Saratoga County

A day at the races is music to his ears

John Getzler doesn’t work at Saratoga Race Course because he loves the horses.

John Getzler doesn’t work at Saratoga Race Course because he loves the horses.

Getzler is at the track for the music.

As the New York Racing Association’s chief sound engineer, Getzler is the person who selects and plays the music heard between races and in the mornings at the historic racecourse on Union Avenue.

“I love what I do,” Getzler says from his equipment-filled “office” in a trailer brimming with audio equipment and sound monitors near the Carousel Restaurant.

“Some people work here because of the horses,” he said. “I’m here for the audio.”

Getzler, 43, a Long Island resident, started working for NYRA early this year after operating his own recording studio business for a decade. He also worked audio for NYRA 10 years ago.

A lifelong musician who plays the guitar, drums and bass, Getzler sometimes plays some of his own blues tunes on the track’s sound system. People have been commenting favorably this racing meet about his selection of 1960s and 1970s rock and blues hits that he plays in bursts of 20 or 30 seconds on the public announcement system and over the television monitors.

Getzler says he knows what music racing fans like because he can watch them bob their heads, sing along, or play the air guitar on one of the 16 video cameras NYRA has around the track. His audio monitoring deck has small video screens so he can see locations live and in color.

As instructed by NYRA, he plays music without the lyrics, which he edits out. The sounds of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Chicago, Joe Cocker, the Monkeys, and Jefferson Airplane can be heard for 40 minutes before the racing starts and in small bursts about 15 minutes before each race. His sound selections are also heard via satellite feed at all locations where NYRA feeds its races.

“I play old music in the mornings,” he said. “They call me up from [Off Track Betting parlors] from all over the place. They like the music.”

Getzler has thousands of songs in his laptop computer. He digitized his entire record collection in recent years and can edit out the lyrics at a second’s notice.

Getzler says he doesn’t gamble on the horses and he doesn’t drink alcohol. He lives at a house he rented with another NYRA employee near the corner of Ludlow Street and Lake Avenue, close enough to walk to the track each day.

When NYRA moves the horses back to Belmont Park after Sept. 7, he will pack up the equipment and move with the entire crew. During the winter months, he’s the audio engineer at Aqueduct racecourse in Queens.

Most days, the long-haired audio man arrives at the track about 10 a.m. and goes home about 7:30 p.m.

Next to his trailer is an identical, fully equipped trailer that is used for Madison Square Garden productions at the track. Getzler does audio work for the “Saratoga Saturday” productions aired on MSG every Saturday during the meet.

When there is no racing, Getzler rests. “Tuesdays are for sleeping.

“I started playing the guitar when I was 5,” Getzler said. He said he had a brother 10 years his senior and his parents bought him a guitar so he wouldn’t break his brother’s instrument.

Getzler loves playing blues music — Delta Blues like those pioneered by Muddy Waters years ago.

He played with local bands on Long Island and then opened his own recording studio. With the recession, his business was very slow, so he was happy to come back for NYRA.

“I needed to go back to work,” Getzler said.

He’s been around music all his life. He received his audio certification from the Institute for Audio Research in Manhattan after a year’s effort.

About a year ago, NYRA purchased all new, state-of-the-art audio equipment. They needed someone to operate the equipment.

Everything Getzler does is live. “There is a lot of tension. It’s live,” he said. “I really like that kind of thing.”

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