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Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2020-21: Tom Sahara, a Key Force in Operations

15/11/2021

Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2020-21: Tom Sahara, a Key Force in Operations By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director

Monday, November 15, 2021 - 11:15 am

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In a ceremony postponed by the pandemic, the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Class of 2020 will be inducted on Dec. 14 at the New York Hilton. SVG is profiling the nine inductees in the weeks prior. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Like many an engineer, former Turner Sports VP, Operations and Technology, Tom Sahara had an inkling at a young age that he had a knack for engineering and broadcast technology.

One year, I got a transistor radio and I ended up taking it apart, he recalls. My mom said I always took everything apart and then, one day, I started putting everything back together. I guess I was always a tinkerer.

Tinkering would eventually lead to a 20-plus-year career at Turner Sports and a role as a key force in the broadcaster's becoming a top-notch sports powerhouse. And Sahara's efforts at Turner Sports - particularly around developments related to HDTV, the move to digital, and next-generation audio - made him a leader on a global scale.

When I was a teenager, he says, I was exposed to electronics through a teacher who happened to be the advisor of the electronics club. I was curious about electronics because these radios and TVs just magically pull something out of the air. That intrigued me.

He began reading anything he could get his hands on about electronics, and an electronics class in high school helped him realize he had a talent for fixing gadgets. Money from delivering newspapers and fixing TVs funded his habit for Heath Kits, which allowed him to build his own electronics.

Sahara grew up in Hawaii, and his interest in a career in television was inspired when, shortly after graduating from high school, he watched news coverage of, of all things, a strike by local TV-station workers.

It was all over the news, he says. It's the first time I ever thought you can actually work in a TV station. That got my curiosity going and me seriously thinking about electronics as a career.

His first professional break was working on live-music technical support for an AV electronics company servicing restaurants, night clubs, and cabarets. It wasn't long until he made the leap, at age 21, to Don Ho's live show.

Don Ho gave me the exposure to the exciting careers around the entertainment world, says Sahara. It was fun, and, in every night's performance, you had to give 110%. Television is much the same.

Soon, though, he realized that the entertainment business can be difficult. Was there something more stable?

That's when that interest in TV came back, he says. I got my FCC license and went around to some of the TV stations and had an interview with the chief engineer [at KITV Honolulu]. He said, There are at least three or four people every day coming in saying I want to work here. Why should I consider you?' And I said, Well, I have one of these,' and pulled out my FCC license. He told me to start that weekend.

That FCC license put Sahara in charge of signing the station's transmitter logs, and he also handled master control on the weekends.

From there, he recalls, I just advanced into maintenance and learning all the systems. It was a lot of fun, and, in between commercials, I would take out all these manuals and start reading about the gear.

Sahara credits a thirst for knowledge and willingness to leap at new opportunities as key to his development.

What really drove me was always wanting to know about what's going on and how something works, he says. At the TV station, there would be a sign-up sheet to work on remote productions like festivals and parades, and I would be standing right there with a pen in hand to be the first one to sign up. That's the way I approached everything: if an opportunity came up, I would raise my hand, say yes, and jump in.

The leap to sports began with ABC's coverage of surfing events, such as the Pipeline Masters Surfing Championship. With FCC license in hand, Sahara would set up the microwave dish that would send the signal to the station.

Sports appealed to me because it was excitement on a regular basis, he says. It was fun. I got to the point where I felt there was more to a career than being in a local station, so I started freelancing.

Tom Sahara: What really drove me was always wanting to know about what's going on and how something works.

One of the early opportunities was on the golf events in Hawaii. NEP would provide technical facilities and support, and it was not long before Sahara met NEP stalwarts and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famers George Wensel, John Roch , and Tom Shelburne on a production.

They started bringing me out on bigger and bigger shows, Sahara says. Before you know it, I was doing shows like the 1994 World Cup in Dallas. I met people from the Olympics, who asked me to join them for the Atlanta Olympics, and that's how I ended up in Atlanta.

That 1996 Olympics gig (he would also work on the 2000 and 2002 Games) gave him a chance to feel part of something really big.

The Olympics are the best of the best, he explains. It's not just the best of the athletes; it's the best of the broadcasters as well. It's an amazing experience to have this common thread with broadcasters from all across the world, all coming together.

We're not really competing against each other, he continues. We're forming a team to present the best show in the world. That's an amazing experience to have. It's a lot of hard work, but, at the end of the day, you've accomplished something that took the entire world to come together.

Arriving at Turner in 1997, Sahara served as manager of
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2021/11/15/sports-broadcasting-hall-of-fam...
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