When Rose Mirakian-Wheeler says, “Get me Pasta,” into her headset microphone, she’s not calling for takeout from the North End. She’s ordering a NESN cameraman to get a tight shot of Bruins All-Star winger David Pastrnak.
As NESN’s coordinating director for Bruins hockey, she selects everything that viewers see. She is currently the only woman directing NHL games for television.
During each home broadcast, she can be found in a mobile production truck parked behind TD Garden. For the last 21 years, she has been a woman calmly giving orders in a mostly man’s world. But she doesn’t think of herself as a trailblazer.
“If I’m an inspiration, then I’m happy about that,” she says. “I didn’t think, ‘Oh, I’m going to be the only woman.’ I just wanted to do the job.”
The inside of the truck looks like a set straight out of “Star Wars.” A long wall of monitors can be divided up to offer 144 images. There are hundreds of color-keyed buttons that activate cameras, replay machines, and highlights packages. The truck is wired with nearly a mile of cable.
There are 16 people — producers, graphics operator, engineer, technical director, score box operator, tape operator, audio — working in tight quarters. The walls and ceilings are padded for soundproofing. The lights are usually turned down low.
“I like it really dark so the monitors pop out,” says Mirakian-Wheeler.
Although high-definition has made hockey easier to watch, Mirakian-Wheeler knows that it’s not like watching it in person with a 180-degree view. She considers herself an artist; she loves to vary the point of view and tries to not overuse the center ice camera.
“That’s very boring to me,” she says.
Mirakian-Wheeler works in synch with the producer, Brian Zechello, who coordinates all content of the broadcast. During games, there are countdowns that sound like NASA launches. Mirakian-Wheeler has a lot to choose from, as there are more than 20 camera locations in the Garden.
For a newcomer, it can sound confusing, because each staffer’s headset can be set to hear the producer, the director, the video photographers, or the on-air talent (play-by-play man Jack Edwards and color analyst Andy Brickley). There also are 20 microphones to capture the sounds inside the Garden.
But Mirakian-Wheeler’s soothing voice easily stands out.
“Rose is pretty laidback, and she’s just kind of right there with you,” says Joseph Francazio, who operates a joystick under Loge Section 15 that can pan a robotic camera mounted in the penalty box. “Some guys take a real sort of authoritative point of view, like, ‘I’m in charge,’ but Rose, she’s great. She’s right there with you talking to you. She’s one of the guys.’’
Her path to the director’s chair was unusual. She studied dance (and television) at Emerson College and wanted to be a modern dancer. When that didn’t pan out, she waitressed and bartended before landing a job as receptionist at a fledgling NESN in 1984, its first year on the air.
She answered the phones at the office above the old bowling alley at Fenway Park. She worked hard, stayed late, and tagged along on assignments.
She worked college soccer games, lacrosse, and Hockey East. She was part of the NESN crew that broadcast Roger Clemens’s 20-strikeout game on April 29, 1986.
“I sat and I watched games, and you know I did much to learn what I could, and I think I gradually got better,” she says.
With Zechello, who serves as the traffic cop of the broadcast, they typically put in 12- to 15-hour days and travel on the road with the Bruins. Both have Stanley Cup rings.
Zechello’s background is equally eclectic. He grew up working as a dishwasher, busboy, and waiter at Bobby Hackett’s Restaurant in Pembroke.
“If you worked there on Thanksgiving Day, in that kitchen, and you saw the amount of food and the pressure and how fast everything went out, it’s very similar to what we do here,” he says. “If you can work in a kitchen, you can work in a TV truck job.”
The duo have certainly paid their dues.
There was the University of Maine hockey game at Orono where the satellite dish was buried in a snowstorm. Zechello left the truck to shovel snow.
“But that’s part of learning,” he says, “because nothing really can rattle you after you’ve experienced those things.”
Mistakes, although rare, still happen. Earlier this season, Mirakian-Wheeler looked down for a fraction of a second and missed a Bruins goal against Dallas.
“You lose sleep over it,” she says.
Another time, an equipment malfunction resulted in off-color comments being broadcast live on YouTube.
But in 2011, they joyously held the Stanley Cup over their heads in Vancouver with NESN cameraman John Martin, who died last October after battling ALS.
. . .
It’s nearing game time for an evening game against Buffalo, and Mirakian-Wheeler and Zechello have been in the trailer since midday.
Game time is special, even after all these years.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” says Zechello.
Mirakian-Wheeler looks at the announcers on her monitor and makes a face.
“Can you tighten up the shot for me, please?” she says. “Fix your hair Jack, please.”
“Oh, the voice of authority,” says Edwards with a laugh as he pats down his hair.
“Can we move Jack’s coffee, please?” she says.
The national anthem alone features 17 different cuts.
For the next 2½ hours, it’s well-programmed mayhem.
But that’s just between them. Even if there’s hell breaking loose in the truck, they make sure the booth doesn’t have to worry about it.
Usually Zechello and graphics editor Patrick White have the replays ready before Brickley even asks for them.
“It’s so much fun to work with these guys because all I have to do is my research and show up,” says Edwards. “I almost feel guilty.”
Edwards and Brickley broadcast six levels above the ice. Edwards does play-by-play with a ton of information literally at his fingertips. He credits his 13-year-old son Elijah for helping him build out a seventh-generation processor that is accessed by three touch-screen monitors directly in front of him and instantly updated by NESN statistician Scott Shore.
The passionate Edwards stands for the entire broadcast.
Brickley, the former Bruin who once scored a goal by having a Ray Bourque slapshot ricochet off his nose, has adapted well to television. He says broadcasting is a lot easier than playing — “physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
“It’s very important that I have a real good rapport with the producer,” he says. “If he sees the game the way I see it, our replays will be tremendous.”
Sometimes, however, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. After David Backes’s game-winning goal, Brickley calmly says off air, “I got too many people talking to me at once. I can’t understand any of you.”
But for the TV audience, the goal, the replays, and the graphics are seamless.
And the Bruins win, which always makes the home crew happy.
After the game, Mirakian-Wheeler and Zechello are totally wired. Neither will sleep for hours.
“We all have fun,” she says. “It’s the best job, right?”
The 64-foot production truck is parked behind the TD Garden next to the Zakim Bridge.