Legends Behind the Lens: Linda Rheinstein
The graphics pioneer was the driving force behind sports television's innovation in on-screen enhancements
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 Karen Hogan Ketchum
Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famers are often industry disruptors, but rarely has there been as unique a disruptive force as Linda Rheinstein. The graphics pioneer has consistently pushed the envelope in every facet of her life and adhered to a personal philosophy to not wait for someone to do what she can do herself.
Throughout her career, Rheinstein has founded no fewer than five companies, beginning with Autographics in 1979, and played a pivotal role in creating the on-air graphic look for upstart Fox Sports in 1994. Today, she is spearheading her latest venture, Space Games Federation (through her company On Air On Line), which aims to create original games and sports that can be played in zero gravity.
“Linda Rheinstein, what can I say,” says Sports Broadcasting of Famer and Fox Sports co-founder David Hill. “We started Fox Sports back in ’94, and, in the early days, I was introduced to Linda, and it was clear then that Linda is 20 years ahead of the rest of us.”
Rheinstein traces her entry into the broadcast-technology business back to when she was 7 and her father, NBC News director Frederic Rheinstein, served as onsite director of NASA’s numerous space missions in Houston.
“My father would have me run from mission control to the computers to pick up all the stats — in the rain, in whatever — because I was the kid. I grew up thinking a computer was a woman in a room typing,” Rheinstein recalls. “That’s what got me interested. [As I got older,] computers got better and better, and technology made my life easier. I believe that’s why I first got into graphics.”
In 1972, at the age of 16, she worked alongside her father on CBS’s production of Acapulco Aquacade, her first foray into sports, as well as on his work with President Nixon’s reelection campaign. Though often assigned secretarial duties (and proved to be a proficient typist), Rheinstein felt drawn to broadcast technology. At 17, she joined Videotape Enterprises as a Datavision operator and, not long after, decided to take a gamble by purchasing a new piece of technology called a Chyron.
As a result, she began renting both her Chyron and new Chyron skills to her father’s new production company, Lirol Productions, and to broadcasters who either didn’t know how or didn’t want to operate the machine themselves. She named her company Autographics — short for Automated Graphics — and evolved from black-and-white title cards to full-color graphics. The company’s credits would expand to include numerous Super Bowls, Olympic Games, and awards shows.
“I was introduced to Linda and it was clear then that [she] is 20 years ahead of the rest of us.” – former Fox Sports executive David Hill
“I can probably say I have been a Chyron operator on every major sporting event in the world,” says Rheinstein. “Anything and everything. And that was a gift. I traveled the world being a Chyron operator because no boy wanted to type — until they found out it was a six-figure job. At that point, I got lots of competition.”
In addition to Autographics, Rheinstein worked for The Post Group as executive producer from 1985 to 1993, leading buildout of the postproduction facility’s first digital-graphics and special-effects center. In 1986, Autographics and The Post Group teamed up to found Electric Paint, a digital original-design and production company for high-resolution still imagery, thrusting her into the world of interactive multimedia development and production. She would later transform Autographics into On Air On Line and focus the company on integrating traditional on-air broadcasting with the emerging online ecosystem.
By the time the Fox Sports concept came across her radar in the early 1990s, Rheinstein found herself plenty busy with a wide variety of projects. In fact, when Post Group colleague Marc Yobs suggested pursuing the proposed network, Rheinstein passed. Shortly thereafter, Yobs was killed in the Northridge Earthquake on Jan. 17, 1994.
“I had no idea how to honor him. He was only 32 years old,” she recalls. “I called [Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer and former Fox Sports President] Ed Goren — who I had worked with for many years in the control room at CBS Sports as a graphics operator — and I said, Ed, I’ve come up with something for Fox Sports, and I would just love to present to you in honor of my friend.”
At the time, Fox Sports had no graphics department and was relying on pitches from outside companies. Rheinstein, facing heavy competition, presented Hill and Goren a simple idea she called “the bar test”: “When you walk into the bar, you better be able to read the graphics.” They were sold.
“I had known Linda for many years from my CBS days,” says Goren. “She, back before there was a Fox Sports, realized the importance and the opportunity to upgrade graphics for sports. She was way ahead of her time, and she put a business together that was very, very successful. When we started Fox Sports, she was the go-to person to bail us out. The bottom line is, Linda was an innovator, years ahead of her time when it came to graphics and the importance of graphics.”
Rheinstein continued to work with Fox Sports through On Air On Line, playing a pivotal role in the introduction of the constant scorebug and helping lay out the plans for foxsports.com well before the heyday of the internet.
“Linda brought to life David Hill’s ongoing mantra of Fox Sports’ having a UVD: a unique visual difference,” says Eric Shanks, president/COO/executive producer, Fox Sports. “Linda’s work and David’s vision led to the first time on-air graphics were considered a character in the play; they were no longer there just to convey information.”
Rheinstein has proved just as big a disruptive force outside sports broadcasting. In 2007, she founded the iDoggieBag Foundation to bring FDA regulation to the pet-food industry, following the sudden death of her beloved cat Nipper due to contaminated pet food. Proceeds also support the cure for cancer, because Rheinstein contracted breast cancer caused, in part, by a compromised immune system due to an infected cat bite.
Today, Rheinstein is a cancer survivor and lives by a quote from her longtime mentor, astronaut Gene Cernan: “The more dreamers you have, the more doers you have.” Her current passion is Space Games Federation and what she calls the “STEAM” Movement — for science, technology, engineering, athletics, and mathematics — which she predicts will bring sports to space.
“If I accept the fact that Linda Rheinstein is 20 years ahead of the rest of us and the way she sees the world is actually going to work, what we all can expect is to see cats playing football in space in 20 years,” says Hill. “If you want to lay a bet in Vegas, bet the fact that Linda’s right.”
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2017. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.