Chance of a lifetime
A Minot native will be helping to bring the events of the upcoming Sochi Olympics into millions of living rooms around the world.
Charlie Cushing, a 2004 graduate of Bishop Ryan High School who currently lives in the Minneapolis area, is a freelance audio technician. He is hired by any network that needs his services for a televised event, whether it be sports or otherwise.
“Whenever a network is in town that has a specific show, they’ll call me and I’ll work for them. We show up anywhere from six to 10 hours before a show, sometimes a day or two before a show, and set up,” Cushing said during a phone interview with The Minot Daily News Jan. 15. “We usually have a 53-foot TV truck that’s got all the replay machines and the cameras and audio console and all that stuff in it.”
While sports make up many of Cushing’s jobs, it’s not all he does.
“I’ve done pro basketball, college basketball, college hockey, pro hockey, I did a boxing thing for ESPN. It’s all over the map. I’ve done political conventions, I’ve done news, I did a corporate thing for a company, it’s all over the place,” he said. “Our joke in the business is whoever is willing to pay, it doesn’t matter.”
Cushing first became interested in this line of work as a sophomore in high school. Bishop Ryan’s principal at the time, Terry Voiles, asked Cushing to start a newscast. Cushing ended up doing a 10-minute newscast every day for three years.
“I just enjoyed doing it, it was fun,” Cushing said. “We didn’t have any kind of equipment, it was all pretty much junk but it kind of gave you that taste of what it was.”
He ended up going to Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., which offers degrees focused in the entertainment, media and arts fields. Cushing completed a 14-month program, earning an associate’s degree in recording engineering in December 2005.
He then returned to Minot in January 2006 and worked part time at a car dealership before getting his first TV job in June 2006 pulling cable.
“It’s kind of the grunt of the crew, but it’s where everybody starts,” he said.
He did a dozen or so Minnesota Twins games that summer, then moved on to pro basketball and football jobs in Minneapolis after that, as well as many University of Minnesota games.
Other events he’s handled over the years include the Republican National Convention in 2008 and the Democratic National Convention in 2012. This past year he worked for ESPN covering a West Coast sports package, as well as the Southeastern Conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Cushing’s college football package ended just as North Dakota State University started its playoff run for a third consecutive national championship, which allowed him to work NDSU’s quarterfinal and semifinal games in Fargo. He actually did the Bison’s semifinal game last year, too, against Georgia Southern.
“It was pretty fun. My mom, she was an NDSU alumnus, so she’s always been a big fan and I had been to a few games growing up,” Cushing said. “I’ve always followed North Dakota sports, whether it be UND (University of North Dakota) or NDSU. It was pretty fun to go up there and work the game.”
Cushing said he’s actually a fan first and a technician second, which helped make working the NDSU games that much more enjoyable.
As a freelancer, Cushing sets up all his own jobs and is his own boss. While there are certain companies he does a majority of his work for, pretty much anyone needing his services can call and see if he’s available to do their event.
“It’s pretty much on an as-needed basis. Like today, ESPN contacted me and asked me if I could do a college hockey tournament in St. Paul at the end of March. So for those three days I’ll work for ESPN. Today there was a Timberwolves game, I’ll work for Fox today. Tomorrow I’ll do a basketball game for ESPN. It’s really just looking at the calendar and filling in dates with whatever networks call,” Cushing said. “Fox Sports North is the main employer I work with for the majority of the year, but I do a lot of work for ESPN and pretty much whoever wants to call. I even do some corporate stuff, too.”
Cushing is about to embark on his most exciting job yet – the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He leaves Feb. 1 on a 19 1/2-hour flight with stops in Chicago and Germany before finally landing in Russia. He’s staying in Russia the entire month of February, and won’t make his way back stateside until March 1.
“This will be my first Olympics. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s an event that not a lot of people get to do,” Cushing said. “Obviously we’re going to a different country a long ways away from here, so it’ll be a pretty fun experience to get over there and do that.”
Cushing will be an audio technician while in Russia, and will work for Olympic Broadcasting Services, which is run by the International Olympic Committee.
All 200 or so countries that come to the Olympics will have broadcast teams that want video feeds of every Olympic event. Rather than have hundreds of different cameras crowding around a single event, one set of cameras and one set of microphones are used to produce a pool feed, which is a generic broadcast of all the events that can be used by any of the various broadcast teams.
“It’s just a way to keep costs down and be more realistic with the space and time that they have,” Cushing said. “If every network and country showed up with their own TV truck and their own set of equipment, logistically you just couldn’t do it.”
Cushing will also be a relief position there, so anytime somebody needs a break or is sick he will fill in.
“Which is pretty cool because I’ll have the ability to go to basically every venue in Sochi. Our hotel is in the mountains, they call it the Mountain Cluster. So all of the skiing, snowboarding, all that snow stuff is up there. Then there’s the Coastal Cluster, and that’s where all of the indoor venues are – so hockey, figure skating,” Cushing said. “I’m based in the mountains, but I could be at any venue in Sochi on any given day. I won’t find out until I get there.”
This will be Cushing’s ninth year working as an audio technician. His main job is to put up microphones at the venue, which allows viewers to hear everything that goes on.
“So when you watch a Twins game on TV, every time that ball goes in the catcher’s glove or the ball hits the bat you hear that at home. Well, the only way you hear that is because we put up microphones that are pointed at home plate,” he said. “So my job is to physically go out in the venue and put out those microphones and then troubleshoot them and make sure they’re working and keep them working.”
As another example, at hockey games he helps put out 10 microphones on the glass so viewers can hear the ice skates of the players, and the puck bouncing off the sticks and around the rink.
The next position up Cushing would like to move to is an audio engineer, which is the person who sits in the TV truck and mixes the audio of the show. He has been receiving training on that for the past year.
Although that’s the natural evolution of his position, for now Cushing said he is pretty happy doing what he’s currently doing.
“I’m making a good living and I love what I do. I don’t have any complaints,” he said. “When I went to college it was my dream job so I’m pretty fortunate to say that every day I go to work I look forward to it.”