This week, we'll be paying some editorial attention to drum corps events that have happened in the Eastern U.S. For some reason, the Eastern Classic is always a technological challenge for DCI.org, as this report proves. Yesterday we ran a report about the challenges DCI.org faced at the 2003 Eastern Classic in Allentown, Pa. These two articles will hopefully give you a perfunctory glance at how we produce live events on DCI.org. Franklin Field, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, is one of those classic drum corps settings. The 1975 and 1976 DCI World Championships were held there, and it's been host to a wide variety of athletic and entertainment events since it was built in 1895 (it was specifically designed for the Penn Relays). But when the architects drew up the plan for Franklin Field way back then, they didn't have the foresight to predict that by the DCI Eastern Classic of 2002, visitors would need full access to build a live Internet event like we do on DCI.org.
In fact, many of the stadiums DCI.org worked in the dark ages of 2002 were not fitted with any kind of Internet capabilities at all. So we used a temperamental wireless modem. With this wireless modem, the routine prior to a live event was pretty much the same every week. I'd get to the venue two or three hours before the downbeat and immediately begin searching for a wireless signal. Sixty percent of the time I'd be unable to get one. When I couldn't get one, I'd have to call the wireless modem's tech support line, which was physically located over in Great Britain, a full eight hours ahead of us. So I'd be talking with an exhausted Englishman (it would be 3 a.m. London time when I rang) from the middle of a college football field somewhere in the Midwest. Often these phone calls would last a good 25 minutes, as the tech support staff would walk me through a series of modem settings that changed based on geographic location. In other words, the settings that worked in Bloomington-Normal, Ill., would not work in San Antonio, so I'd have to call to get the new settings each week. In Philadelphia, however, I couldn't even get a reliable cell phone signal to call tech support. I repeatedly walked to various vantage points of Franklin Field to try and catch some weird wave of cell phone connectivity, perhaps bouncing off a passing plane or something (you're right, I don't know much about how cellular signals transmit), but to no avail. After 90 minutes of this game, it was half an hour to the downbeat. Still no Internet capabilities. I was getting frantic. I envisioned cabbing it to the local Kinko's and posting stories from there after every third corps, or perhaps phoning the stories in to my wife in Chicago and having her post the coverage. This was not an ideal environment for live event coverage. Luckily, a sympathetic assistant athletic director saw me sweating over my laptop 15 minutes before the show was to start. He suggested that I use one of their Internet ports in the fieldhouse, which was located beyond the west end zone of the field. It wasn't the ideal, on-the-field access that we enjoyed in shows before this one, but it would have to do. I happily agreed. Any access at all was better than nothing, even I it was in a far dark corner of the stadium. The first office we tried to use, which was closest to the field, didn't work -- for some reason we couldn't log on to the University of Pennsylvania network. So the assistant AD took me down to his office, which was down a flight of stairs and through the entire dimly lit field house. Luckily I was wearing tennis shoes, because this live event coverage would be all footwork. With five minutes to go, I had Internet access. Now the trick would be how to physically produce the coverage. On DCI.org, we produce live events in the manner of a newspaper or TV station covering an athletic event like a baseball game. After a corps' performance, we interview a key participant (and maybe a staff member) and have them evaluate how they did that evening. Then we ask what the next week of rehearsals will entail, in anticipation of the next weekend's major DCI event. Back in 2002, pictures enhanced this reportage. In 2003, video and MP3 recordings (and lots more photowork) would greatly enhance this coverage -- the well-oiled machine of DCI.org was certainly a technological powerhouse this past summer. But back in 2002, for many events our coverage was a one-man show, although then-DCI intern Mike Pfeil (now with YEA!) filled in when an event was particularly tricky to produce (and DCI.org's Mike Boo helped out an many major events, though not Philadelphia that year). That night I created a system that somehow worked pretty well. I would exit the north side of the field house, follow the track to the front sidelines, snap a picture of the corps on the field, then head to the tunnel to interview (with old-school notepad and pen -- the corps on the field was always too loud to use a tape recorder) a corps member. Then I'd head back across the front sideline, go through the fieldhouse, post the interview, size and download the picture, and head out and do it again. The whole process took about nine minutes, which worked out just about right. I did this 12 times that night. At the end of the night, I had sweated my official DCI polo shirt several times and lost 30 pounds, but we had produced a decent live event. Although our 2004 coverage will certainly be much more technologically intense, I know that even if everything falls flat at a live event and nothing works, it will never be as stressful as Philadelphia was in 2002.
Franklin Field, in Philadelphia