Even with Yellow Jackets on road, Georgia Tech radio team stays home

Georgia Tech radio voice Andy Demetra (foreground) calls the Yellow Jackets basketball game against Miami with analyst Randy Waters on Feb. 20, 2021 from McCamish Coliseum. The Tech radio team has traveled to only two games this season. The game against Miami was being played in Coral Gables, Fla.

Credit: Ken Sugiura (AJC)

Credit: Ken Sugiura (AJC)

Georgia Tech radio voice Andy Demetra (foreground) calls the Yellow Jackets basketball game against Miami with analyst Randy Waters on Feb. 20, 2021 from McCamish Coliseum. The Tech radio team has traveled to only two games this season. The game against Miami was being played in Coral Gables, Fla.

As Georgia Tech voice Andy Demetra welcomed listeners to the radio broadcast of Saturday’s basketball game against Miami, the location seemed appropriate. Seated behind a plastic folding table, Demetra could look down upon Cremins Court at McCamish Pavilion. Seated next to him at his own table, separated by a plexiglass partition, was analyst Randy Waters. A few feet away, broadcast engineer Miller Pope kept the audio balanced.

There was but one small difference from the thousands of games that the trio have combined to have delivered over the years – the Yellow Jackets team was 600 miles to the south, at Miami’s Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla. It created a dissonant image – Demetra and Waters describing the action that they were watching off computer monitors, bringing their insights and enthusiasm from inside an empty arena.

In one more quirk of this unprecedented sports year, the Tech radio crew has been on site for home games, but has called all but one of the Jackets’ road games from Tech’s campus. They did so again Tuesday, when the Jackets upset No. 16 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

“The goal is still the same,” Demtra said in a quiet moment before Saturday’s broadcast began. “And that’s to paint the picture as accurately and artfully as possible.”

Because of the ACC’s COVID-19 protocol that restricts who can be a part of a team’s travel party, radio crews largely have not accompanied teams for road games. Demetra, Waters and Pope have gone to two road games this season, Tech’s games at Florida State and Clemson, to which they drove together apart from the team.

For broadcasters such as Demetra and Waters – and engineers such as Pope, an Atlanta radio veteran and member of the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame who adjusts the sound for radio broadcasts for the Falcons, Atlanta United, Hawks and Tech basketball and football – it has raised the level of creativity and adaptability for a medium in which they’re called on to give listeners a sense of immediacy.

“You’re trying your best to give an authentic experience to fans, even though you’re not physically there,” said Demetra, the voice of the Jackets since 2016.

There are obstacles presented by working remotely, though probably not even detectable to most listeners. Primarily, calling the game off television means that Demetra and Waters are captive to describing only what the TV production decides to show.

In the arena, they can see and report who is about to check into the game. If the referees make a call that’s unclear, Waters – who has called Tech games since the 1994-95 season – can call over an official for an explanation, although that practice has come to a temporary end at McCamish, too, as the radio crew has been removed from courtside for social-distancing purposes. At a recent home game, Waters spotted assistant coach Julian Swartz pulling aside guard Kyle Sturdivant to demonstrate a defensive technique, a vignette he could share with listeners.

“You don’t get to see that stuff on the road,” Waters said.

For Demetra, who takes pride in his precision in calling action, broadcasting a game off a monitor makes it more difficult to describe what he is seeing.

“There is a difference in how you describe a dribble drive, based on the body language of a player or how he’s attacking,” he said. “And it’s a little harder to discern how you want to describe something when you’re calling it off a monitor. So it just takes a little extra concentration. You have to be a little extra patient with yourself.”

Sensing and portraying swells in energy and momentum is a challenge, although the fact that most games are played in empty or near-empty arenas is perhaps a break in that regard.

Georgia Tech voice Andy Demetra (right) and analyst Randy Waters (left) call the Yellow Jackets basketball game against Miami inside an empty McCamish Pavilion on Feb. 20, 2021 as it was being played in Coral Gables, Fla. Demetra and Waters have called all but two away games from Tech's campus as travel has been made more difficult by the ACC's COVID-19 protocol.

Credit: Ken Sugiura/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Ken Sugiura/AJC

“You just have to keep the game the focus, do your best to reflect that emotion, reflect that intensity,” Demetra said.

“His job is so much harder than mine on this stuff,” Waters said. “Really, the play-by-play’s got to be hard.”

This season, for football and basketball road games, Demetra and the game analyst (Sean Bedford for football and Waters for basketball) have worked from Tech’s video operations center, which opened in 2019 to support ACC Network broadcasts originating from campus.

The prime spot is Control Room A, which has a wall of eight 55-inch screens. There, Andy Blanton, Tech’s director of video and broadcasting, can put up the actual broadcast, the raw (unedited) feed that the production team at the game site sends and the stats page that gets updated instantaneously.

Saturday’s circumstances were not as ideal. With baseball and softball games being simultaneously broadcast from Tech for ACC Network Extra, the four control rooms at Blanton’s disposal were occupied. That left Waters and Demetra to use the TV broadcasting station at McCamish, watching the action on computer monitors with a 16-inch picture.

At times, as action resumed out of a break, Demetra had to peer in closely to the screen to identify which players had been subbed in and out There was a moment’s uncertainty when a technical foul had been called to ascertain what had happened.

At the start of the game, the audio ran slightly ahead of the video, as the Fox Sports South broadcast was run on a delay. From the screen, Demetra might see and call a jumper from the corner at the same time as the ball could be heard caroming off the rim.

Counterparts with the home team’s broadcast share the sounds of the game, captured by courtside microphones. Pope can patch that into Tech’s radio broadcast, which on Saturday was calling the action off a TV broadcast that was about 17 seconds behind the live action.

The challenge is delaying the sound just the right amount of time to have it synced with the video that Demetra and Waters are calling.

“It’s tricky,” Miller said before the game.

“That’s why Miller’s the MVP,” Demetra chimed in.

Asked before the game if they had encountered any technical difficulties in getting the game feed, Demetra rapped his table – not yet. Sure enough, a few minutes after tipoff, Demetra and Waters lost the Fox Sports South feed, their monitors going dark. Demetra handled it in stride.

“And we apologize, folks,” he said. “We have lost our video feed here, calling this remotely here from McCamish Pavilion.”

Demetra then turned his attention to the live stats feed that he had up on his laptop, summarizing the first three minutes of play and reporting the stark play-by-play updates from the feed before the video returned after a few harrowing moments.

“Moses Wright misses a jumper, (Elijah) Olaniyi grabs the rebound, and now we have our feed back, thankfully,” Demetra said, his gratitude quite clear.

At the next timeout, Demetra wondered whose hearts were beating faster, his and Waters’ when the screens went blank or Miami coach Jim Larrañaga as the Jackets sped to a 12-0 lead.

Later, Demetra said that he just tried to follow along with the stat feed, using the game audio as a cue that play was still continuing.

“You hope for the best,” he said. “It’s out of your control at that point.”

The video glitch aside, any significant differences with an on-site broadcast were difficult to pick up. It may take more awareness and patience, Demetra said, but “nothing that we can’t overcome.”

It’s conceivable that this becomes the new way in sports broadcasting. Even before the pandemic, ESPN and other networks had begun having broadcasters call games remotely as a cost-saving measure.

Demetra, who grew up like any number of professional broadcasters calling games that they watched on television in their dens and living rooms, called it “vaguely nostalgic” to return to his roots. In his childhood, Demetra’s roost was at the kitchen counter of his family’s home in suburban Chicago, calling Bulls games off a small TV set.

“I’m not saying it’s the preferred method of broadcasting a game, but it also kind of takes you back to what you did when you first caught the broadcasting bug,” he said. “I kind of take it in stride.”