On Thursday night, Oakland and Blackman faced off on the Patriot’s home turf in a game that was seen all over the Middle Tennessee viewing area as part of the weekly “Thursday Night Lights” series on channel WUXP My TV 30.
This week’s stop at Oakland High School was the fifth of the year for the crew, and it was the only stop in Rutherford County this season. As for the game, it was a typical local rivalry contest with the Patriots coming out on top 23-17 over the Blaze.
Each week, a group of 15 make the trip around the midstate, including several former Middle Tennessee State University students from the electronic media communication program, and help bring the biggest high school games in the area to the public.
“One of the top reasons why MTSU is one of the top schools in broadcasting is because of the tools they have, and the professors at the school. It means students get a well-rounded education there, and that’s what I look for when hiring a crew,” said Nic Dugger, who is the owner and technical producer for Tennessee Digital Video, the company that produces "Thursday Night Lights."
The production team goes by the old adage, “First one here, last one to leave.”
Each game usually kicks off at 7 p.m., but some members of Tennessee Digital Video arrive at the stadium at 8 a.m. on game day to help set up the six cameras and the rest of the broadcast. It begins the start of a long day that usually finishes up around 11:30 p.m., when all of the equipment in packed up. Then, preparation begins the next day for the following week’s game.
“We want to make sure we are ready to go live at 7 p.m., because once you go live, you only get one chance to get it right,” said Dugger, who graduated in 2000 from MTSU.
The show has been on the air for the last few seasons, but this year was a season of change for the staff.
First, the Tennessee Digital Video crew took over the broadcasts, led by Dugger, who updated the old MTSU student production truck to high definition.
It meant changing everything about the broadcast, including the type of cameras used to capture games like that of the Patriots and the Blaze.
He also updated graphics, which now includes the score board appearing at the bottom of the screen.
Dugger said the HD broadcasts are one of the few high schools sports to be shown on that format, and it was a point of emphasis by the network before the season to make the change.
“With the transition to HD, everything in the chain is different,” Dugger said. “The reports from folks watching from home have said the video feed is outstanding, the grass is greener, the uniforms are sharper, and everyone seems to be pleased with the transition.”
Finally, a favorite addition for color commentator Kelly Holcomb was a telestrator, which he can use to diagram replays by drawing on the monitor in the broadcast booth. Holcomb is a former MTSU and NFL quarterback.
The communication between the crew in the truck and the ones in the booth is important to the broadcast, and for play-by-play broadcaster Kevin Ingram, it what makes each week enjoyable.
“I really enjoy the competition on the field, but the people I work with really make it fun,” Ingram said. “Announcing games is very much a privilege for me; I always try to keep that in mind.”
Sideline reporter Murphy Fair added it is “absolutely vital” between the truck and the on-air talent during the game.
On Thursday, Sept. 20, "Thursday Night Lights" will be in Madison for the Lipscomb and Goodpasture contest, which kicks off at 7 p.m.