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NFL's 'radio cops' organize wireless use for Super Bowl XLII

Super Bowl game plan includes dealing with some 10,000 wireless devices in Glendale

By , Network World
January 25, 2008 02:50 PM ET

Network World - They do not like to be called “radio cops.” They insist on “frequency coordinators.” But on rare occasions at National Football League games, the NFL’s Game Day Frequency Coordinators have to get a bit insistent.

And 45 of them will be suiting up for Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz., to organize the use of some 10,000 wireless devices. (Read a related story on the stadium’s state-of-the-art wireless system.) 

The NFL launched its frequency coordination effort in 1996 at Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix. The initial goal was simple: organize the use of limited radio frequencies at the Super Bowl. Three years later, the program expanded to all NFL games, so that the ever-growing crowd of wireless users, from quarterbacks to cleaners, can use an ever-growing number of wireless devices without interfering with each other.

Sometimes things get testy.

Wireless users, such as TV crews, are required to coordinate with the NFL before the game, to get a frequency assignment. At the NFC Championship game Jan. 20, between the Green Bay Packers and the winning New York Giants, the GDCs monitoring the frequencies found an uncoordinated TV news crew, called a “CoordNot.” To link a wireless microphone to the camera, the crew was using a channel assigned to another wireless user. This crew was a “repeat offender,” says Jay Gerber, manager and founder of the NFL Frequency Organization Group. He wouldn’t identify their employer.

Using the NFL’s standard-issue, radio direction-finding gear, the GDCs onsite at Lambeau Field tracked down the TV crew, a camera operator and sound man, and spoke to them. In the vast majority of cases, such unauthorized users are apologetic and work with the coordinators to find and use an open frequency.

Not this time.

Because this was a repeat offense, the crew was not given the customary option of continuing to work by using a cable connection for the microphone. First-time offenders have their wireless gear confiscated and returned at the end of the game, and can keep working using a wired connection. After consulting with League officials and NFL security at the stadium, the GDC told the TV crew to pack up. They turned in their credentials and left the stadium.

“You can’t be ignorant like that about wireless use today,” says Gerber, with just a trace of impatience in his voice.

Today, there are 32 primary frequency coordinators and about twice that number of assistants who organize frequency use for all NFL games and events like the NFL draft. An important part of the coordination effort are volunteers, amateur radio operators and members of the Society of the Broadcast Engineers. One volunteer gives an account, with photos, of helping out at Super Bowl XXXIX.

A well-rehearsed team

The official GDC has a place reserved in the press box, and presides over what is now a well-rehearsed team, whose work begins days before. They organize radio use for wireless intercoms, team communications, the referees, reporters and broadcasters, Wi-Fi systems, in fact for almost everything except cell phones.

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