Raycom Sports calls audible when tornado strikes SEC men’s hoops tourney

By Ken Kerschbaumer

After a tornado struck downtown Atlanta last Friday night during the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament Raycom Sports, which was televising the event, found itself at the center of its own storm: moving to a new venue in the dark of night and spending a Saturday morning contacting 60 local stations concerning schedule changes. “It was a very tough thing to get through,” says Raycom Sports Executive Producer Jimmy Rayburn. But with a lot of hard work, tireless energy, and some good old-fashioned luck Raycom Sports persevered.

With a 53-foot SD production truck located underneath a walkway between the Georgia Dome and the World Congress Center the production crew was safe when the tornado hit at 9:40 p.m. It wasn’t until 12:30 a.m., when the crew learned the Georgia Dome was condemned due to storm damage what they were up against for the next 24 hours.

The tournament moved to nearby Georgia Tech, requiring the truck to be packed up early Saturday morning and set-up at Tech for a doubleheader that began at 12:30 p.m.. By the time Saturday ended many of Raycom’s crew to put in 36-hour shifts without virtually any sleep. “By 3 a.m. we were finished with tear down, loaded and ready to go,” says Rayburn.

Raycom did get one bit of good luck. Because CBS Sports was set to broadcast the final game on Sunday afternoon Raycom Sports brought in an additional set of cables. That meant that when it came time to move over to Georgia Tech the cables could remain behind, saving about two hours of cabling work. “We were able to leave the cables and get them later,” adds Rayburn.

Around 3:30 a.m. most of the crew went back to the hotel for two hours of sleep before crew call at 5:30 a.m. Tech Manager Mark Riley and his crew, however, headed over to the arena for set-up. The normal audio complement was used by robotic cameras typically located above the rim were not installed. Instead the production survived on six cameras.

While the crew finished set up at the arena staffers at the Raycom Sports office in Charlotte, NC, reported for duty early Saturday morning to let local stations know of the change in schedule. “The biggest issue was we needed them to commit to do two games on Saturday night,” says Rayburn. “More than 40 stations carried the games on Saturday night, testament to the women and men who got in our offices at 6:30 in the morning to call the stations.”

The change in schedule also impacted CBS Sports. CBS had the exclusive rights to broadcast the championship game at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday but when the game conflicted with a nationally televised Big Ten Championship the game was moved to ESPN2.

“Our crews did four games on Thursday, three games on Friday, and three games on Saturday,” says Rayburn. “And Saturday is when you usually run out of juice but the team made it through.”

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