The view from my couch

Behind the Microphone with Doug Rice, Performance Racing Network
by Cheryl Lauer, August 3, 2006

One of the two networks who bring us the wonderful radio coverage of NASCAR races is the Performance Racing Network or PRN as most folks know it. PRN broadcasts all the races from the Speedway Motorsports Inc. or Bruton Smith-owned race tracks on the NASCAR circuit - places like Lowes Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol International Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, etc.

I was fortunate enough to meet PRN's co-anchor, Doug Rice, a couple year's ago while he was moonlighting on his off weekends as the pit road reporter for the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series TV broadcasts for the SPEED Channel. Over the years, I've found Doug to be extremely professional in his job, but also very friendly and approachable. When I decided to start this new feature for Speedcouch, he was the first person I thought of interviewing to kick off this series of articles. Doug was very gracious to share some time with me recently and allowed me to bombard him with questions about his background, the creation of PRN, and radio production in general.

Doug was born and raised in the heart of NASCAR country. He was actually born on the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Doug explained his parents were dairy farmers on the Estate, but they moved to Salisbury, NC when he was 11 years-old and he still lives in Salisbury today.

When I asked Doug how he got into radio broadcasting, he explained that he began working at the campus radio station while attending college at Appalachian State University, in Boone, NC. In fact, Doug went to college specifically to study speech and broadcasting. He's proud to say he was in the first class who graduated from Appalachian with a degree in Speech/Broadcasting in 1977. While working on the campus radio station, he also traveled around the country on the speech team. He says, "Talking whether on the microphone or in front of people has always been a love of mine.” It's quite obvious by the great job Doug does on PRN and the SPEED channel, that this is still true today.

Doug's work in campus radio was primarily as an announcer, doing the evening and morning shows. He admits he really didn't care that much about sportscasting until he started working at WSTP/WRDX back in Salisbury. “I was the nighttime DJ and they did a lot of high school football and basketball.” They had an opening when a person left who was covering the school football game of the week. Doug had "played around with it a little bit before", but really didn't know that much about it. "When they asked me if I would like to try it, I gave it a shot and found out it was really more to my liking than being a DJ. It really woke me up and I really enjoyed it.” At that time in North Carolina it was before the professional sports teams of the Carolina Panthers, the Hornets, or the Bobcats. Doug explained "the only big league sport we had in the state was stock car racing.” At that time, there was a lot of stock car racing in North Carolina; two races at North Wilkesboro, two at Rockingham, two at Charlotte, plus Busch races at Orange County Speedway twice a year as well as Hickory - Just a lot of racing to cover. Doug started covering racing for ABC or what they call “stringing” sports for any network that just wanted little short reports on the races. He would go to the races and file these reports afterwards. “That got me more into the racing game.”

Doug worked met and worked with his current PRN co-anchor, Mark Garrow, at Capital Radio networks. Mark put together a network to do all the Busch races that the Motor Racing Network (MRN) wasn't covering at the time. “So we would cover the Busch races at places like Hickory, Volusia County, South Boston and all those tracks that don't have Busch races anymore - we'd go and do the radio broadcasts at those tracks.” That's how he got started broadcasting NASCAR races.

In 1988, he got an invitation from Ed Clark who was then the head of events at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Ed asked Doug to come down and work with PRN and “I've been here ever since.” Since 1994, Doug and Mark Garrow have been co-anchors for PRN's NASCAR broadcasts. “We've used other people - Mark Allen worked with us as an anchor for a while. Also, the late, Larry Nuber, but Mark and I have worked so many different races and everything, that we just naturally work together so well.”

In response to my question about when PRN was created, Doug explained that in the mid-70s, it was organized by a group of people in the race business at Bristol, Tennessee. PRN initially did the races at Bristol, the old Nashville Speedway, and two other tracks. At one point in the mid to late 70s, PRN had about eight races they did a year. Then through acquisitions, PRN became the property of Charlotte Motor Speedway. MRN took over all the other races, and for several years, PRN only did the two Charlotte races. Shortly after Doug joined PRN in 1988, Bruton Smith started buying other speedways. “He bought Atlanta first, then I think Bristol next, then built Texas, and then purchased Infineon” [Sears Point at the time]. These purchases “naturally moved us up the ladder, to do more races.” After that, PRN expanded to do several racing related radio shows: Fast Talk with Benny Parsons, which is now 15 years old, then the Pit Reporters, and Sunday Drive.

I knew that Doug became President at PRN in 2005 so asked him how that came about and what did the job entail? “I think through longevity - I'd been here 17 years.” He went on to explain he'd hired a very successful Sales Director and he wanted to give him a promotion to Vice President of Sales. Humpy Wheeler said they couldn't have two Vice Presidents and Doug thought “he's not going to get a promotion…” Then Humpy said they'd only do that if Doug got promoted to President. Doug said “alright, works for me.” He explained he now oversees everything that the network touches. Even sales, although he's not directly responsible for it, falls under Doug's umbrella. The Affiliations Department - people who line up the stations for PRN report back to him. The production arm of what PRN actually puts out on the broadcasts - how it sounds, how it works, that all comes back to Doug. “I see my role is to make sure that all the departments of PRN have what they need to do their job the best. They come to me whether it's equipment requests, personnel, money, time, a commitment. Then It's my job to go out and get what they need to make sure they can do there job well. If I can do that, then I see that as my biggest role.” Then Doug laughingly added, “And I still get to be on the air, which is a bonus.” PRN has nine full-time employees, but when they travel, they have a staff of about 15, because all of their announcers are freelance.

I explained to Doug that when I attend NASCAR races, I've listened to the “raw feed” of both PRN and MRN on my scanner. I asked him to explain how a radio production works compared to TV. I knew it was a little more bare bones, but to the listener, the radio crews work so smoothly that it appears seamless. Doug explained that PRN has a producer/director, Alicia Lingerfeldt, who produces the shows. “She's sort of a conduit for information during the broadcast. The pit reporters talk to her. The turn announcers talk to her. Our technical director– who actually plays the commercials and mixes the sound talks to her. She listens to all that and then gives myself and Mark Garrow direction.”

Doug explained that Alicia will hand him a card that says “Network break” which means it's time to go to commercial. “She's not back counting me into the spot, but when I stop, the commercial goes. And as we're getting ready to come back out of commercial, she's setting up traffic and she'll say 'Mark - want you to take it out. Let's pick up the battle for 3rd,” or 'Doug you take it out – we'll reestablish where we are and then we need to go to Pat Patterson in the pits. She's 'traffic copping' the whole broadcast and that's one part of it.” As they follow the cars around the track, Mark and Doug in the booth will “hand off the race call” to Chuck Carlin and Rob Albright, the turn announcers. Doug explained how this is all done “just through a sense of rhythm and familiarity, like 'And they're side by side going into turn 1'… Chuck knows as soon as I'm through with my set-up and Rob does his part, then he picks it up and takes it to a certain plot on the track. He completes his set-ups and the next guy picks it up.”

I explained how listening to the radio broadcasts on the scanner is so different than the raw feeds of the TV broadcasts at the track - because I could tell the producer wasn't queuing each person. Doug explained the “pass off” to the next guy, I easily recognized what you hear every week on the radio. I've heard that many times. It just works so well, it's amazing. Doug confirmed “It's not like television with 'standby one, ready one - go…' In radio, they just know. “They know from us: Mark and myself in the booth. Okay we're back in the play by play mode. We're going to follow this group of cars. They can tell just by our voice inflection. Okay, they want us to pick this up and go with it.” I can see how the crew really has to know each other and know the tone of the others' voices and all. Doug pointed out “It really works if you have a crew of people who have worked together.”

The radio folks do a wonderful job! Since I got XM radio two years ago, I've been able to hear both PRN and MRN whenever they broadcast a race and have really come to appreciate the radio broadcasts, especially the pit reporters. I know they are assigned to cover a certain group of cars (just like the TV pit reporters). What seems different with radio is that the pit reporters cover everybody on pit stops; not just the big stars. Radio seems to really pick up where TV leaves off these days. I've spent more time this season listening to PRN or MRN than I've ever done before and mostly because of the professional and comprehensive job folks like Doug do each week.

I pointed out to Doug that he and Mark seem to always sound like they are having so much fun doing their jobs. They always try to involve the listeners in their non-racing shows. Particularly on their qualifying shows, post-race shows and rain-delay shows - soliciting calls and emails while they are on the air. The Atlanta weekend this year, their rain-delay show was just hilarious as are their post-race shows. Doug says "We try to have fun with it." But, to me, the important thing is they're never over the top silly like some of things on TV these days. Taking calls and emails from fans is a lot more interactive. That's also a big difference we see between MRN and PRN.

Since my interest has shifted a bit from NASCAR to USAR Hooters Pro Cup racing, I asked Doug when he began working with that series as a pit reporter. He said it was probably at the very inception when USAR first started on their first TV contract (which I believe was with ESPN). Doug started out in the anchor position for the series for two or three races. They did the broadcasts live back then and he moved to being the pit reporter for three or four years. “We were doing the races live then, so I could actually talk to the booth and it was a really different role.” He explained he stopped working with the USAR series for a few years, and then bumped into Anita Hallman, who runs the current production company for the USAR series. She was at Lowes Motor Speedway, where PRN is headquartered and asked him if he'd be interested in working on the USAR broadcasts again and he said he'd love to do it. “They were nice enough to work me in to do a few races each year. I really enjoy it - it's such a fun series.”

As I've always noticed as a fan in the pits, USAR seems so much more fun and relaxed than the NASCAR races today. Doug agreed. “When you go into the NASCAR Nextel Cup garage, it's so tense. And well it should be, because it's big business. There's just a huge amount at stake. If I need to talk to Jeff Gordon, I have to work through two or three people to get to Jeff. Not that Jeff is difficult and most of the drivers are very gracious to work with, but it takes a lot to get there. I'm one of the lucky ones; they all know me. They're as nice to me as possible, but still I come into the USAR garage, and if I need to talk to Benny Gordon [2005 Champion], I walk up to his trailer and he puts down his sandwich and he comes outside and talks to us and then he goes back in. I like the sense of family and how relaxed it is. Now once that green flag falls, it's very intense and they're fighting and clawing at each other for two hours. But once it's over, you see teams help each other pack up and go home. It reminds me of what the Busch Series used to be like 20 years ago. I like the pace, and the racing is very good and it's very competitive. Sometimes you have shows that are stinkers, but you're going to have that on any level. You're gonna have that in Nextel cup and USAR, but more times than not it's very competitive. I think there are some very talented drivers. I think Clay Rogers is an excellent race car driver - Benny Gordon, Shane Huffman. They are all very high caliber drivers and I'm sure there are others, but these guys are in equipment to showcases their talent the best.”

From the enthusiasm Doug shows about USAR, you can really tell how much he enjoys his “side job” as pit reporter for many of their races. As a broadcast professional, he seems to see the same things in the series that longtime NASCAR fans see – great short track racing where drivers are still down-to-earth and willing to take the time to talk to either part of the SPEED broadcast team or even a regular fan like me. I count myself very fortunate that attending USAR races has enabled me to meet Doug Rice and then to get to know him a bit more while researching this article.

Doug has one other job that he does, which of course is covering racing. This weekend, as he's done almost every year since 1994, he will be co-anchoring the radio coverage of the Brickyard 400 for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. So if you are fortunate enough to get their broadcast of qualifying on Saturday or the race on Sunday, you can listen to Doug's work with a little more appreciation. Since now you know a little bit more about how Doug works and how radio broadcasts work.

Again, I want to thank Doug Rice for taking some time to take me into his world and the world of PRN.

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