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August 29, 2014

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WSOP:

Unique announcers and massive crew combine for memorable ESPN broadcasts

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Las Vegas Sun

Dealers and production crews prepare for the 7th day of competition at the ESPN feature table July 14 at the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio. Crews pull 15 hours, operating as many as 40 cameras to pull off the broadcast.

Showing Their Cards

With the final table set, ESPN's Norman Chad and Lon McEachern weigh in on life behind the scenes of the World Series of Poker.

Behind the scenes with ESPN at the WSOP

ESPN announcer Norman Chad laughs with fans standing around the tables Tuesday during the 7th day of competition at the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio. Launch slideshow »

Many people in the poker world credit Chris Moneymaker's nationally televised, meteoric rise from an online qualifier to a millionaire world champion in 2003 as the catalyst for poker's popularity explosion.

But during that historic World Series of Poker Main Event, two very different sports reporters, Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, came together and ended up forming a dynamic broadcasting partnership that has served as the voice of poker since 2003 on ESPN.

"Whatever you want to call it, it isn't work," said Chad, who is also the author of "Couch Slouch," a weekly syndicated sports column. "I'm talking about playing cards on TV. I don't know why I got a college degree to do this. It's really a lot of fun."

Chad, a University of Maryland graduate, is the equivalent of the color man during ESPN's poker broadcasts. He is famous or perhaps infamous for using words such as "squadoosh," and "whamboozled" while also regularly talking about his favorite beer (Rolling Rock) and his failed marriages (he is on his third).

McEachern, though, is the consummate professional responsible for the play-by-play duties.

The former radio and television anchor joined ESPN in 1994 and has broadcasted the X Games, billiards and K-1 Kickboxing. McEachern, a University of California Santa Barbara graduate, earned a Golden Mic award for his previous radio work.

"This is a fantastic job," McEachern said during Day 7 of the Main Event Tuesday. "There is a lot of sitting around, but there is a lot of work to it. Talk about a dream come true. Not necessarily covering poker, but covering something that is so huge and in the limelight. Every broadcaster dreams of working on an event that takes off, and as a young broadcaster I worked a lot of events and you just hope that one of them will hit."

Although poker is not the most fast-paced event to cover, Chad and McEachern said they spend many hours reviewing film and interviewing players to prepare for each broadcast.

On Tuesday at the Rio, both Chad and McEachern walked throughout the field talking to players and fans to find those compelling human interest stories for which their broadcasts have become famous.

"To really make a compelling story, you have to find the characters and that is the hard work," McEachern said. "It's a lot of legwork and homework talking to a lot of different people."

Chad, who is constantly bombarded for autograph and photograph requests, echoed that sentiment.

"In an event this large we don't know 95 percent of the people and even when it's down to 60 people, we still don't know a lot of the people, so I spend most of my day walking around trying to figure out who these people are and where they came from," Chad said.

While Chad and McEachern serve as the voices and faces of poker on ESPN, there is a large crew that goes largely unnoticed that is vital to producing a successful broadcast.

This year ESPN hauled more than 28,000 pounds of equipment to the Rio to produce a record-high 26 hours of Main Event coverage.

Including pre-production, ESPN spends 192 days on the WSOP, while a crew of more than 25 people travel to Las Vegas to operate 40 high-definition cameras in the field and on two feature tables. They average 15-hour workdays during the Main Event.

Producers also log every hand played at both feature tables.

"It's a dramatically difficult project to put together and to make look smooth," McEachern said. "Our crew works a lot of hours every night. If it looks easy on TV then the people are working really hard. Our production crew at ESPN has found the right way to do it and they make a hard job look easy."

ESPN will begin its 2009 WSOP broadcasts on July 28 and they will air every Tuesday and Thursday night leading up to the Main Event final table on Nov. 10.

In addition to the Main Event, ESPN is also airing special broadcasts of the $40,000 No Limit Hold 'em tournament, the WSOP Champions Invitational and the Ante Up for Africa Celebrity-Charity Event.

"This is all part of a poker boom that nobody could have predicted when we first started," Chad said.

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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