ESPN Films

ESPN’s news coverage of 1989 quake an aspect of new 30 for 30 film

More ESPN coverage reflections
Within 15 minutes of the Oct. 17, 1989 Lomo Prieta earthquake hitting the Bay Area, ESPN was on the air providing the first national coverage. In 2013, Front Row asked Bob Ley, who was the host of ESPN’s World Series news coverage at the time, to reflect on the experience. That post includes a two-page reproduction of UPLINK, the ESPN company newsletter at the time, that has details about the coordinated efforts between the Bay Area and Bristol, Conn. headquarters. Ley, Chris Berman, Barry Sacks (see main story), Jeff Israel and Henry Rousseau are among current ESPN employees who worked on some aspect of the Bay Area earthquake coverage 25 years ago.

ESPN’s Barry Sacks was a SportsCenter producer on site at Game 3 of the 1989 A’s-Giants World Series at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park when the Lomo Prieta earthquake hit.

As the 25th anniversary of the Bay Area earthquake approaches Friday, ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 will premiere The Day The Series Stopped tonight (10 ET, ESPN), which features an interview with 32-year ESPN employee Sacks.

Now a senior coordinating producer at ESPN, Sacks reflects on how he and his network colleagues provided the first live national news coverage after the earthquake – with a huge assist from eventual Baseball Hall Of Famer Joe Torre.

Where were you when you felt the earthquake and what was going through your mind when you realized what was happening?
We had just gotten off the air with SportsCenter and I was still in the production truck. It was fairly obvious what was happening, even though most of us had never been in an earthquake before.

Thoughts quickly turned to going back to doing live TV — we were the only entity that did not lose total power [see sidebar]. Joe Torre, who was working for us [as an analyst] at the time, was the first person back to the truck asking what he could do. I assigned him a photographer and a producer and told him to go back into the stadium and get whatever sound he could.

How did Torre, who was between MLB managerial stints at the time, do as a rookie news reporter?
Joe was outstanding. When the quake hit, he took it on his own to get back to the truck to see what he could do. He was great, energetic, and obviously very knowledgable and was a great addition both during quake coverage and the whole Series. He also had some great restaurant suggestions on the road.

Take us through some of the conversations and questions going on amongst you and your production colleagues after the earthquake.
What was a great advantage for us was that all the other television networks and trucks were parked on the other side of the stadium. Since we were the only truck on our side, they decided to put the police compound in our lot.

That provided us – and specifically host Bob Ley – direct access to the police and information. Through the help of Ops Producer Ron Semiao, we also quickly got the feed from the local ABC station so we had a constant flow of pictures we could go to live of the Bay Bridge and the damage happening throughout the city.

What was your ride back to your hotel like once you wrapped?
It was crazy. Police escort, fires going around the city, looting. When I got back to the hotel, it was like going back in time. There were people in the lobby of the hotel with tin foil on antennas trying to get better reception and candles burning because there was no power. I remember looking out my hotel room window at the city and seeing darkness and fires and every so often the building would shake from the aftershocks.

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