Cronkite School’s Jim Dove excels at sports—behind the scenes

An elbow is thrown. Dove has it saved already. A perimeter shot barely misses. He’s already looking for the best angle.

Saturday, March 26, 2005. NCAA Women’s Basketball Regional Semifinals. ASU’s Sun Devils anticipate the moves of their opponents—top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels—and visualize how the game will unfold.

Senior broadcast engineer Jim Dove, working for ESPN, sits at an array of screens and controls. He anticipates the strategies of both teams’ players and how the “drama of the game,” as he puts it, will unfold.

Dove is a longtime veteran of sports broadcasting. That Saturday night, as always, he moved with ease between monitoring incoming feed and choosing compelling clips to save and play for the broadcast. An elbow is thrown. Dove has it saved already. A perimeter shot barely misses. He’s already looking for the best angle.

Producers and directors call out from different directions.

“Did you get that shove?”

“I need a shot of the mother.”

“Check that last one; she’s really mad.”

Photo courtesy of Jim Dove
Emmy Award winner Jim Dove Dove spends countless hours in front of his instant replay work station.

Dove and his co-workers are on it while continuing to monitor several screens showing live footage.

Dove, who has worked for the Cronkite School for 10 years, enjoys every aspect of his multifaceted job. As an ESPN employee, he travels nearly every weekend to cover Sunday Night Baseball, Monday Night Football and other sports. He’s one of the country’s leading video editors in sports broadcasting. In addition to ESPN, Dove has worked for ABC, Fox, Fox Sports Net, HBO, NBC and USA Network.

As the Cronkite School’s first full-time broadcast engineer, he’s also responsible for maintaining and managing the school’s audio and video equipment. He works closely with students and faculty.

Right place at the right time—with the right expertise
Dove has been instrumental in shaping the way sports reach viewers across the country. When Live Slow Motion (LSM), a nonlinear video editor from the Belgium company EVS Broadcast Equipment, was introduced to the United States, Dove was one of the first two Americans to test it.

The 1995 Super Bowl allowed Dove to be one of the first to use the LSM. “It went from two of us to probably thousands of operators now. To get to meet these people at the right time and watch the company grow, it’s pretty amazing,” he said.

“That device has really changed everything because it is instant access for producers and directors. When they want something, it happens right now,” he added. “But you still have to anticipate, much like an athlete does. You have to think about where they’re going to go. There’s a definite storyline to a show, even though it’s a sports show. We follow the story of the game and try to tell it the best.”

What it takes to run a live sports show*

100: Number of crew members

25: Number of cameras

150: Number of monitors

2.5: Miles of cable

22,000,000: Average number of viewers

* Numbers are based on average Monday Night Football statistics
                                               —Shannon Cook

Dove has been involved in sports broadcasting since his days at the University of Minnesota at Morris, where he recorded football games for coaches.

But his interest goes even further back. “I’ve always been involved in media in some way,” he said, pointing to an 8mm film projector he used with his family. “That’s where the real interest came from, but there was always some avenue that kept me involved in sports. I started at the bottom, just like everybody here. I’ve been at it for a long time.”

Dove credits many of his career advances to being in the right place at the right time, but he has a knack for putting himself in those right places—and for being the right person for the job. His introduction to ASU sports came when he worked as a broadcast engineer for KAET Channel 8. His supervisor at the time, Ernie Flotto, was interested in sports, and Dove mentioned his passion.

“I went to some spring training baseball games, just to watch, volunteer to do whatever. They needed a tape operator one day. Ernie mentioned me, so they put me in, and that’s where it started,” he said.

Dove’s introduction to ESPN was similar. They needed a worker. Was he available?

Dove said he has “worked just about everything that there is to work, and mostly with ESPN” since then. “I was fortunate to be an avid sports lover and to have the technical background to open a lot of doors.”

He urges students to start their careers the same way. Begin at school, gain experience and move up. “The experience here is maybe not as pressure-packed as what you have in the work environment, but there’s plenty of time for that,” he said.

Dove has helped many broadcasting students launch their careers. “Jim is one of the biggest resources the school has in the broadcast area when it comes to bringing experience of the broadcasting world to the school,” said co-worker Jim Rush, a broadcast technician. “He’s the antithesis of the remark ‘Those who can’t do, teach,’ because he’s out there every weekend.”

Photo by Shannon Cook
This tiny LSM machine is the workhorse of the instant replay.

Rush praised Dove for opening doors for broadcasting students. “There are people in ESPN and ABC who are producing shows, are talent, doing all sorts of things because they came through here, and he helped show them how to do it.”

Top skills during crunch time
Dove’s weekly schedule is as busy as those of the athletes he covers. He works full time at ASU, then leaves Friday to set up and cover ESPN’s Sunday game, Sunday Night Baseball or Sunday Night Football. During football season it gets even trickier as he travels from the location of the Sunday night game to cover Monday Night Football. Depending on the locations, it can get “pretty hectic,” he said. He may travel overnight to the opposite side of the country. Sometimes he starts working as soon as he leaves the airplane.

Tuesday morning finds him back at ASU.

Dove said the hectic schedule is difficult on his family, but there are perks. His children, now 17 and 20, sometimes travel with him. They have “been up and down both coast and everywhere in between,” he said.

“I think it takes a special person to put up with my schedule,” he added, referring to his wife, Nancy. “But we have fun together.”

ASU and the Cronkite School also benefit because Dove keeps up with the latest technology. “When any new technology comes in, he’s there with the other engineers putting it together,” Rush said. “Then he learns the software and has to operate it in real time, in crunch time. To see those guys work in real time is probably not for the faint of heart.”

Live Slow Motion (LSM):
Nonlinear video editing


Before the advent of nonlinear video editing, operators had to stop recording to view and prepare clips for a sports show or any other broadcast. Because the nonlinear Live Slow Motion (LSM) system is disk-based, it allows for simultaneous recording and playback. It works “like a great big TiVo,” said broadcast technician Jim Rush. Operators can record output from any of the several cameras recording a game and place the clips on a timeline for instant playback.

LSM operators can assemble complex sequences almost instantaneously. It’s easy to create a sequence of clips to highlight a single player, for example. The system has revolutionized sports broadcasting and lets talented production crews give their audiences views that are sometimes better than those of “real” spectators.

                                  —Kimberly Hosey

Dove uses his connections to get ASU the latest equipment, according to Rush. “We’re the only college in the world that has one [LSM], and he got it donated to us,” Rush said.

“Faculty and students alike are impressed by Dove’s technical skills,” Rush said. “He’ll just sit down with a new piece of equipment and start working. It’s really amazing. He’s probably forgotten more than most people learn.”

Inspiration from Walter Cronkite
The highlights of Dove’s career are the people he has met. “Being able to work with Walter Cronkite has been a real treat, and getting to know Al Michaels, Andy Rooney, Charles Osgood and especially Walter,” he said. “Of all the people I’ve worked with and met—sports athletes, announcers—Walter’s the guy. Really classy and on top of things. The first time I sat down to write a script for him, I was scared because I knew he was going to read it.”

An Emmy and school, state and national awards take up most of one wall in Dove’s office in the basement of Stauffer. Beneath the awards, a computer screen saver displays sunsets, beach panoramas and landscapes. The pictures are his.

“You’d think somebody who travels as much as I do wouldn’t want to get on a plane and go somewhere, but I do. I like to get somewhere and relax, but it seems to happen less and less lately,” he said.

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The Devil’s Tale showcases the coursework of individual students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.