Legends Behind the Lens: George Hoover
The technical genius became one of the godfathers of live remote production facilities
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
A sports-broadcasting career is often the sum of one’s experiences: the vast majority of industry professionals have worked for a variety of networks, with numerous production crews, and on countless events.
George Hoover exemplifies that career trajectory — and then some. His career has been marked by the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the broadcasting business, from the day he began working for Ivan Tors Studios in 1964 as a high school student in Miami until his days at the top of his game as CTO of NEP Broadcasting.
“NEP is very much a collaborative effort with our client,” says Hoover. “Part of the reason we have long relationships is, we have worked together, always looking for new technology and innovative ways to contribute to the art of storytelling.”
The Technology of Storytelling
Within the sports-production community, Hoover has helped the storytelling by overseeing engineering and design of approximately 45 new production trucks and 25 major rebuilds. But he has also helped design studios for such programs as Sesame Street, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Conan, giving him an influence well beyond stadiums, arenas, race tracks, and golf courses.
“George was really responsible for engineering the way we do big events these days,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of Engineering, Operations and Production Services for CBS Sports. “Super Bowls, Masters, U.S. Open Golf — they all jumped to new levels based on many of George’s engineering ideas and principles. He has a unique ability to work with manufacturers on innovations that work for production. It is, in a large part, his efforts that moved NEP to the forefront.”
Hoover’s understanding of the art of storytelling, and the role technology plays, began at Ivan Tors Studios. For two years, he worked on such programs as Gentle Ben, Flipper, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, as well as on classic James Bond films Goldfinger and Thunderball. He also developed an important appreciation for how audio can enhance a visual medium.
“In TV, there are audio people, and, in film, there are sound people, and there is a different approach to creating a sound environment for someone watching a movie,” he says. “You create a storytelling environment as opposed to, back in the ’60s, just wearing a lavalier mic.”
In 1966, Hoover began working at CBS station WTVJ Miami alongside future legends Larry King, Jeannie Wolf, Ed Goren, Dave Fruitman, Mike Pearl, Spears Mallis, and Jackie Gleason; Gleason’s show was a remote production out of the WTVJ studio. At the time, TV stations owned the remote-production trucks that covered sports and other events, giving Hoover the opportunity to work on Apollo and Gemini space launches alongside arguably TV’s greatest newsman: Walter Cronkite.
“Under George’s guidance, NEP took the art of truck design to a whole other level. It was no longer just what could you cram into the truck but how could you optimize the designs to meet each individual client need?” – Dave Mazza, NBC Sports
In 1970, Hoover attended Florida State University, where he studied theatrical lighting and sound design, studies that quickly led to a staff job at FSU. He later became chief engineer of Florida Public Broadcasting and worked there until 1977, covering Florida legislation sessions with seven cameras and multicore cable that ran through the entire government State House complex — ENG before camcorders.
“It was there that I learned what TV needed to morph into,” says Hoover. “We were just starting to get compact cameras, and everything was recorded on 2-in. videotape.”
The Systems Side
In 1977, Hoover transitioned to the manufacturer side, working in systems integration at RCA. Responsible for projects in the Caribbean and Latin America, he learned a broad skill set helping broadcasters in developing countries transition from black and white to color. He was also involved with the early launch of camcorders and 1-in. tape decks and worked alongside another Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer: Larry Thorpe.
Hoover learned much about technology and the business of broadcasting while at RCA, but he also learned something about himself: “I like TV production more than manufacturing. One is applying technology, and the other is creating with it. They go hand in hand, but I like using the tools, not drawing circuit boards.”
Back to Production
Leaving RCA, he began another transition, this time to WPHL Philadelphia, where he helped produce local sports events for the Phillies, 76ers, Penn State football, and a then-obscure outfit called the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (WWF).
“Ultimately, the TV station was sold, and Henry Riggs and I launched VIDEO EAST, a production company that handled WWF broadcasts and regional sports in Philadelphia,” he says. “We also got into business at the same moment ESPN was launched, and we went from one truck to three trucks in a big hurry.”
Within six months of launch, the company was handling all crewing and operations for ESPN, providing everything except the producer, directors and announcer. The company also produced events for PRISM, a sports network in Philadelphia that eventually morphed into Comcast Cable.
“We had great fun even though we had no money to do anything,” Hoover recalls. “The standard was ABC Sports, and we strove to one-up them any way we could in our coverage. We were able to take risks because, quite simply, we could. I learned a lot and established a lot of long-lasting relationships.”
The relationship with ESPN continues today. “Over the years, ESPN has partnered with George and NEP on just about every major technical advancement, including our remote HD transition and, most recently, on our industry-leading 3D push,” says Chris Calcinari, VP, event operations, ESPN. “He has had a major influence on the success of ESPN’s remote-production efforts over many years.”
The more work the company did with ESPN in those early years, the more Hoover and Co. could sense that something was coming: “Although we never would have thought that ABC Sports would cease and ESPN would be the big deal in the world of sports.”
In fact, VIDEO EAST did soon start doing events for ABC Sports and Wide World of Sports. Hoover worked on Monday Night Baseball and confesses to being initially “Chet Forte’s least favorite EIC” although the two ultimately became very good friends and trusted colleagues.
“I learned a huge amount from him, along with a better understanding of the responsibility of the director. Chet would be heavily involved with every detail of the pre-fax to make sure everything in the truck worked,” says Hoover. “And, even after he trusted me and knew everything would work, he would still go through the ritual. I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because my name is on the credit, and it isn’t that I don’t trust you, but I won’t give up faxing.’”
With 25 people operating out of King of Prussia, PA, the three trucks and studio editing facilities of VIDEO EAST were busy and also helping shape the careers of some other notable sports-broadcast production executives. Jerry Gepner, Bob Dixon, and Dave Mazza are just a few who worked with the company, which was eventually sold to WFMZ Allentown, PA (and later would become New Century Productions).
“In a business that thrives on fast-paced actions, adrenalin, and snap decisions, George Hoover brought a very considered and measured approach that not only allowed his tremendous knowledge to be brought to bear but instilled a sense of confidence and calm to an otherwise frantic situation,” says Bexel Broadcast CEO Gepner, who worked alongside Hoover at VIDEO EAST. “It was this measured and thoughtful approach to technical problems and personal relationships, coupled with tremendous engineering ability and an unshakeable sense of right and wrong that has allowed him to stand head and shoulders above his peers, then and now.”
Mazza, currently SVP and CTO of NBC Olympics, first worked with Hoover as a freelancer at VIDEO EAST and says Hoover exudes a confidence level of calm that inspires confidence with clients, of which Mazza is now one.
A Guide From Analog to 3D
“He expertly guided NEP through the migration from analog to SDI to HD and now a little bit of 3D,” says Mazza. “And he did so without telling the client that they are going to have to give up half of their toys to make each change. That was welcome news to all of us.”
In 1982, following the birth of his son, Hoover wanted to spend more time at home. So he became director of engineering for NJN, New Jersey Public Television, where he would rise to general manager before leaving in 1994.
His career at NJ Public Television nearly intersected with another Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer: George Wensel, who left two days before Hoover joined the network. The two, however, kept in touch, and, when Hoover was looking for new opportunities, he asked Wensel for suggestions. Wensel was then working for NEP Supershooters, a Pennsylvania-based remote-production company that was about to become much more influential.
“I wasn’t thinking about NEP,” says Hoover, “but I threw my hat into the ring.”
Soon after joining the company, Hoover saw NEP transform not only itself but the remote-production business. The company purchased NBC Sports’ TV-truck fleet in January 1995, doubling the size of its fleet overnight.
“We hired and recruited everybody in short order,” he recalls. “It wasn’t a terribly friendly environment with the crews initially, but the EICs we hired — like Jeff Joslin, Bob Walsh, Steve Alhart, and Ricky Webb — won them over with superior service and support.”
Adds Mazza, “Under George’s guidance, NEP took the art of truck design to a whole other level. It was no longer just what could you cram into the truck but how could you optimize the designs to meet each individual client need?”
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2011. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.