612 lights, camera, action! Workers prep stadium for TV inspections

Stadium Watch

June 27, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

From her perch 170 feet above the ground, inside the steel catwalk of a light tower at the Ravens' stadium, Ginny Churchman has a panoramic view of the Inner Harbor, Oriole Park and, in the distant haze, the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

But her eyes are fixed on the muddy boots of a co-worker down on the field, some 400 feet away.

An assistant project manager for Enterprise Electric, Churchman is responsible for getting each of the 612 lights on the stadium towers aimed at the proper place. It's an exacting process, done to the exacting standards of network television.

She and her fellow Enterprise co-workers began the process yesterday and will be working through the weekend in anticipation of a series of inspections next week, culminating in a final, night-time check-off by CBS Sports representatives armed with light meters on Wednesday and Thursday.

Between now and then, workers will be carefully checking and re-checking each of the 55-pound, 1,500-watt lights bolted to the light racks.

Using a metal device that resembles a ruler with a pencil-sized hole in one end, Churchman aims each light like a rifle. First, she attaches the ruler-device to a preset point on the base of the light. Then, looking through the hole, she lines up a clip on the rim of the massive fixture.

Down on the field, dozens of knee-high yellow flags have been planted in the turf, each at a predetermined point. They are plotted numerically relative to a grid of strings criss-crossing the field at 30-yard intervals.

Flags are clustered at areas that need more light, such as the 20-yard-deep "red zones" inside each goal line where lots of football action takes place.

A co-worker, connected to Churchman via two-way radio, stands over each flag one at a time.

If the computer-selected light settings are correct, then the boots of the co-worker should appear in the tiny hole Churchman is looking through. If not, an adjustment will have to be made by loosening one or two bolts and bumping the light up and down or side to side. A nudge of just one-eighth of an inch alters the aim by 20 feet on the field.

"It's very close," Churchman says of the computer settings that were used when the lights were mounted on the towers, before their erection over the stadium. But close isn't good enough for this job.

Jim Harrington, vice president of production services for CBS Sports, said proper lighting is cru- cial for a quality broadcast. Technological advances in cameras allows them to work with less light than they used to. But broadcasters are opting for more frequent close-ups than they used to and they require even, shadow-free light.

"In a sport with helmets and sometimes shields over their eyes, without proper lighting you wouldn't be able to see their eyes," Harrington said.

A well-lit field also bathes the fans in light, so the network can pan the crowd for reaction during games.

"What you are looking for is something that is not just well lit but is evenly lit," Harrington said.

The Ravens' $500,000 lighting system consumes nearly 1 million watts and creates a brightness of 300 footcandles on the field. For comparison, a typical office is illuminated to a brightness of 75 footcandles.

"The whole show is for broadcasting. There is plenty of light for them to play, but they want to avoid glare issues and shadows," said Steve Churchman, a cousin of Ginny's and Enterprise's project director for the stadium job.

This is the biggest job in the history of Enterprise, a family-owned, Baltimore-based lighting contractor.

All of which makes for a pretty interesting job for Ginny Churchman.

"It's a lot of fun. It's the latest and greatest in technology," she said.

Pub Date: 6/27/98

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