Bob Muller '67 has enjoyed a thrilling life filled with entertaining stories, famous celebrities, and bright moments.
He could fill a book with all of his fascinating experiences and memories. He even has an IMDB page.
A few months ago, Bob sent in an alumni update for the "Years in Passing" section of the Saint Ignatius Magazine. The update read, "Robert Muller '67 served as the Technical Producer for the Halftime Show at Super Bowl LIV in Miami. This was his 16th consecutive Super Bowl show."
As someone who knows many Saint Ignatius alumni in sports, I was immediately interested. I didn't know Bob, but with an update like that, I had to know more.
So, I tracked down Bob and we enjoyed a 45-minute conversation over the phone. Our talk spanned decades, from his time at Saint Ignatius in the 1960s, to working at Saturday Night Live in the 1970s, to working for ESPN and David Frost in the 1980s and 1990s, and his experience as a technical producer for Super Bowl halftime shows. Bob is as fascinating a man as you might think.
Muller's career in radio production began while at Saint Ignatius. The Ohio City institution knew the Muller name well, from his father, Robert '34, and three of his uncles. His late brother, Jack '68, also attended Wildcat High. Muller fit in well and enjoyed his time at West 30th and Lorain.
Muller became involved in the amateur radio club and joined the tech crew for the Harlequins, which he remembers fondly.
"My Ignatius experience was great," Muller said. "I had a lot of fun there. During my senior year, being part of the tech crew for the Harlequins was a lot of fun. I wasn't involved much in sports, but I had a great time there. It was a great education. I still remember a lot of the teachers."
Originally a Solon native, Muller and his family moved to University Heights during his time at Saint Ignatius. That led to Muller choosing John Carroll University. After one year, Muller decided to transfer to the University of Detroit.
But during the summer, he still returned to Cleveland. Muller spent two summers in the engineering department at Channel 3 (WKYC). A major highlight came in 1968, when Muller had the chance to work as a cameraman at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the Republican National Convention in Miami.
After graduating with a degree in radio and television communication, Muller returned home. Having acquired his FCC license while working at WNOB-FM 107.9 (in the early days of FM radio) as an Ignatius student, Muller worked at WWWE and WERE, spending time with Cleveland radio legends such as Pete Franklin. For two years, Muller worked for the famous televangelist Rex Humbard, who built the "Cathedral of Tomorrow" in Cuyahoga Falls to accommodate live broadcasting and 5,400 people.
Moving to the Big Apple
In 1977, Muller moved to Chicago to work at WMAQ, an NBC owned station. He spent a year in the Windy City before moving to the Big Apple to work for NBC in New York.
At the Rockefeller Center, Muller held an important, thrilling role: Tech Manager for Saturday Night Live.
"It was live TV, so it was fun," Muller said. "It was cutting edge. A lot of people didn't understand it. Some in management didn't understand it, but went along with it. We would do a dress rehearsal from 9-10:30 pm. After the dress rehearsal with an audience, we had an hour or so to re-write things. The producers would throw out certain skits that didn't get laughs. The performers and actors they had were good enough that they could react to that, to pick up the pieces to go on. They ad-libbed a lot, and were good at it, because they all came up through improv. Then it was live with a whole new studio audience."
During his time at Rockefeller Center, Muller learned the importance of planning.
"Any of the events you work, the real key is the planning," Muller explains. "In theory, if you plan to get the right pieces, people, and equipment in place, once the show starts, there's nothing to do except if something goes wrong. Planning in advance is critical."
Muller occupied various engineering management positions, including general manager of operations for network news, before leaving NBC in 1986. Ever since, Muller has been a freelancer.
New doors open
His career pivot to freelancing has opened a lot of interesting doors since then. One of the first major opportunities to arise was some work with ESPN. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Muller worked plenty of games for the budding sports media empire. Living in New York, Muller did lots of baseball games. Occasionally, the work brought him home. Muller was at Opening Day for the christening of beautiful Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) on April 4, 1994.
Another amazing opportunity popped up that same year, as Fox came calling.
In December 1993, Fox acquired the rights from the NFL to broadcast National Football Conference (NFC) games, for a whopping $1.6 billion. It was a major coup for the up-and-coming network. In 1994, Fox hired Muller, but the technical producer only accepted on one condition: Place him on the John Madden-Pat Summerall game. Fox said yes, and Muller found himself working the A-Games on Fox.
With the Super Bowl rotating between networks, Muller had the chance to be a part of three Super Bowls with Fox: Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans, Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, and Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. Muller witnessed Brett Favre's lone championship, John Elway's final game, and the first of many titles for Tom Brady.
How's that for exciting?
Speaking of excitement, remember Super Bowl XXXVIII? You likely recall that crazy fourth quarter, ending with a game-winning Adam Vinatieri 41-yard field goal and an iconic 32-29 win for the New England Patriots. You just as likely recall the halftime show.
In an unforgettable moment that millions of Americans witnessed, Janet Jackson experienced a "wardrobe malfunction" on the stage of Reliant Stadium in Houston.
It was an infamous moment in Super Bowl history. And it led to immediate change. For Super Bowl XXXVIX, the NFL took over the production of the halftime show, to avoid another slip, hiring its own production company. Muller knew one of the producers, and with his experience in the NFL, the company hired him to be their Technical Producer, starting with Super Bowl 39 in Jacksonville with Paul McCartney.
So, thanks in part to Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, Muller has been a part of the Super Bowl Halftime Show for the past 16 years.
The job of Technical Producer has a nice ring to it. But what exactly does the job entail? First and foremost, the job involves a ton of planning.
It begins in June, with Muller as part of the production crew heading to the Super Bowl location. The work begins with measurements and surveys, hammering out the logistics. Muller returns with the team in October and December, for 3-4 days each trip. The production squad meets frequently on these trips, finding vendors and continuing to plan. A sizeable group heads to the location on January 2-3, and Muller arrives about two and a half weeks before the Super Bowl to finalize the technical plan organized. Slowly but surely, the show builds until you have 400 people on site, from talent wranglers to stage crew to lighting crew to runners.
The scale of the halftime production is immense. With a typical network Sunday game with the top broadcast team, about 12-15 cameras capture the action. At the Super Bowl, the network has about 50 cameras, many of which may never get on air. Then for halftime, the production team adds in eight special cameras on the field, handheld cameras on stage, jib cameras flying over the crowd, and crane cameras for tight shots. About 12-15 of the network cameras are used for the higher, wide-angle shots.
The race to assemble the set and get these cameras positioned begins once the teams clear the field for halftime. About 35-40 individual carts are pushed out by stagehands and led by the crew chief. This choreography is rehearsed a week and a half ahead of time on a practice field or on a high school field, or even a parking lot. This process has to be efficient and smooth, as the carts go together in a certain way. The carts need to be locked together and interconnected to power and control the audio, the lights, and the graphics on stage.
Part of Muller's job in all this is to coordinate with the network what cameras the production crew is taking from them. The halftime production team has its own production truck, so Muller is in there, making sure that the feeds to and from the network are working flawlessly. Communication is critical, as it can help to shore up a problem before the audience notices anything is wrong.
"During the halftime, you stand there and hold your breath," Muller says. "For 7 minutes, it's heart-pounding as you wait to see if everything powers up. Then as the concert begins, you're watching the monitors and the output of our truck. Once it hits the network, you can see feed coming back from New York. You just watch to make sure it keeps working."
Each halftime show presents its own challenges. For example, the Maroon 5 show at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta caused some logistical issues, with all of the drones used to create an effect. Challenges for audio or lighting are affected by whether the venue is open or closed, and what kind of roof the stadium has.
Fortunately, Muller has mostly enjoyed great weather during his halftime shows. The lone exception was Super Bowl XLI with Prince, when rain poured down in Miami. And even then, Prince's rendition of Purple Rain furthered his legend in an iconic performance.
Muller plans to be in Tampa in February for his 17th Super Bowl Halftime Show.
"You're one of my mates, Bob."
Beyond his work in sports, Muller has worked with a wealth of famous figures in recent history. His encounters came through his work with one of the most well-known interviewers of all-time, David Frost.
Frost is most famous for interviewing former President Richard Nixon in 1977, three years after Nixon resigned the presidency. Frost's interview subjects are a Who's Who of politics and society, so Muller's experience is fascinating.
Muller connected with Frost in 1988, helping launch his show, "Next President with David Frost," a 13-part series. Frost interviewed each candidate for one hour, with a different candidate each week. The show evolved into "Talking with David Frost," a monthly, hour-long show for PBS. Frost produced 44 shows over four years.
One of Muller's favorite tales from this experience happened in London.
"We did a story on Sir John Gielgud, a Shakespearan actor who used to hang around with Sir Laurence Olivier," Muller begins. "David called me and said, 'We're interviewing Sir John Gielgud on Sunday, March 3. Put a crew together and find a location in London,' David believed in interviews where people are comfortable, so I found a location at a theatre, booked the cameras, and set it up. On the day of the interview, David and Sir John showed up and began. Sir John said, 'This theatre means a lot to me. My first Shakespeare performance was on this stage. That was cool."
Muller met lots of famous folks on location with Frost, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Muller met General Norman Schwarzkopf in Saudia Arabia after the Gulf War, Margaret Thatcher in London, Anthony Hopkins, and even Elton John. As Muller recalls, both John and Hopkins were nice guys.
Muller remembers Frost, who passed away in 2013, as a wonderful man.
"After Frost was knighted, I called him," Muller says. "I asked him, 'Do I have to call you Sir David now?' He responded, 'No, you're one of my mates, Bob.' He was such a great guy."
The memories and awards continue
Fast forward to today, and Muller is still rubbing elbows with the rich and famous. Muller is the Technical Manager for the Tony Awards every year. He worked on three of the NBC live musicals, including The Sound of Music Live!, for which he won an Emmy award. He's worked on the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show; "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial" on January 18, 2009; the gymnastics competition at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta; and the speedskating and figure skating portions of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Muller has literally witnessed history and met the movers and shakers of the 20th and 21st Centuries. How many among us can say that?
"I've had a wonderful career," Muller says. "My friends keep saying I should write a book."
If you write one, Bob, I'll buy one of your first copies. And plenty more Ignatians would do the same.