Legends Behind the Lens: John Roché
One of the all-time great tech managers wrote the book - literally - on how run a major production
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.
By Ken Kerschbaumer
Without John Roché, some of sports production’s greatest directors simply refuse to do a show. Over the course of two decades with NEP Broadcasting, he has defined the role of the modern technical manager, lending his expertise to some of the largest live television events in the world. Organized, detail-oriented, patient, and fair, Roché literally wrote the book that NEP’s tech managers use as a template for success.
“He lives and breathes television,” explains NEP Broadcasting founder Tom Shelburne. “Everybody respects him and works hard for him. He would rather work than do anything else, and that spirit is infectious. I don’t think people appreciate what a good tech manager really does because he does everything.”
A native of Cleveland, Roché graduated from Kent State University with a BA in communications. He worked his way from operating a camera at Richfield Coliseum for Cavaliers and Barons games, through a stint with evangelist Rex Humbard, to WUAB Cleveland, where he worked on commercials and local television shows.
“Then I met Tom Shelburne, and he took me to China,” Roché says. “For three months, I was a one-man ENG band. I was told I was the second person allowed in the country to shoot video after they taped Nixon, and I was working on an in-store project for Bloomingdale’s.”
In 1976, NEP’s edit house had a contract with the department store. Roché’s job was to shoot video of China, which was then used in Bloomingdale’s commercials in the U.S. to introduce China to America. Upon his return from China, Roché continued freelancing for NEP until he became a full-time staff member in 1992.
“Most people don’t possess half the planning abilities that he has, and that coupled with his technical-knowledge base is huge for what we do every single day. That makes him one of the most outstanding technical assets any network could have working on their side.” — Michael Sandorse, NBC Technical Manager
Currently the senior technical manager for Sunday Night Football on NBC, Roché has worked on nearly every major sporting event, from the Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby to the Olympic Games and the PGA Grand Slam. He is a master of detail, leaving no stone unturned in any aspect of his preparation, beginning with the site survey.
“He writes a 20-page document that captures everything,” says former NEP Broadcasting President Deb Honkus. “Not only does he capture the technical part of it but the personnel part. He’s ahead of the game all the time. I don’t ship thousands of dollars of gear to a site that John’s doing, whereas, with other tech managers, I do.”
A regimented fellow, Roché is awake every day at 5 a.m., in the trailer at 6:30, and on his computer by 6:45. While outsiders may see him as a hard-line drill sergeant, he cares deeply for his crew.
“The crew sees him as the leader of the pack, but individuals come to him with issues, be they family, personal, or technical,” Sandorse says. “On every shoot, he’ll say to all of us at some point, ‘Family comes first.’ He always takes time to listen and to support the crew. A lot of people don’t see that side of him.”
Roché is also a perfectionist, which ensures that his shows always look great on-air.
“It’s a treat to work with him, but it’s also a comfort factor,” says producer/director Steve Beim. “If I get a show and I see his name on it, I know that’s one piece of the puzzle that I will not have to worry about.”
Some directors, in fact, simply will not do their show without him.
“For a production person, Roché is a dream come true,” says NBC Sports producer/director David Michaels. “Roché allows me to be fully who I am as a producer and director. He understands production, and he’ll come up with ideas for us to try. He’s proactive, he’s a man of the people, and he is unique in this business.”
Says David Mazza, SVP of engineering for NBC Olympics, “John is very good at being able to look through the eyes of the producer and director to understand what they’re trying to achieve, many times without even being told. He’s meticulous in all of his planning and then executes with class and respect for those around him.”
Over the years, Roché has learned to operate a camera, control a tape machine, and run cable and has tried his hand at virtually every other job on-site.
“That’s why he’s such a good tech manager,” Shelburne says. “He appreciates what it is to haul a camera up to the top of a scaffold, set it up, and break it back down in the rain. When he’s not in charge, he jumps in because he loves to do it.”
Having written a textbook that NEP once used for training its staff, Roché has set the standard of what is expected of the top tech managers.
A living legacy of the George Wensel approach to work and life, Roché is a natural teacher. Enthralled with the lure of live television, he can always be found working on the biggest events in the business, making the plans, and solving the problems to get the show on the air.
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2010. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.