Peter Larsson Retires With an RF Legacy That Spans the Globe
He helped put the viewer in the driver’s seat and wherever the action is
Peter Larsson, one of the industry’s true pioneers in RF and wireless systems (and a 2018 inductee into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame), retired this month at the age of 66. “The whole industry has changed,” he says, “and it’s just time to let someone else take over.”
Larsson, as seen below in excerpts from his Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame bio, had a major role in making wireless camera systems possible not only technically but commercially. The early days were filled with the kind of innovations that, without the correct personalities, relationships, and business acumen, could have led to nothing.
He is the first to admit that, as he steps aside, the crystal ball of the future of wireless camera systems is a bit hazy as technologies like 5G and bonded cellular gain traction. But one thing he does know: wireless systems are more important than ever, and, when it comes to complex shows with multiple wireless systems, RF is still the best bet.
“Things are more reliable now,” he notes, “but, as that reliability has gone up, so have the needs for our systems. We’re constantly running out of spectrum, which means going to higher frequencies, and that means more infrastructure and complexity.”
Larsson’s efforts helped transform an industry, getting it to a place where handheld cameras in all shapes and sizes roam racetracks, golf courses, and fields of play to capture shots with more emotion, intimacy, and information. The co-founder of Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI) and the wireless camera and audio systems he helped create over the past four decades have brought sports fans inside the action in ways never thought possible.
“To be able to create equipment and technology that actually change the way we watch a sport is very rare. And Peter Larsson [has accomplished that] in two sports in particular: NASCAR and golf,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Chairman Ken Aagaard, who has deployed BSI systems on countless productions. “Whether it’s from a camera inside the car or a handheld right behind the golfer, Peter Larsson pioneered those technologies.”
Early Days Down Under: Creating the Racecam
The Sydney native earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of New South Wales. To fulfill the three months of industrial experience required to complete his degree, he landed a job at Australian broadcaster Channel Seven and, upon graduating, was hired on full-time as an ENG engineer.
By the late 1970s, Larsson had begun working with fellow Channel Seven Engineers John Porter (also a Hall of Famer) and Dave Curtis to develop wireless microwave camera systems to assist in the broadcaster’s coverage of the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race. The trio quickly realized that the RF system could be applied to auto-racing coverage and, in 1979, deployed the first-ever on-board Racecam on Peter Williamson’s car at the Bathurst 1000 in New South Wales. Though capturing an in-car perspective never seen before, the system weighed more than 70 lb. and offered only a locked-off shot. Over the next two years, Seven’s Racecam would decrease in size and add full pan-tilt-zoom capability.
Larsson, Porter, and Curtis’s big break came in fall 1980, when a CBS production executive on location Down Under to cover the Miss World Bodybuilding Championship stumbled on Seven’s broadcast of the Hardie-Ferodo 500. Spotting the onboard camera system, he immediately saw it as a perfect tool for the Tiffany Network, which had presented the industry’s first flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 a year earlier and was seeking new tools for live NASCAR coverage.
“We were very lucky at CBS,” says former CBS Sports director Bob Fishman. “Racing coverage was never the same after that. When you think of Peter Larsson, you think of a brilliant innovator, an engineer who helped design a camera system that changed auto-racing coverage by putting the viewer in the driver’s seat during a race — a place where viewers would like to be, and few other sports have achieved.”
NASCAR Star Is Born: CBS Discovers Its On-Board Camera
A year later, Larsson, Porter, and Curtis found themselves at the 1981 Daytona 500, deploying their on-board cameras inside the car of Richard Childress and Terry Labonte for CBS Sports’ live coverage. The in-car camera became a sensation two years later, treating viewers to a driver’s-seat perspective of Cale Yarborough’s winning race at the 1983 Daytona 500.
“Peter had the passion and vision to develop and implement a technology that took a sport from minor-league status to major-league status,” says veteran Fox Sports NASCAR Director Artie Kempner. “I don’t believe NASCAR would have attained the same level of prominence in American sports without the in-car camera. It took the viewer into the driver’s seat and created those wow moments that have been memorable for almost 40 years. And Peter’s passion and vision were behind that from the beginning.”
Humble Beginnings: The Launch and Expansion of BST
After commuting from Australia to the States for NASCAR races at Daytona, Michigan, and Talladega from 1981-’83 (through a subcontract arrangement with Channel Seven), in fall 1983, the triad pooled their funds and moved permanently to the U.S. to launch their own company, Broadcast Sports Technologies (BST).
The fledgling BST operation was based in a five-bedroom house in Connecticut, with Larsson, Porter, and Curtis each claiming a bedroom and the other rooms serving as lab, office, and basement machine shop. Larsson recalls watching his suitcase come off the belt at the airport and wondering what lay ahead. Decades later, he knows: a legacy at Broadcast Sports International (BSI), which now has more than 200 employees.
“I’d love to say we had a plan,” he jokes, “but we didn’t. We were just young and dumb, and America seemed exciting. The travel was fun, and we were just having a good time working 15 hours a day creating new things. Somewhere along the line, it turned into a real business.”
By 1986, the company was expanding beyond its work with CBS Sports, which renewed its deal with BST that year without the exclusivity clause included in the original contract. That year, BST began providing on-board cameras for IndyCar races on ABC and NBC and for ESPN’s NASCAR coverage. With more systems deployed on more events, BST opened a fully staffed engineering facility and office in Hanover, MD.
Beyond the Racetrack: Sailing, Golf, X Games, and the Great Beyond
BST’s systems moved off the racetrack and onto the high seas in 1987, when its RF camera systems sailed aboard Dennis Conner’s catamaran at the 1987 America’s Cup at San Diego Yacht Club. The systems have been a fixture at every America’s Cup since.
In 1996, CBS Sports was looking to revamp its on-course–coverage strategy and was in search of a vendor to provide reliable wireless cameras, microphones, and comms without the need for massive — and unsightly — antenna towers. BST won the contract in a competitive vendor shootout and has been a staple on golf coverage for two decades.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, BST continued to evolve its wireless systems while expanding to new properties: the Olympics, ESPN’s X Games, Formula 1, NHRA, American Le Mans Series, the Commonwealth Games, marathon coverage, presidential inaugurations, papal tours, and even imaging systems that NASA installed in astronauts’ space suits.
1996 also marked another major transition for BST. The company was purchased by Wescam, a provider of gyro-stabilized aerial cameras, and changed its name to Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI). In 2002, L3 Technologies acquired Wescam and BSI and, in 2018, was itself acquired by NEP Group.
Dan Grainge, president, U.S. specialty capture, NEP Group, has worked with Larsson since 1990, when Grainge began collaborating with BSI on auto racing. At the time, Grainge was with Fletcher, which is also now part of the NEP Worldwide Network. The relationship resulted in Grainge’s first Emmy Award, for ESPN Speed World, for an innovative product brought to market with the guidance of Larsson’s expertise. BSI, with support from Fletcher, also developed the in-net cameras that are a staple at every NHL game.
“For the last several years,” says Grainge, “it has been great to be part of the same team at NEP, to develop things with a single purpose in mind. You don’t often get to collaborate with people who are recognized in your industry as a Hall of Fame member. Larsson has just driven innovation for the entire industry.”
On a personal level, Larsson has helped mentor and guide Grainge as they became close collaborators over the years. Although Larsson will leave a space that will be hard to fill, Grainge believes he leaves his team well-prepared to continue to move forward.
“Peter is clearly a leader,” Grainge says. “Now that he’s leaving, you take on his march; you continue to grow and build on what he started.”