No time for blackouts at NBC’s Torino Broadcast Center
By Kim Alan Pederson
On February 10, 2006, legendary Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo touched off a burst of stunning pyrotechnics to initiate the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. Seventeen days later, 2,350 Federico Fellini-inspired clowns and acrobats ended the games with a dazzling pageant. In the time between, NBC sent an almost nonstop broadcast of competition events in 15 sports, touching feature stories, and insightful commentaries back to viewers across the United States.
All those images of skiers, bobsledders, skaters, and more came courtesy of NBC’s International Broadcast Center (IBC). This complex facility was built from scratch in eight months, operated
24/7 during the games, and demolished in 10 days afterward. Many people took part in daily IBC activities, but two in particular had primary responsibility for keeping the construction and plant systems running faultlessly — John Arvelo, NBC Olympics’ Construction Supervisor and Plant Manager/Facilitator, and TEGG Technician Jack Ksionzyk from Matco Electric Corporation. Ksionzyk’s official title was Construction Manager, but Arvelo describes him as “our electrical guru and my right arm.”
Ksionzyk, a Matco employee since 1976, first got involved helping NBC when David Mazza, NBC Olympics’ Senior Vice President of Engineering, asked him if he was interested in working at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games broadcast center. Ksionzyk, with his signature low-key approach, thought it would be something to do, so he agreed. Since Atlanta, NBC has asked him back to work the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the 2004
Summer Games in Athens, and the Torino Winter Games this year. “We always try to retain a certain number of veterans,” says Mazza, “because they can hit the ground running.”
Putting It All Together
Running does not begin to describe the pace involved in setting up the Torino IBC. Sprinting might be more appropriate. About eight months before the games began, NBC moved into the five-story, 540,000-square-foot Lingotto Fiere — a convention center that was once a Fiat auto plant — and began constructing its 75,000-square- foot broadcast center. Besides NBC, more than 20 other broadcast groups were also at work inside the IBC.
When completed, NBC’s facility had two broadcast studios; two control rooms; two audio rooms; numerous editing and graphics rooms; a full-size cafeteria and commercial kitchen; executive offices and suites; engineering offices; equipment rooms; rooms for wardrobe, hair, and makeup; personality and talent rooms; a first-aid center; a security center; a broadcast operations center (BOC); a centralized power room; a tape logging center and library; and spaces for Bravo, Telemundo, Jay Leno, and Access Hollywood.
Ksionzyk arrived in Torino when there were still about three and a half months of construction to complete. “Pretty much all the electrical was done by then,” he says, “so I handled additions, forgotten items, a lot of little minor things.”
Despite Ksionzyk’s pronouncement, plenty of electrical work still had to be finished. Ksionzyk installed countless outlets and all the track lighting. These processes can be complex in a foreign country. “Different powers, different cables, different plugs,” says Arvelo. “Jack is very good with figuring all those things out.” Ksionzyk also powered the huge floor turntables that spun Bob Costas and other broadcasters when studio sets changed.
Another service Ksionzyk provided was infrared screening, something he’s intimately familiar with as a TEGG Technician. “Matco suggested and shipped over the infrared equipment,” says Mazza, “and Jack used it to check for hot spots or potential problems.”
Arvelo appreciated this work also. “Jack tested all the panels for problems or issues that don’t register during regular readings,” he says. “That helped us tremendously.”
Keeping Everything “On Air”
You might think everyone could rest easier after the build out, but that is not true. Ksionzyk and Arvelo traded off 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, as the “go-to guys” for any problem that came up. Both were on 24-hour standby, as well. Like Arvelo, Ksionzyk knew the facility thoroughly, and every member of the 3,000-person crew working in the IBC knew they could turn to him when they needed help. Ksionzyk notes that a typical shift might include hosing down AC ducts, moving lights, installing more outlets, or build- ing different cabinets for monitors. “It’s a hurry-up, hodgepodge of things for two-and-a-half weeks,” he says.
The network spent more than $600 million to obtain the Olympic broadcast rights. That’s a tremendous amount of money riding on the NBC’s facilities which require first and fore- most: uninterrupted, unwavering power. During the games, says Mazza, “Jack’s main role was keeping the electrical system in order. He checked and rechecked incoming power, breakers, connections, everything.”
The key to success was constant vigilance and redundancy. “NBC always has a backup to a backup,” says Ksionzyk. “They never do it just one way.”
Identifying and solving problems quickly was another major responsibility. “If Jack had to do a shutdown, he could do it,” says Arvelo. “He knew the panels inside and out.” One precaution Ksionzyk took to make this possible was tracing all the circuits and labeling them. That way, if an issue came up, the right breaker could be hit immediately, and, without delay, the problem would be fixed.”
Not Over ‘til It’s Over
After the Olympic Stadium lights went dark on February 26, most of the crew departed, leaving only a handful behind for the “bug out.” However, that group spent many hours during the build out and the games planning for the IBC demolition. It was an amazing feat of logistics and coordination. “Everything that took months to set up,” says Ksionzyk, “is out of there in two weeks or less.” For Torino, the bug out was done in 10 days.
NBC’s IBC at Torino was an incredibly complex and expensive enterprise. Every one of the people involved in its creation and operation had a critical role. But when it came to keeping the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems working smoothly, John Arvelo and Jack Ksionzyk led the way. Fortunately, the payback was just as big as the responsibility. “You know the whole world is watching what you’ve put your heart and soul into,” says Arvelo, “and that’s very, very rewarding.”
During his 12-hour shifts, Ksionzyk took the same pride in keeping the huge structure up and running. Both Arvelo and Mazza had tremendous confidence in his ability. “He was my right arm,” repeats Arvelo, “my eyes and ears for everything electrical and everything and anything beyond that. He can make a decision and handle the responsibility.”
For Mazza, “Ksionzyk is a can-do guy. He will do anything for anybody with a smile. No task is too big or too little. He knows how to handle every problem and does it efficiently. That’s why we keep asking him back.”
Ksionzyk is now considering whether to work the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. If he does, he’ll no doubt explain his decision as something to do, a different job. But for the people at NBC Olympics, his saying yes will mean much more than that.