Legends Behind the Lens: Jack Weir

In the world of transmission for high-end live sports production, few - if any - had a greater impact

The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.

Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.

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There was a time when broadcasting decisions had to travel through numerous channels at a network. There was a time when television transmission was done over phone lines. There was a time the Olympics were a just modest program offering.

Then came Jack Weir, whose 40-year career at NBC changed all that.

“From an operations point of view, Jack was a complete innovator,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, Operations and Production Services, CBS Sports. “He never got the credit that he should have for all of the work that he did. As an operations guy, he was very important in my career because he taught me so much.”

Weir was a mentor to many behind the camera and in the trenches of some of sports television’s most established broadcast entities.

Weir graduated from Emerson College and served in the Army before beginning his career at NBC as a page in 1952. It didn’t take long for him to emerge from the entry-level ranks and begin having a significant impact on the network’s broadcast operations.

In the mid 1950s, Weir and colleagues Don Kivell, and Frank Badami sold NBC technical management on the concept of a central department where instant on-air management decisions would be made. From that was born the BOC (Broadcast Operations Center), the go-to place for all operational decisions on breaking news, sports, and other programs.

That was just the beginning for Weir and his innovative friends. In 1962, Weir and Kivell were key to one of broadcasting’s most transformative technological developments: TV broadcasting’s move from terrestrial transmission over telephone lines to satellite.

Vince Vacca, a colleague and close friend of Weir’s for more than a half century, recalls the first NBC satellite transmission vividly.

“Jack was as great a broadcasting pioneer as he was a true gentleman of the industry. He was…the unquestioned leader in changing the network distribution model from terrestrial to satellite.” – Mike Meehan, SVP, Operations for NBC Sports

“Jack, Don, and I were in the BOC when Don uttered the oft-quoted ‘Cue the buffalo,’ referring to a film segment in the program that showed a herd of buffalo stampeding across a western plain,” Vacca says. “This inaugural program featured transmissions from Eurovision in Brussels. Each of the U.S. networks and the BBC initiated TV’s entry into the satellite age.”

Weir and Kivell became the leaders in converting affiliated stations to a satellite-network distribution system and made NBC the first of the three major television networks to accomplish that feat.

If you ask any of his colleagues, they will tell you Weir also executed the first live satellite uplink for network news out of Selma, AL, during the days of the civil-rights movement.

“Jack was as great a broadcasting pioneer as he was a true gentleman of the industry,” says Mike Meehan, SVP of operations, NBC Sports. “He was a visionary here at NBC and was the unquestioned leader in changing the network distribution model from terrestrial to satellite. He will be remembered for his integrity and dignity in a life well lived.”

It’s fitting that, in 2012, the year of television’s most successful Olympic Games ever, Weir would be recognized by the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Even two years after his passing, his influence is still felt throughout the NBC compound.

“For me, he was the father of Olympics, engineering- and operations-wise, at NBC,” says Dave Mazza, SVP of engineering, NBC Olympics, who worked with Weir on Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. “He was a consultant to us during the Atlanta Games [in 1996]. He had already retired, and we had a bunch of young kids on the job like me, so we were looking for an elder statesman to make sure we didn’t get too far adrift.”

During his tenure, Weir helped build NBC’s Olympics coverage into the juggernaut it is today. He was in charge of operations and developed his reputation of pushing the technological envelope while remaining cool under pressure and respectful of his employees.

Says Mazza, “He was always even-tempered and could be counted on to have an even keel — especially when the situation required a little perspective and wisdom.”

The video in this profile was originally produced in 2012. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.