As always, stations will cover a lot of ground
One of the many "traditions" of the Boston Marathon is the extensive local radio and television coverage.
You can get wire-to-wire broadcasts of Monday's race on Channels 4 and 5, the remaining members of the Boston TV "pool" that once included Channel 7.
WBZ radio (1030 AM) first covered the race on April 19, 1931, making Monday's race the 74th broadcast by the station. WBZ radio will have live reports from 5 a.m. until full-time race coverage starts at 11:15.
Sports director Gil Santos will be working his 35th Marathon, and as he has in recent years, he'll be ensconced in a Lenox Hotel room overlooking the finish line with analyst Sharon Barbano and sports reporter Tom Cuddy.
But it wasn't always that way. In 1971, after convincing his bosses that he should broadcast the race, Santos had to climb up the back of a finish-line grandstand "with a two-way in my hand so I could see the finish and call it live."
Bob Lobel, who will be hosting a 5 1/2-hour show on Channel 4 Monday (10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.) with regular experts Toni Reavis, Kathrine Switzer, and Jean Driscoll, ran the race in 1978 and has been covering it ever since. "All I remember from that year is crossing the finish line and falling into the arms of [former WBZ cohort] Dave Maynard. He was wearing a red sweater and wasn't pleased because I was all sweaty."
Lobel has also covered the race from a helicopter and with a state trooper driving him from checkpoint to checkpoint.
"But, for the last 15 years or so, we've been at the finish," Lobel said. "I'm just the traffic cop for our coverage. You have to know what you don't know and rely on your experts. Toni, Kathrine, and Jean are great and Tim Kilduff [men's truck] and Alice Cook [women's truck] are great assets."
Mike Lynch, anchoring the Channel 5 coverage with Natalie Jacobson and longtime analysts Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, has a vantage point alongside the Boston Public Library.
In 1982, Lynch found himself sitting on a milk carton on the back of a lead vehicle, breathing diesel fumes while reporting on the men's leaders. "I'd just started at Channel 5. I had a stack of papers, an earpiece, and what they called an old `lunchpail walkie-talkie,' " he said. "Communications weren't as high-tech as it is today, but you might say the assignment was more important because there wasn't wall-to-wall TV coverage in those days. You did some radio play-by-play on TV. And it was a good race that year with Alberto Salazar beating Dick Beardsley."
This year's TV production features something old and something new.
Old: The WBZ "Spotter's Network." "It's a proven formula," said Jennifer Street, executive producer of Channel 4 news, of the system that furnishes the station with immediate splits from Mile 3 to the finish. "All it takes is 100 or so willing volunteers, some paper, pencils, binoculars, and a telephone."
In recent years, the network has been organized by former race director Kilduff and coach Fred Treseler, with a small corps of high school volunteers. "It may not be high tech," said Street, "but it's fast and it works."
New: "The Pool" -- Channels 4 and 5 and national carrier Outdoor Life Network -- all have access to shots from the men's and women's lead vehicles, as well as from motorcycles accompanying the wheelchair racers and secondary packs of runners. Those feeds traditionally have been "bounced" off a helicopter hovering over the course and picked up by a main production truck near the finish line.
Over the past several years, the pool participants experimented with a digital transmission system. "It's weatherproof and gives us technically superior pictures," said Street. "Last year, we tested it along the course and made the decision to go with it this year."
The system has been used by the New York City Marathon, making use of antennas atop the city's skyscrapers. Trouble is, there are no skyscrapers along the mostly rural Boston route.
"We'll have a series of cranes along the course. Instead of using helicopters, we'll bounce the signal from crane to crane," said Susan Treut of Clear Channel, the Boston Athletic Association's television coordinating arm. "We built our own skyscrapers."
She's off course
Peg Rusconi of Channel 4 qualified to run this year's Boston Marathon, the sixth time she's met the standard. But work got in the way of competition. Instead, Rusconi will be in Rome Monday covering the Papal conclave . . . Channel 4 weekend morning anchor Mike Hydeck will be running and checking in via cellphone. Likewise, Channel 5 will be following traffic guy Jeff Larson, running his fifth Boston as part of the Children's Hospital team . . . Race grand marshal Jacqueline Gareau, who was temporarily denied victory by Rosie Ruiz in 1980, will ride in front of the women's race, then run the final half block and break a ceremonial tape about 1:34 p.m. . . . TV coverage begins at 5 a.m. on Channels 4 and 5. Channel 4 will be live from Hopkinton with Scott Wahle and Paula Ebben from 9-10:30 a.m.; Channel 5 won't pick up full race coverage until 11 a.m. . . . Local stations have developed a cadre of reporters experienced in working the race. "It's basic reporting," said Channel 5 producer Don Makson. "You have experienced people who are observant out on the course. We've come a long way from setting remote cameras along the route." . . . One spot WBZ radio annually stakes out is Hereford Street, where Mark Katic sets the stage for Santos as the runners turn onto Boylston Street for the finishing stretch . . . WBZ radio will have Bruins announcer Dave Goucher in Hopkinton, Dave Mager in Wellesley, Walt Perkins at Heartbreak Hill, Charlie Bergeron at Coolidge Corner, and Alan Segel in Kenmore Square. In addition, Jay McQuaide reports from the men's lead vehicle and Lana Jones from the women's . . . For Channel 5, Heather Unruh reports from Hopkinton, with Mike Dowling on the men's truck and Jack Harper on the women's. Liz Brunner and Bob Halloran follow the wheelchair races with Susan Wornick at Heartbreak Hill and Kelley Tuthill at the medical tent . . . Curt Schilling is scheduled to start for the Red Sox Monday against the Blue Jays in the traditional Patriots Day morning game (NESN, 11 a.m.). His wife, Shonda, is running the Marathon and he's hoping to meet her at the finish sometime after 4 p.m.
Bill Griffith's e-mail address is email@example.com