Janis Murray is one of the few people in the world of sports who perfectly captures the big game everyone else tries to put into words.
She’s not a writer, putting her fingers to the keyboard, though. She’s a camera operator, putting her eye to the lens.
She’s worked some of the biggest sporting events in the last 37 years, including four Super Bowls, two Olympic Games and four World Series match-ups. That iconic shot of Joe Carter rounding the bases and pumping his fists after he blasted a walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series? That was Murray’s heads up, perfectly timed “play” behind the camera.
After covering countless NCAA basketball tournaments, including four Final Fours, Murray is now making history as the first woman to ever run the play-by-play camera during the Final Four. The best part? Millions of people will be able to see her work during CBS Sports and Turner Sports’ coverage when the remaining four teams battle it out in San Antonio.
“She’s as good as anybody who’s ever done play-by-play. I never have to worry about her missing anything,” said Bob Fishman, legendary director and producer for CBS Sports, and the network’s lead director for the NCAA tournament. “She’s not doing the play-by-play because she’s a woman and we’re trying to make a statement. It’s just that she’s that good, and she was the logical choice to put in that position.”
Her set-in-stone goal for the work she does?
“I want to make sure people feel like they’re not watching on TV,” she said. “I want them to feel like they’re there live, and sitting right beside me. I’m just trying to get the shots that tell the whole story.”
From Horses to the Camera
The 61-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri was never an athlete growing up, and she had no intentions of shooting some of sports’ most colossal moments. She rode horses, and started off as an equine science major in college. However, she switched her major after wandering into the radio and television department at Park College (now Park University) in Parkville, Missouri.
Immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree in communications, she landed her first job in television as a production supervisor with American Cablevision, a cable television franchise based in Kansas City. That’s where she got her start running the camera during small local sporting events.
Following her stint there, she went freelance in 1984, and never looked back. A local company called her to run the camera for the Kansas City Royals, and since then, she has been at the helm for more than 3,000 college and professional baseball games, covering for a variety of networks such as CBS, ESPN, and FOX. In fact, she’s about to begin her 35th year filming Royals baseball for the visiting team telecasts.
“If you’re a camera person, male or female, and you can do baseball, I know you’re good,” said Fishman, who is working his 36th Final Four. “It’s so difficult to track a baseball. The speed of the game, the situational parts of the game where you need to have knowledge of what’s going on, and to be able to track that ball while keeping the camera focused; if you can do that, you can do any sport. And, Janis does it flawlessly.”
That’s why Fishman called on Murray to run the camera during the 1993 World Series when one of his regular camera operators couldn’t work that particular weekend.
“He’s kept me in mind ever since,” Murray said.
In fact, she’s been a permanent fixture on his NCAA basketball and NFL Sunday football crew for CBS for more than 15 years.
As for March Madness, arguably one of sports’ most exciting tournaments, the play-by-play camera is how television viewers see about 90 percent of the game. It’s that center camera that gives people the best full-court perspective.
Murray has worked every other camera during March Madness, and the play-by-play camera on Sundays during the NFL season, so it was a no-brainer for Fishman to slide her into the position when his regular Final Four play-by-play cameraman retired last year.
“Everybody on the crew loves Janis because she has a great work ethic, she gets along with everyone, she sets up her own equipment and she’s prepared beyond belief,” Fishman said. “She’s one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.”
Bringing Games Into Homes
While Murray didn’t play sports during her childhood, she grew up watching the Chiefs and the Royals. She was also a big fan of the Olympics and the Super Bowl.
“I used to watch the Super Bowl and think, ‘how do those camera people get to a Super Bowl and not be so nervous?’ she said. “Now I know the answer to that question: You just have to pay attention.”
Murray and her colleagues arrive to the stadium well before players and coaches, and stay long after the concession stands close down.
Prior to the Final Four games, for example, Murray will get to the Alamodome in the morning to unload the trucks, check cameras and get equipment set up. Then, she’ll run through a meeting with Fishman and the rest of the crew, where they’re made aware of various storylines and who to watch for.
“After lunch, I’m pretty much on camera after that,” Murry said. “I get all my paperwork set up, identify players and then the show rehearsals start an hour before game. It’s as much preparation work as anything.”
During the game, not only does she have to keep her eyes sharp, but she has to keep her ears tuned in, too.
“On my headset, I have to listen to the director, other camera operators and the announcers all at the same time, so we can get the best shots. That’s a lot of different voices, but I’m used to it.”
Following the game, she spends about two hours breaking down equipment and loading trucks.
It’s as physical a job as anything, and both Murray and Fishman speculate that we don’t see more women who are camera operators because the job requires a lot of heavy lifting, extraordinarily long hours and much more traveling than any work required of those in front of the camera.
“The challenges, at least for me, are the physical ones after being in this business for a few decades,” Murray said. “With football, standing out in freezing cold weather, or with baseball games, where it’s 100 degrees and you’re going into the 13th inning, that can be tough. But, I love my job because you don’t know who’s going to win, who’s going to lose or what the next big play is going to be, and that’s what I find exciting. I love trying to make you at home experience the same energy as those in the building.”
As for how she’s worked in the business for so long?
“I just show up on time, work hard to be the best I can be, respect my colleagues and stand up for myself in difficult times,” she said.
It’s no wonder her career has never faded to black.
You can watch both the Final Four (3/31) and the National Championship Game (4/2) on TBS.