“Ready on camera one. Go on one.”
Directing a television production is much like conducting a symphony orchestra. The director is at the helm with sheets of paper planning the events of the show. Each movement and moment of the production provides a give and take between each performer and the director, who reacts to each elevation and balances the performers to create a harmonious flow and elevate the best of each’s own abilities while leading the group through every climactic moment. Every director and conductor has his or her own style, and each’s personality shines within the group.
The bright stage lights shining upon the performers are shifted to a different set of performers on a different stage. Those lights are replaced with the glow of television screens and monitors as well as the bright, twinkling lights along the control board and the audio board. Large percussion instruments are exchanged for robust camera equipment, each providing a certain finesse to execute the show while looking effortless throughout the performance.
This is the symphony of a television production, and for a minimum of 36 games a season over the last 23 years it has carried on.
At the helm of this crew are two staples of local live television production and CenturyLink Arena events. Kevin Fritz—he goes by “Fritzy”—and Terry Moore—he’s fine with just “Terry”—have led just about every Steelheads hockey production on local cable networks starting with TCIK Cable in 1997 through today on Sparklight. For most fans, they’re just another two people in the sea of patrons, but for members of the Steelheads organization they are one of the multiple embodiments of consistency through the years to help make each Steelheads home game one to remember.
For Fritzy and Terry, their history goes back even farther than Steelheads hockey but is intertwined with the history of the organization.
In 1985, Fritzy graduated from what was then known as L.H. Bates Vocational Technical Institute and traveled from what is now Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Wash. out to Nampa, Idaho to work for KIVI.
“I didn’t know where the heck Nampa, Idaho was,” said Fritzy. “I had to look it up on a map. I figured it was time to go somewhere. I ended up liking it around the Valley and made some friends. Boise was a pretty easy place to live back then.”
Unbeknownst to Fritzy, Terry then graduated from the same institution in 1988 also out of the Audio/Visual Technology program and, after a summer job at KGW in Portland, Ore., set off for Nampa, Idaho to work for KIVI. They worked together for four years before Terry left for TCIK Cable—this is now Sparklight—and later Fritzy began freelancing before landing a full-time job at TCIK Cable after Terry left for KBOI.
Their paths would continue to intertwine over the next five years until they shared a similar path in 1997, the first year of the Idaho Steelheads. Fritzy had already been at TCIK Cable and previously worked with Steelheads President Eric Trapp and Block 22 CEO John Cunningham at the Boise Hawks covering their games during the summer. So, when the organization discussed building an arena downtown and placing hockey within its walls, Fritzy and the early members of the Steelheads television crew came together to plan the operation.
“Before the Steelheads were in town, they had the Boise Hawks and the Idaho Sneakers tennis team. That’s one of the things we did with the mobile truck, and we even worked with Eric Trapp back then and John Cunningham, and we would do those events. They talked about building this arena and putting a hockey team in. We had that mobile truck at the time, so we talked about putting hockey in the arena.
“It kind of started from there.”
In the early years, the television crew operated out of a truck parked on the sidewalk—this was before you could park out on Front Street—and ran cables from the vehicle through the building for each game. Without a storage area or permanent home inside the arena and with the mobile truck being used for other live sporting events, this made set up and tear down sometimes an exhausting process. That was just one of the challenges of the early years for Steelheads hockey.
“When we were doing the High School Game of the Week,” said Terry, “we’d have a hockey game on Wednesday and all that gear and the truck would be taken down after hockey to haul out of here for a Thursday night high school event and brought back here for Friday night. Those days are gone, fortunately.”
“Back then, there was no glass on the corner of the building,” Fritzy explained. “So I remember coming in 1997 and splicing cables, and we’re actually going through the corner of the building with the truck parked on the side of the building—we didn’t even park on the street yet. It was a really interesting time.”
Other aspects of the broadcast have evolved from the early days. In the opening years, every game was recorded live but played back on a tape delay, meaning that games would be available to watch after the game was already over. The crew had two 90-minute VHS tapes to record the entire game from start to finish and placed into the “head-end,” which is a data validation system that has the ability both request and push out data from other systems. From there, the broadcast would be received and prepared for re-air.
Not only did it add an extra 60-90 minutes to the operating time for the crew but it also was costly. Every time something malfunctioned on the head-end, it would be an expense to replace the part. Once shows started going live on Friday nights in 2005 and VHS boards were phasing out, the added cost of forcing a tape delay wasn’t worth the expense, so as the Great Recession came into play in the early 2010s, all games converted to a live format.
“The deal was more that the Steelheads paid us to get it on the air. Then, the sponsors went away, so the man hours changed and we said, ‘O.K., where can we save money and keep this going?’ We just made home games live since it was cheaper.”
Early replay machines were just a video tape recording that had to be manually recorded, stopped, rewound, played and recorded again. In the time any replay was being located and played, some action would end up being missed. With high-definition came the ability to record multiple decks at a time, allowing for everything to be filed and captured in real-time, no matter what was being played on-air.
High definition also results in better quality, especially for a fast-paced game like hockey.
“With higher definition, the details look better and the picture looks better,” said Terry. “You also have a 16:9 screen, which is much more suitable for shooting a hockey arena than a square picture. That’s helped shoot the game so you see more of what’s going on.”
Today, the crew as a whole is responsible for between 45 and 50 events at CenturyLink Arena alone every year, which includes at least 36 home Steelheads hockey games plus any playoff games that range anywhere from two to 16 potential added games, four MMA events with Front Street Fights and assistance for concerts and shows inside the arena. Most of the crew also is contracted for other events around the area such as Boise State University Athletics events, concerts in surrounding facilities and other freelance opportunities on top of their full-time jobs in the telecommunications and media industry.
Responsibilities have also remained consistent over the last 23 seasons. Each broadcast consists of seven crew members for each game: two center ice camera operators in the production booth, one reverse-angle camera operator on the media riser that doubles as the pre-game and intermission camera outside the Steelheads locker room, a replay operator, an audio operator, and graphics operator, and a Director—formerly split into a Show Director and Technical Director before realizing the Show Director could also run the switch board.
The technology evolution has allowed the crew to be moved into the area behind the Steelheads Info Booth, eliminating the necessity for the mobile truck that, despite having less than 50,000 miles on it, was beginning to lose its engine functionality from wear and tear. The addition of the video board hanging over center ice brings an added element to have one feed for use in-arena and one exclusively for the broadcast so that elements like in-game trivia contests and sing-along videos don’t get played on-air while unwanted replays and reviews can be only viewed for television broadcast purposes.
In essence, the technology has changed, but the product has remained the same.
“You’re still putting the same product on the air,” said Fritzy. “The gear has changed, and actually we needed more gear to push the HD signal around the building, so you’re still coming up with money to pay for that. You still have to do the same show. Luckily, the arena has invested in it over the years a little at a time. We go through the same routine we always have.”
Maybe the most consistent aspect of the television crew is the people themselves, not the technology or the finished project. Since the Steelheads began in 1997, nearly half of the available crew for every game has remained on staff, including Fritzy and Terry. That consistency allows for the symphony to continue smoothly and the familiarity to anticipate what each member is going to do and trust the execution of each individual will be consistent with what each director is looking for.
It’s not often that the crew adds people, only when a necessity brews do new faces start to enter the fold. Even though the pay can be lower than other opportunities, the crew continues to return each season.
So, what makes this broadcast different from any other in the Treasure Valley?
“We’re all still friends. We still get together off of work hours, and it’s guys that like what they do. The ones that didn’t have moved on, but the ones that do are around. They’ll probably keep doing it until they can’t anymore for whatever reason. I think it’s friendship; they like coming down here and enjoying the games. It beats digging ditches. You make a little money and enjoy what you do.”
“I’ve been doing this for 23 years now, and I still enjoy coming down here,” said Terry. “It’s part of the reason that I come down early because it’s just fun to be here. We’ve all known each other for so long; we work with each other so well. It’s just a good time, still.”
Fritzy and Terry began on the Steelheads crew while working for different organizations during the day. Their connection is only a microcosm of the bigger web woven throughout the Treasure Valley. Most crew members work for different television stations and organizations that continually compete for higher ratings and more subscribers. However, the shared but similar experience for these devoted behind-the-scenes media members binds them together in the same way that athletes from other teams bond. Business is business, but mutual friendship and blossoming friendships keep the connection strong.
“I’ve been in this market for 30 years, and even then the people from the different stations competed against each other during the day and in the evenings we’re all buddies no matter what happened during the day. It’s still that way today with the same group of people. We still work together, hang out with each other, like being around each other. We all have that one thing in common.
“We’re not in nearly as good a shape as athletes, but we’ve still got each other’s backs.”
Entering the 2019-20 season, the Steelheads lost their replay guy, Mark, after he moved back to the East Coast where he was originally from. The vacancy leads to a search for new personnel and, at times, a shift in roles for each broadcast. This happens within every organization, and the new member of the technological orchestra gets worked into the symphony to the point where their efforts begin to flow with ease like before, just with a new personality.
Fritzy and Terry have been directing the Steelheads since the first home broadcast in 1997 during their inaugural season. Recently, both of the veteran leaders have been training other crew members both new and returning in their directorial positions. It’s not uncommon for any crew member to fill-in at a different role—Fritzy has held every position, and Terry has self-admitted to only not handling graphics in an effort to keep that element at a “higher quality”—but the role of director has seldom been shared by other crew members.
While Terry still has some years remaining at 51 years old, Fritzy is already looking to start taking steps back. He’ll turn 60 years old in April and has served over 35 years in the industry throughout the Treasure Valley. His focus is now shifting to, as he puts it, “learn up” younger talent to help the transition for some of the more senior crew members to be able to slowly step away if need be.
“I have at least a couple more years [left],” said Fritzy. “I’ll start to back off a little bit with how many I do. I’ll still work a few but then bring other people in and learn them up. Right now, it’s been pretty much Terry and I that have been directing every show for 23 years. When I’m on vacation and he’s not around, we need a backup. That’s just training somebody up. It is a lot of evenings you have to commit to.”
In the years ahead, more of the original crew will begin to slowly give way to fresher faces in the same way players and office personnel come and go, but there’s something to be said about the devotion and comradery that permeates through the thousands upon thousands of man-hours invested in one of the many aspects of the organization. Just like the leaders in the Steelheads organization like Cunningham and Trapp, the conductors at the helm of the technical symphony return each season for the same reasons as their business counterparts: the love of the job and the comradery.
“The one thing with this organization is the friendship that we’ve had and sticking with it. The teams change; you get to know people on the teams and they come and go, but we’re still friends. Old announcers come in and ask how we’re doing. The higher-ups in this organization like John Cunningham and Eric Trapp and Mike DiPalma…23 years later we’ve never had a fight. Everyone just appreciates what everybody else does. You come in, you do to the show, and you try to do the best you can. I think that’s what has kept us going.
“If you went to a place you didn’t like, why stay there? I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like the people I worked with.”
For now, the symphony goes on, no matter who is at the helm. All eyes may be on the ice for fans, but this orchestra remains the eyes, ears and emotions for those unable to make a Steelheads game.