Last week, the NBC Sports family lost a pioneer in the world of sports broadcast operations and engineering when Jack Weir, VP of broadcasting for NBC, died at the age of 88. He leaves a long legacy in contributions to Olympic operations, satellite distribution, and sports broadcasting in general.
“Jack made working for ‘operations’ in our business a respectful art,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of operations and production services for CBS Sports. “He was always cool and always decisive; he never sugar-coated anything. You always knew where you stood with him.”
After graduating from Emerson College and finishing his Army service, Weir began his career at NBC in 1952, as a page, and remained there for more than 40 years.
“When you came to NBC in the early ’50s, the entry-level job even for people with radio- or TV-arts majors, which Emerson specialized in, was a page or a guide,” explains Vince Vacca, a colleague and close friend of Weir’s for more than 50 years. “Jack started as a page, and there was always a little bit of competition back and forth between the pages and the guides.”
Weir was interested in broadcasting, however, not in a career as a page. It was not long before he moved over to the operations side of the network and everyone at NBC began to benefit from his innovations.
“Sometime in the mid ’50s, Jack and colleagues had an idea, or more like a vision,” Vacca says. “He, Don Kivell, and Frank Badami sold NBC technical management on the concept of a central department where instant on-air management decisions would be made. From that idea evolved the BOC [Broadcast Operations Center], the go-to place for all operational decisions on breaking news, sports, and programs.”
In 1962, Weir was a key player in the evolution of TV broadcasting from terrestrial transmission over telephone lines into the satellite era.
“Jack, Don Kivell, and I were in BOC when Don uttered the oft-quoted ‘Cue the buffalo,’ referring to a film segment in the program that showed a herd of buffalo stampeding across a western plain,” Vacca says. “This inaugural program featured transmissions from Eurovision in Brussels. Each of the U.S. networks and the BBC initiated TV’s entry into the satellite age.”
Weir and Kivell became the prime movers in converting affiliated stations to a satellite network distribution system and made NBC the first of the three major television networks to accomplish that feat. According to his colleagues, Weir also executed the first live satellite uplink for network news out of Selma, AL, during the days of civil disturbance.
“Jack was as great a broadcasting pioneer as he was a true gentleman of the industry,” says Mike Meehan, SVP of operations for NBC Sports. “He was a visionary here at NBC and was the unquestioned leader in changing the network distribution model from terrestrial to satellite. He will be remembered for his integrity and dignity in a life well lived.”
Although involved in NBC’s coverage of many major events — including John Glenn’s orbiting the Earth and Neal Armstrong’s landing on the moon — Weir is remembered by many for his work on various Olympic Games.
“For me, he was the father of Olympics, engineering- and operations-wise, at NBC,” says Dave Mazza, SVP of engineering for NBC Olympics. “I worked with him on Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992, and he was a consultant to us during the Atlanta Games. He had already retired, and we had a bunch of young kids on the job like me, so we were looking for an elder statesman to make sure we didn’t get too far adrift.”
Weir also worked on the 1980 Moscow games that weren’t.
For each of the Olympic Games with which he was involved, he was in charge of operations, commanding respect from all of his employees and always handling himself serenely, even under immense pressure.
“He was one of my mentors at NBC, and he was my boss when I did engineering for the 1988 Olympics,” recalls Charlie Jablonski, now VP of operations for OnLive. “He was very much a realist. He had a great understanding of how to get things done. He had a great sense of proportion in what we were there to do and why we were there to do it. He always made sure that we appreciated what we were working on, rather than just showing up to do the job and going home. Jack taught me what NBC was, how to be the best, and have a good time doing it.”
Adds Mazza, “He was always even-tempered and could always be counted on to have an even keel — especially when the situation required a little perspective and wisdom.”
Weir was always a fan of equestrian competition, and his penchant for equine programming is still mentioned today in programming meetings at NBC.
“In Olympics planning sessions, people still joke that Jack is going to be upset if we don’t get more equestrian on the air,” Mazza says. “To this day, they bring up Jack’s name when they talk about how much equestrian to schedule. He was a great man that we all looked up to and are very much going to miss.”