Technology on the Move
Behind the Scenes with Canadian Sports Broadcasting Legend Rod Black
By Lars Hansen
If you turn on a television in Canada and follow sports, you already know the face of Rod Black.
This living legend in Canadian sports broadcasting has covered almost every sport in one form or another for more than 26 years. From calling Blue Jays’ baseball to the CFL, from the NBA to NHL, boxing to figure skating, motor racing to horse racing and of course the Olympic Games — you name it, he’s done it.
In any given week you might flip through the channels and think that Rod is a pretty busy guy, but in reality you don’t know the half of it. While your television stayed put in the same room for that week, Rod has probably been in three cities, covered three or four games in two or more sports, and delivered an address at one or two speaking engagements.
The business of being Rod Black is a going concern and keeping him ‘on the go’ is no small accomplishment — but it’s a challenge that he handles daily.
“I’m probably on the road for somewhere between one-quarter to one-third of the year, depending upon what I’m working on for CTV Sports or TSN at any given point in time,” says Black. Even when not away from his Toronto home, he is still is out of the office at venues like the Rogers Centre. “One week I was in Toronto in the morning, Hamilton in the afternoon for the CFL and then back to Toronto to do the play-by-play for a Blue Jays game in the evening. It all makes for a pretty hectic pace of travel.”
But for every hour that Rod spends in front of the camera, he also puts in a minimum of 8-to-10 hours of preparation and research, either at home, in the office or on the road. From statistics to game videos to Web sites to blogs, Rod is constantly reading, researching, looking for trends in the numbers, reviewing game films and sidebar stories, all to help him explain what unfolds in front of him during a broadcast. He calculates that he may use only 10% of his research material on air, but knows that, at some point, the benefits that this level of preparation provides will have a positive impact on the broadcast.
WHAT DOES HE DEPEND ON?
“My typical day involves a lot of time in front of my computer where I typically start early by checking the news wire reports, e-mails and press releases from multiple teams in multiple sports,” says Black. “I then move onto reviewing game broadcasts and team and league Web sites online as well. It all adds up to four or five hours of reading per day on average and often at locations that can range from the playing field to the broadcast booth or back at the studio. The prep work is central to getting the best possible broadcast on the air.”
As an info-intensive road warrior, Black puts a lot of trust in the tools he uses to stay connected to information in an anytime, anywhere approach that helps him stay on top of his game. Since 2006, Black has been a fan of Lenovo’s special 15th anniversary limited edition ThinkPad Reserve with the processing power of the Intel Centrino Pro processor and 2GB of memory. He says that it gives him all the punch he needs to multi-task on a variety of applications and still maintain strong performance across the board.
Black puts a premium on being able to stay up and connected, so enjoys the battery life performance provided by the ThinkPad Reserve. He also likes its look. It stands out because the leather encasing which daily catches the eye of people he works with.
“Not a day goes by when I’m not approached by one of the players who sees my laptop for the first time and ask where he can get one,” says Black. “It’s pretty uncommon to see a laptop all encased in leather. Airport security always ask me to take my laptop out of its case and I have to tell them that it already is out of the case. It scores high on the ‘wow’ factor.”
In an age where the Blackberry is a common fixture in the broadcasting booth along with laptops, Rod Black uses both to achieve different goals, switching from one medium to the other and back again with ease. He likes having this flexibility and points out that it is a far cry from the days when he had to take much more equipment and documents on the road to accomplish the same job.
Only a few years ago, Black would regularly travel with many more books, bags, DVDs and disks than he does today. The biggest change he has seen is the amount of information he can now get online, which helps to reduce the amount of baggage he has to take with him, while simultaneously increasing the scope of information and resources he can now access from wherever he is. In fact, he’s contemplating moving up to Lenovo’s latest ultraportable to further enhance his DVD options, since the x300/301 will also give him the benefit of a built-in optical drive.
“I don’t think it would be possible to do what I do today without being able to connect to information online,” says Black who says he has benefited countless times from the benefits of mobile computing. “I can sometimes sit all day in airports waiting for flights while on my way to places like Africa and have not missed a beat. The portability factor is huge for me because I can skip the need to go an expensive Internet café while still getting access to all the files and info I need to get the job done.”
Being able to stay connected is a big part of what Black considers essential to performing his job. It is what allows him to keep on top of an incredibly wide variety of responsibilities and commitments. Beyond the sports broadcasting that he is most recognized for, Black is also known for his charity work with Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parents Plan Canada) that can often involve travel to remote corners of the globe.
“It just becomes a pattern after a time and you get used to it and expect it because staying connected and mobile has now become a big part of what I do and how I share and communicate with others,” says Black, pointing out that it leads to behind the scenes images that don’t naturally come to mind. “If you followed me everyday during my travels, you might find me pounding away on my keyboard, while sitting on a tree stump in Africa or leaning on a garbage can in the bowels of a sports stadium wearing a suit. It’s fair to say I’m routinely using my ThinkPad and won’t go too many places without it.”
In front of the camera or behind the scenes, it’s clear that the scenery for Black is constantly changing while his need to stay connected and informed remains constant. Clearly for him, his Lenovo ThinkPad and his Blackberry have become a real ‘don’t leave home without’ part of his world.