Boston Marathon Enjoys 100% Coverage, Thanks to CP Communications

Because of the point-to-point trajectory of the Boston Marathon, course records do not count for world records, and television coverage of the event can be a nightmare. Thanks to CP Communications, however, and a very slow, low-flying airplane, this year’s event featured 100% course coverage along all 26.2 miles.

“Boston is not a typical course,” explains Kurt Heitmann, SVP, sales and marketing, for CP Communications. “The New York and Chicago marathon courses are big loops, so if you have a central receive point in the center of that loop, it’s a lot easier to cover. Boston starts 26 miles out and ends in a straight line, so we had a lot of coverage issues last year. This year, we chose to use a very unique slow-flying, lightweight airplane.”

Slow, Low, Light
That airplane, which was new to CP Communications’ coverage of marathons, was used as an aerial camera and a relay. The plane was configured with three outbound microwave signals, which were tracked through GPS at the top of the Prudential Center, where six technicians were located. Those three signals comprised the feed from a gyro-stabilized camera and the relayed video feeds from the women’s and men’s motorcycles. The two inbound signals were microwave signals from the vehicles on the course.

“We did use the airplane exclusively a couple of times when our terrestrial sites weren’t able to receive,” Heitmann says. “We had 100% course coverage from start to finish. We were very pleased with it, and we’re considering using the airplane for Chicago as well.”

In addition to the aerial relay provided by the fixed-wing aircraft, CP Communications used six terrestrial receive sites, two on-course trucks, and two on-course motorcycles to cover the full 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon. All of the vehicles were outfitted with proprietary systems designed by CP Communications. Both the men’s and women’s motorcycles were outfitted with custom wiring to accommodate the microwave outbound camera signals and two-way communications. The men’s and women’s lead trucks were configured with a custom air-shock camera-mount system designed by Total RF Productions and holding a five-axis gyro-stabilized Flir camera. The trucks also had custom wiring to accommodate the outbound camera signals and two-way communications.

Over-Hill Coverage
The six receive sites, configured to receive all the inbound RF signals, were placed at the start line, Ashland, Train Hill, Wellesley, Heartbreak Hill, and the Prudential Center.

“Boston is a very hilly course, so we put our receive sites on top of all the hills,” Heitmann says. “We create this umbrella above the course with our towers because we’re sitting on top of all the hills. To get 100% coverage of a marathon of this ilk is a pretty substantial feat.”

As the four vehicles and aircraft traveled the course, they were tracked via GPS to determine their location while on and above the course. That tracking allowed each of the receive sites to optimize its RF-signal strength. Each site was generally configured the same way, with the exception of the Prudential Building, whose rooftop also served as the tracking location for the fixed-wing aircraft.

Once the inbound signals arrived at the receive sites, the processed signals were combined and passed back to the Prudential Center before being relayed to the production truck, selected by video QC, and handed off to the producer and director of the show.

At 100%, Don’t Change It
“It went fantastic, and the director was extremely pleased,” Heitmann says. “This year, we had bonus coverage of the wheelchair race as well. Typically, we just get the start, but, this year, there was a big story with two of the wheelchair guys, and, in the end, it turned out to be a three-man race right to the finish. We followed it all the way through, and it was really great.

“We’ve been improving our marathon coverage over the last three years, looking at new technologies,” he adds. “This year, we added the airplane to Boston. Now that we’ve achieved 100% coverage, why change it? We’re really looking forward to New York. The NYC marathon will be in 16:9 [aspect ratio] HD this year for the first time ever, so we have a huge task, and we’re excited about it.”