Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | midnight
- Women make strong showing in Main Event (7-14-2009)
- Poker players relax with massage at table (7-11-2009)
- ESPN’s feature table provides as much publicity as profitability (7-8-2009)
- Oldest player exits World Series of Poker (7-7-2009)
- Hundreds of poker players turned away from main event (7-6-2009)
- Poker pro Annie Duke doesn’t like her nickname (7-1-2009)
- Bach pulls out marathon HORSE victory (7-1-2009)
- Poker’s HORSE a serious game (6-26-2009)
- Mike Caro: 'Mad genius' of poker (6-19-2009)
- WSOP props odds offer insight into tournament (6-12-2009)
- Behind the scenes, tournament has stable of 850 dealers (6-6-2009)
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.
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].