Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Voice In The Headset

If you scroll down through the contacts in TigerBlog's cell phone, you'll come to an entry called "PTruck." It's between "Pizza Star" and "Putukian," the first being self-explanatory, the second being Margot Putukian, Princeton Athletics' team physician.

PTruck is a transliterative version of "Pietruch," someone TigerBlog has known for years and yet never actually met. And then today, unbelievably, there was "Pietruch," in the obituary section of the local paper.

Gary Pietruch was the engineer for almost every Princeton athletic event TigerBlog has broadcast for the last, oh, 10 years maybe. Every time TB had a game to do, Gary would be the one in the studio, connecting the broadcast from the game site to the airwaves.

TigerBlog spoke to him all the time and never once actually saw him in person. When TB stumbled upon the obituary, he was at a total loss for words. In fact, when TB first saw it and saw that he was 52 years old, the first thought was that it had to be the father, since TB would have guessed that Gary was much younger. Even after reading that he had graduated from Ewing High and was active on the alumni committee there and that he had then gone to Mercer County College and Temple, and even after seeing that it listed his passion as radio, TigerBlog didn't believe it was the same person.

There have been many occassions in the 20 years that TB has been broadcasting Princeton sports that there has been worry about the engineer. Will he show up? Will he be on time? What if he isn't? Then what? How are we going to get on the air?

With Gary, there was never any of that. In fact, during men's lacrosse broadcasts, we had developed a routine. TB would get to the location of the game and call in to connect the radio equipment. This would then enable TB to hear what was playing on the station at that moment.

Eventually, around 40 minutes before gametime, TigerBlog would call into the studio and ask for Gary. He was there, of course, 100% of the time. He'd always answer the phone the same way, with an elongated calling of TB's first name, starting high and then getting deeper.

We'd exchange a few pleasantries, and then we'd do a check of levels. Once that was done, he'd tell me that he was playing the open in 15 minutes or whatever it was, and that would be it. TB would put his headset on in 14:30 and then go when the cue was played.

During the games, TigerBlog would often hear Gary's voice through the headset, reminding him to take a station ID at the top of the hour or that we were getting either ahead or behind in breaks or sometimes even to comment on how the game was going. The only time TB even got remotely mad at him was when a two-minute break would be requested and Gary would only put on one minute of commercials. In the grand scheme of things, that's not quite a big deal.

TB could often imagine his sitting in the studio on a beautiful day, listening to a game that he often said he had never seen and knew little about. It's a pity that it took until reading his obit to realize that the studio was where he loved to be.

After reading Gary Pietruch's obit, TigerBlog felt like he'd lost a friend. Perhaps he was a friend TB had never met, but a friend nonetheless.

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