Keeping football on the air

Keeping football on the air
George Birnbaum at EverBank Field

Although Jacksonville Jaguars fans may rock EverBank Field with cheers and yells, for one man the real excitement is not in the stands or on the field but behind the scenes.

When George Birnbaum of Lakeshore says, “3, 2, 1, go!” as he pushes a single button, he takes the two largest high definition video screens in the world from black to live in seconds.

“It is amazing,” said Birnbaum, who has worked as a production engineer at a Jacksonville stadium for 30 years.

Since the end zone video scoreboards were unveiled in July 2016, Birnbaum has worked every event at EverBank Field and still gets a thrill each time the two 362-feet-wide by 60-feet-tall Jumbotrons light up.

The Jaguars game-day producer creates the carefully constructed script for the event, Birnbaum said. “Every minute is accounted for beginning an hour before the game until after,” he said.

“The adrenaline kicks in 10 to 15 minutes before we go live; we live and die by the clock,” said Birnbaum. “Talk about an adrenaline rush! There is a lot of prep work and anxiety, and then there’s no turning back!”

At a typical sports event there are five to 15 or more manned cameras set up. In addition to the Jaguars staff, it takes 43 people, all freelancers, to man an event at Everbank Field.

Birnbaum explained the stadium has a permanent production system, but there is still work to be done for every game; each of the cameras must be set up and tested for proper functioning.

“We come in, turn everything on, go around the stadium and install the cameras, make sure everything works properly,” said Birnbaum. “It’s Tim Derstine and myself. We are the guys who come in the door and get the show game-ready in about three hours.”

There can be absolutely no pass interference when Birnbaum and the production team at EverBank Field take their places on game day. In a live sports environment, the producer and director rely on the engineer to make sure all equipment – cameras, play back, audio and sound equipment – is working properly. Troubleshooting or “firefighting” is the pass play of the engineers, Birnbaum said.

“If something doesn’t come on we have to figure it out and fix it. The system is designed and built with enough redundancy that our goal for the fans is they wouldn’t even know anything was wrong,” said Birnbaum, who had input into the system’s design and knows it backwards and forwards. “From the first picture until the last we don’t want any blank spaces on the screen.”

Birnbaum’s expertise isn’t confined to Jacksonville. As a freelance production engineer, the Lakeshore resident said he’s been all over the country as the man who “makes sure television sports and entertainment programs are as seamless as possible, as well as being a great fan experience.”

His entire career has evolved around electronics, beginning when he would pick up old televisions from the trash, then take them home to dismantle and reconstruct them. “I loved that with electricity you can’t see it but you can create a response,” Birnbaum said. “I’ve always been fascinated with TV.”

A testimony to his obsession with television – a prized 1952 swivel screen Philco television set – sits in the waiting room of GemStone Media, Inc., a television production company he co-owns.

Birnbaum also runs the sound and video equipment, as a volunteer, at Ortega United Methodist Church. He admits to being a workaholic, but said it’s a fun business to be in.

“I love what I do. I mean, I was 10 feet away from Paul McCartney at the Super Bowl,” Birnbaum said. “I’ve done Super Bowls, TPC, the World Series, the Firecracker 400, baseball, football, ice skating – you name it.”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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