CRAWFORD | My first Thunder Over Louisville experience, in 10 ph - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | My first Thunder Over Louisville experience, in 10 photos

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Let me tell you something that might surprise you. Saturday was a first for me. I was born in Louisville, was educated here, got my start in journalism here. I have covered the University of Louisville winning a national championship in basketball, and numerous Kentucky Derby Days, plus a Triple Crown last year.

But until Saturday, I had never attended Thunder Over Louisville.

I'm not big on huge crowds. I'm not crazy about fireworks. I hadn't stopped to consider at all whether I'd be a big fan of air shows. Mostly, I have an allergy to traffic and events that take all day and last into the night.

That all changed on Saturday because WDRB covered Thunder Over Louisville for the first time since 2012 -- just weeks before I was hired at the station.

One of the great things about getting into TV for me was just getting a chance to see how all this "works." I loved the same thing about newspapers. I was privileged to be a sports editor for a year, and sitting in on planning meetings for each day's paper gave me a great view of what went into putting out a newspaper.

Now, my assignment for Thunder wasn't exactly heavy lifting. For that, you can look to the folks who appeared on camera all day Saturday, and to the 150 WDRB crew members who were behind the scenes producing, directing, and otherwise managing the massive broadcast effort.

Bill Lamb, president and general manager of WDRB and WMYO, said, "For us, this isn't just another TV show. Exhaustive planning and research has been going on since last year. Here's a hyperbole-filled statement that has the added advantage of being true. This is  the single largest, most complex broadcast ever produced by any local TV station in the history of American television."

The ratings also were big. Saturday night's Thunder broadcast drew a Nielsen overnight rating of 28.5 and a 47 share. That's 2.2 points and three share points higher than a year ago. Similar gains were seen in WDRB's coverage of the air show (10.5/22), its preview show (14.7/27) and in its wrap-up show (13.8/23).

But those are numbers. Here's what I saw on Saturday in my first venture to Thunder, both on the ground, and behind the scenes. (If you're on a mobile device and having trouble seeing the photos, please click this link.)


Well, you have to start here. That's why the people come. Harold Freeman, a former editor at The Courier-Journal, told me an interesting thing Saturday. He had gone to visit a refugee family that had recently been relocated downtown to warn them about the aircraft and loud noises they would hear during the day. Can you imagine what you'd think if you didn't know anything about the place and woke up to Thunder day?

The show didn't disappoint. About the only issue anyone took with it were the people who love orchestra music versus those who don't. I thought the Louisville Orchestra's score gave the thing a traditional feel. The soundtrack changes every year. The breathtaking view does not.

From my perch on a stairway just below the WDRB set, the view was awfully good.


The Command Center, 20-some stories above the Belvedere in the Galt House, represents the brains of Thunder. WDRB's operations compound, directly below it on the ground, was the brains of WDRB's 15 hours of live television.

Two tractor trailer trucks sat parallel, one handling social media and other aspects of the broadcast, the other serving as home to the production crew.

I want to talk a bit about the production of this. Assistant news director Jennifer Keeney was the producer of this thing, drawing together all of the basic elements of the telecast. The thing I heard her say most frequently: "If there are planes in the air, stay with them."

At one point, she was standing in the middle of the room, eating, and still calling the shots. She was talking to everybody, but mainly to director Dan Boyle. He made the calls on which images from WDRB's 30 high-definition cameras you'd see on television. With planes in the air, he was covering moving targets, live. He'd get the best view up, and, with the help of assistant director Kyle Lizenby, get the next shot ready. It's amazing how often the sequencing was perfect. The images were fantastic.

As was the total result. A good team in a room like this one can teach you a lot about teamwork, anticipating what comes next, and what the others are thinking. I saw a lot of remarkable things Saturday. The work in this room probably topped the list.


This is Beth Peak. Does she have enough cameras? I feel like she might not have enough cameras. Peak shot still images, and was all over the place shooting video on the Great Lawn, on the Second Street Bridge and later in a stationary position shooting planes and fireworks. WDRB had HD cameras all over. On balconies in the Galt House. Atop the Muhammad Ali Center. There was a 360-degree camera in the cockpit. It had a camera on its own production room. There were cameras at both airports getting takeoffs and landings.

And the work of these photographers often was spectacular. I can't tell you how many times I heard Boyle said, "Great shot" into the ear of whatever camera he was looking at. He was right.


WDRB news director Barry Fulmer pointed his phone at the screen to capture this shot of two F-18 fighter jets. It's an example of the videography the station produced on Saturday.

The U.S. military presence at these air shows isn't what it once was. But the skilled pilots, Navy SEALS, rescue team and others who put on the air show never fail to deliver.


WDRB is the first local TV station ever licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to cover an air show with a drone. As you might expect, there were plenty of FAA restrictions. The drone, in essence, is treated just like any other aircraft. When other planes are in the air, it must be on the ground. It couldn't fly within 500 yards of the crowd.

Still, the photos it delivered and the angles it was able to get were unlike any we've seen for this event. Here's a view of the crowd captured by the drone.


Kentucky Derby officials estimate that more than 750,000 crammed the banks of the Ohio River on the Kentucky and Indiana sides to watch this year's event. Picture the Kentucky State Fair -- but downtown, and only for one day.


I know, this isn't very attractive. At WDRB, there's a pretty strict rule of everything in the building looking orderly and locked down. Sometimes, when you're dealing with four miles of fiber-optic cable, that becomes difficult. To me, it's illustrative of just how much has to come together to make something like this happen. And WDRB production manager David Callan, it seemed, was everywhere.


On the air, WDRB utilized two stationary sets. This is the larger of the two, stationed in a fenced-off corner of the Belvedere.

For the anchors and experts who appeared on-air, don't underestimate how much studying and preparation went into this. WDRB on-air talent had to pass a quiz on the aircraft and other Thunder information just to get the go-ahead to be on.

I haven't seen the work they did. I know it was professional, as always.


Well, why not? Let's end with a bang.

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