the point where I felt there was more to a career than being in a local station, so I started freelancing.”
Friends in Freelance
At that time, NEP had started contracting out work for golf productions in Hawaii, and it was not long before Sahara met NEP stalwarts George Wensel, John Roché, and Tom Shelburne on a production.
“They started bringing me out on bigger and bigger shows, and, before you know it, I was doing shows like the World Cup in Dallas,” Sahara says. “I met people from the Olympics, they asked me to join them for the Atlanta Olympics, and that’s how I ended up in Atlanta. It’s funny how you meet people in this business, and, before you know it, you’re working with them or alongside them.”
The Ultimate Multicultural Experience
Working as a freelance technical manager, Sahara took jobs covering the NFL, NBA, and NCAA sports, but the high points in his freelance career — and the most challenging — were the three Olympic Games he worked on.
“Growing up in Hawaii and learning about cultures, the Olympics I find are the best because you meet everyone from around the world,” he says.
He graduated from the University of Hawaii, and working on international projects like the Olympics and Goodwill Games allowed him to relive the multicultural nature of his upbringing.
“There was such a diverse culture in Hawaii, and the easiest way to identify someone was by their cultural heritage,” Sahara explains. “You wouldn’t be Caucasian; you were German, Irish, or what have you. There was this interest in people’s cultures, and little bits of cultures have been incorporated into the everyday life of Hawaii. When you go to a restaurant, you’ll find many different dishes on the menu that you think don’t make sense, but that’s how it is in Hawaii. You really do grow up and appreciate people’s heritage.”
That appreciation for heritage served him well at the 1996 Atlanta Games, 2000 Sydney Games, and 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where he directed technical operations for various events. Although the Olympics are his favorite event to work on, they’re also among the toughest events he has done.
“The Olympics are like government: everything is done by committee,” he explains. “It’s not easy because you have to consider everyone’s viewpoint and no one’s wrong. It takes a lot of communication, a lot of time, and you have to work everything through. That’s why it takes four years to do an Olympics. There’s a process that you have to go through, every detail has to be reviewed, and there’s no easy answer.”
The payoff, however, is worth the meticulous planning. Just as the athletes at an Olympics are the best of the best, the broadcasters working the Games are at the top of their field.
So, to Sahara, working the Olympics is working on a dream team: “It’s the most rewarding experience of my career.”
From the Road to the Studio and Back
Arriving at Turner in 1997, he served as manager of studio engineering for Turner Studios, managing the technical operations for all live studio productions. After a year, he transferred to Turner Sports to oversee the technical operations of the Goodwill Games, where he was responsible for planning the television operations for the 2000 Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY, and the 2001 Summer Games in Brisbane, Australia.
A multiday event in which athletes from around the world compete in a dozen sports, the Goodwill Games puts an emphasis on enriching humanity through sport. As host broadcaster, TNT produced 16 hours of coverage for each edition of the Games, and Sahara was responsible for all technical operations.
Today, as VP of Operations & Technology, he oversees the broadcast facilities for Turner Sports. Besides the day-to-day operations of the live sports productions seen on TBS and TNT, that includes the supporting infrastructure for the Turner Sports online properties. He oversees remote operations and technology for NCAA Men’s Basketball on TBS, TNT, and truTV and remote operations of events presented on NCAA.com. During his time at the company, Turner Sports has evolved into a market leader in multiplatform sports production, developing the award-winning TrackPass application on NASCAR.com and PGA Pipeline on PGA.com.
“The biggest challenge of this job is getting the production and business sides together, to really understand how difficult good television is to produce,” Sahara says. “It’s easy to put something together and put it online, and we see that there’s lots of bad video online. There’s a lot of background and setup that goes into producing a quality show. There’s a lot of education in getting the business and production people together to understand the budget impacts of creating these shows. It’s not something you can do on the cheap.”
Outside the Office
Both Sahara’s and his wife’s families reside in Hawaii, so they try to visit as often as his schedule allows. They currently live in Atlanta and have three grown children.
During the precious few hours that he is not working, Sahara has taken up slack-key guitar. Slack-key is a guitar style that is indigenous to the Hawaiian islands and is slowly fading from popularity.
“It’s dying out because the young players now are into modern reggae and Caribbean rhythms, and many of the original artists are passing on,” he explains. “Being from Hawaii, I was always interested in it. That’s how I got started, and now that’s my form of relaxation.”
Each Day a New Adventure
Despite the long hours and constant travel, Sahara is eager to get up and go to work each and every day.
“I’ve been doing this now for almost 30 years, and I still have the excitement of going to work every day that I did back when I started,” he says. “I can’t say enough about the opportunities that this industry has given me. Everyone that I meet in television that has been in it as long as I have. We all have the same excitement: every day is another adventure, and we can’t wait to get to it.”