By Thomas Hauser
Very few people know who Paul Hoggatt was, and that’s a shame. Paul was an integral member of the HBO family when the network was known as “the heart and soul of boxing.” He began working for the sports department in 1978. At the time of his death on July 14, 2012, he was the longest-serving employee of HBO Sports.
Paul was the A2 on HBO’s boxing telecasts, an audio engineer who sat ringside before and during fights. The last show he worked was the first bout between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley on June 9, 2012. Five weeks later, he was dead.
Paul’s work embodied the principles of how a good television team is put together. A man of his ability and character shouldn’t be forgotten. Thus, this article.
Paul Hoggatt was born in Colorado on August 5, 1954, and moved to Las Vegas in the early 1970s. John Slagle, who was his friend for four decades, recalls, “I met Paul at one of my first jobs. I was working for KLVX Channel 10 in Las Vegas as a runner. You’d call it a production assistant today. I saw this guy sweeping the studio floor, so I went over to introduce myself and asked, ‘Are a runner?’ It was Paul. And he answered, ‘Oh’ yeah. I run a lot.’ I found out later that he was a cameraman. But the floor was dirty and he wanted it clean.”
That was Paul. Co-workers and friends describe him as “a neat-freak . . . meticulous . . . a detail man . . . a perfectionist . . . very intense about his work.” There was more than a little Felix Unger in him.
On paper, the A2’s job on an HBO boxing telecast is to set up and maintain the audio equipment at ringside. That includes the announcers’ microphones, their talk-back system, everyone’s earpiece (including camera operators), and effects microphones for crowd noise, knockdown counts, ten-second warnings, and the bell. Audio cables and wires have to be properly installed and each piece of equipment must be functioning perfectly to ensure that sound is transmitted seamlessly from ringside to the production truck.
“Paul loved being a soundman,” Slagle says. “He was happy doing what he was doing. Once he became a soundman, that was it. He didn’t want to move up the ladder anymore.”
The technical area at ringside before a big fight is a challenging environment in which to set up equipment. But it was a world where Paul excelled.
Larry Merchant has spent the past four decades working in television. Reflecting on that time, he says, “It has always been amazing to me that we can go someplace and there’s a couple of trucks with a bunch of cameras and wires, and we can use that stuff to send images and sounds all over the world. Paul was one of the guys who helped make that magic happen. He was a pro, and the way he did his job made it easy for the rest of us to do ours.”
Randy Flick is the A1 on HBO’s boxing telecasts. He sits in the truck on fight night and mixes the sound as events unfold.
“When I started working for HBO in 2000,” Randy remembers “I was told about everyone on the crew. And then I was told, ‘Paul is Paul.’ He was one of the most sincere people I’ve ever known. Paul looked people in the eye when he talked with them. If he said ‘hello’, he meant it. If he complimented you on doing a job well, you knew you’d done it right.”
“And I’ll tell you something else,” Flick continues. “I’ve worked with hundreds of audio people, and Paul had the best ears of anyone I’ve ever known. He could hear the faintest hum or buzz. We’d be testing a microphone and Paul would say, ‘I hear something.’ I couldn’t hear it. But if I turned the monitor way up, there it was.”
Shep Berkon worked for Paul as an audio assistant for ten years.
“When I started at HBO,” Berkon reminisces, “I made a point of setting up quickly because there was so much equipment and there were so many things to do. Everything I set up functioned properly, but the copper wires might not have been coiled perfectly or something else might not have been precisely the way Paul thought it should be. Then, one day, Paul took me aside and said, ‘Be kind to your copper.’ That was how he felt about the equipment. ‘Be kind to your copper.’ He was very precise. He wanted everything done a certain way. When Paul was done setting up, every cable and wire was perfectly in place. And when a show was over; you know how it is. Everyone wants to get out of the arena and get something to eat or go back to their room or do whatever it is they’re going to do that night. Paul wouldn’t leave until every piece of equipment was packed up and stored where it should be.”
“But Paul was so much more than an audio engineer,” Shep continues. “I’ve never met a more caring person. You come into this world, and so many people get caught up in, ‘I’m friendly with this big-name fighter or this important executive or this powerful promoter. Paul was never into that. But whenever HBO went to an arena we’d been to before, Paul knew the name of every janitor, every electrician, all the little people. If there was a break at ringside, instead of spending ten minutes checking his email, Paul would spend those ten minutes talking with people.”
Marc Payton, who directed HBO’s boxing telecasts for three decades, recalls, “Paul was the best audio engineer I ever worked with, and I’ve worked with some great ones. He set the standard for what an A2 should be. I can’t think of an audio issue we ever had that Paul couldn’t solve. But Paul was more than an A2. If someone new joined the team, Paul was the first one to help him out. On fight night, he was HBO’s ringside general. He knew everyone’s job in addition to his own and scrutinized every last detail in the technical zone to make sure that everything was right.”
Jim Lampley echoes Payton’s thoughts, adding, “An A2 has the option of saying to himself, ‘I’m going to put the microphones where they should be, see that everything is working, and wait until something goes wrong to fix it. Nowhere is it written that the A2 has to worry about someone walking behind the announcers when we’re on camera, whether the production coordinator needs assistance, whether the ringside camera positions are secure. Paul made every bit of that and more his job. He went far above and beyond what an A2 normally does. He was always proactive in helping other people on the crew. He interfaced with arena security to make sure that HBO’s arena positions were secure. That was a choice he made because he felt personally invested in the shows. And he was allowed to do what he did because of the enormous trust that everyone on the crew had in him.”
“The people on the crew adored Paul,” Lampley continues. “He was appreciative whenever someone did something nice for him and never took other people’s kindness for granted. After every crew meal, he’d walk over and thank the servers. He had a huge influence on a generation of young production people at HBO. The only complaint I ever had about Paul was that it took me five years to get him to stop calling me ‘Mr. Lampley.’”
“Paul was the ultimate team player,” executive producer Rick Bernstein says. “He was never negative. He never had an agenda of his own. It was always about what was best for the team.”
Will Hart (HBO’s photographer at ringside) has similar memories and recalls, “Paul showed up early, set things up, looked out for everybody, and worked harder than anyone. He was the A2, but he really ran the entire technical zone for HBO. He was our hands-on guy in there. Whatever you needed, Paul made sure you got it. If you had any kind of technical issue, you went to Paul. He was always asking, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’ He always made sure I had power for my computer. Everybody needs power. Everybody is screaming for power. And Paul facilitated getting power for everybody. That was largely because he was such a great guy. But the thought also crossed my mind that Paul was concerned I might plug into his audio rack on my own one night and screw up his system. Helping me get power was the surest way to head that off.”
Paul was married and divorced twice. He didn’t have children. He thought of himself as having two families. One was comprised of his co-workers at HBO. The other consisted of a few close friends.
Paul’s best friend was Don Jacobs, who died in 2009. Don and his wife, Becky, had three sons: Dan, Jeff, and Greg. Paul spent most holidays with the Jacobs family.
Dan Jacobs now runs a small video production company in Las Vegas.
“Paul always treated people with respect,” Dan says. “He was a good listener. When you were talking with Paul, you had his full attention. There was a warmth about him. He was more than kind; he was caring. And he was gentle. He literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. There were times when I saw him catch an insect in our house and take it outside rather than kill it.”
As for Paul’s professional side, Dan says with a smile, “He was a sound man. He always told me, ‘Don’t forget the sound. If you have a picture of a waterfall, it goddamn well better sound like a waterfall.’”
Paul had his share of idiosyncracies. One of them was that he wore a hardhat at ringside. That’s because, once years ago, some arena workers had lowered a lighting truss to adjust it, and Paul whacked his head on the truss.
“He had his own personal HBO travel bag,” Dan recalls. “It must have weighed seventy pounds. There were twenty rolls of tape, wrenches, a flashlight. You name it, and it was in there. Paul was better prepared than a Boy Scout.”
The travel bag also contained three hardhats.
Paul smoked a lot. He ate the wrong foods and didn’t take care of himself as well as he should have.
“He was very loving but also very elusive,” John Slagle says. “He did his own thing.”
“Paul’s private life was his private life,” Dan explains. “There were times when he lived a pretty wild life away from work, but that was his choice.”
Paul lived alone in a small three-bedroom house.
“It looked brand new when he died,” Dan says. “And he’d lived there for thirteen or fourteen years. The carpet was pristine. When you came in, you had to take your shoes off and Paul gave you booties to wear over your socks. He didn’t want to put nails in the walls, so he never hung pictures. They were just propped up on the floor, leaning against the walls. There was very little furniture. Everything was in its place. Every piece of clothing was folded perfectly or hung just right.”
In 2012, Paul began having digestive problems. And he was losing weight. He hated going to doctors. Finally he went. The diagnosis was colon cancer that had metastasized throughout his body. Paul was told that he had about six weeks to live. That didn’t leave much time for wrapping things up. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance followed one another in quick progression. Paul went home, stayed there for a few weeks, and then went to Becky Jacobs’s home for final hospice care.
When people know they’re dying and don’t have much time left, they often think about what they want to do with their remaining days. I want to do this with my husband or wife. I want to take this trip with my children or revisit my boyhood home.
“Paul wanted to go back to work for one last telecast,” Shep Berkon remembers. “It just wasn’t possible. He couldn’t walk. His body was withering away. But that’s where his heart was.”
Bill Chaikowsky, who worked on the ring apron for HBO as a handheld-cameraman for eighteen years, visited Paul the day before he died.
“You knew the end was near,” Bill says. “Paul told me that he would have liked to have lived longer, but that he had made his peace with whatever was coming. He told me, ‘I’m not afraid.’”
And Randy Flick (the man who had been informed on his first day of work that ‘Paul is Paul’) discovered that Paul was still Paul.
“When Paul found out he was dying,” Randy remembers, “at first he didn’t want anyone to visit him. Then he said it would be all right. I went over to see him at Becky’s when I was in Las Vegas the day before a fight. He was all skin and bones by then. It was obvious that the end was near. But Paul was at peace with himself. And he was still a perfectionist. He said to me, ‘You know, Randy, I’ve never had to die before.’ He wanted to do it right.”
“Almost two years have passed since Paul died,” HBO producer Jon Crystal says. “And even now when I go to a fight, I have the feeling that someone important is missing. There are a lot of people who you like and you’re sad when they die but you don’t miss them. I miss Paul.”
Paul was proud of his accomplishments as an audio engineer. But the personal relationships that he developed within the HB0 family meant more to him than his work.
When George Foreman retired as an HBO commentator, he quietly gave gifts to a handful of people who occupied a special place in his heart. Paul was one of them. George gave Paul a gold pocketwatch.
“That was Paul’s Emmy,” HBO production manager Holly Peterman says. “He was very moved that George felt that way about him. Paul didn’t tell many people about it because he was a private person and he didn’t want anyone else’s feelings to be hurt. But George’s gift meant a lot to him.”
When Foreman remembers Paul today, the phrase that comes first to his mind is “consistent kindness.” Then George tells a story that reveals a great deal about both men.
George had the habit before and during telecasts of twisting the cord to his headset around his fingers.
“Please don't wrap it around your fingers,” Paul pled on more than one occasion.
“But Paul saw this was going to be a problem,” George recalls. “So one time, he brought me a long string with knots to keep me occupied. And for each fight after that, he brought me another.”
Foreman has a case with what he calls “precious keepsakes” at his home in Texas. There’s no title belt in the case. But one of the things in it is the last “long string with knots” given to him by Paul Hoggatt.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com . His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.