By Catherine Candisky
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Steve McKinlay staked out his spot for a tailgate outside Ohio Stadium at 6 a.m. yesterday.
It was prime real estate, with the scoreboard in clear view and some trees to shade his guests during the long day of partying ahead. Most of them were among thousands who partied outside the stadium during last night's game between Ohio State and the University of Southern California.
But shortly after the Canal Winchester man and his buddies unloaded the flat-screen television, speakers, tables and coolers, McKinlay realized he had a big problem -- no signal.
His television screen was black.
About 11 hours and $100 later, a picture finally appeared on McKinlay's television and his pals cheered.
"He saved us," McKinlay said of Bellal Sadoun, a local satellite-TV salesman who did a brisk business making the rounds at the tailgates.
"It's been nerve-racking. We have a lot of folks who don't have tickets and want to watch the game here," McKinlay said.
Armed with a cell phone and tool bag, Sadoun was in high demand yesterday as many tailgaters had difficulty hooking up their televisions to watch the game, which aired on ESPN.
"People are having problems getting a signal," Sadoun said as he sped off to save another party.
Thousands of ticketless fans flock to Ohio Stadium on game days to tailgate and enjoy the revelry -- especially for big games like last night's. They pay to park in lots all over campus and set up their camps.
Some relied on satellite dishes yesterday for the first time to watch an Ohio State game, which usually air on network television.
"We had to buy a dish for this game because it's on ESPN and you need satellite or cable. We've used rabbit ears before," said Marty Clark of Centerville, Ohio.
He and his wife, Leigh Ann, entertained about 75 of their friends and family at a tailgate yesterday. Few had tickets, and most planned to watch the game at the party.
Earlier in the week, Clark spent hours testing and becoming familiar with hooking up the satellite. Even so, it took him about 45 minutes yesterday to get a signal.
When an Ohio State parking lot attendant told Clark a nearby tailgate was having trouble, he and his son raced over with an engineer's compass and level to help.
"You have to aim the disk at a certain point in the sky. It can be tricky," Clark said.
Those still struggling to get their televisions working as kickoff approached planned to join nearby parties.
Mike Keyes, an Ohio State graduate from Columbus, was hoping to show off his new 12-foot-by-9-foot inflatable movie screen at a tailgate hosted by him and some of his former college roommates. Most planned to watch the game at the party, but it wasn't looking too promising as Keyes fiddled with two satellite dishes and a projector mounted on a ladder.
His pals didn't seem too concerned.
"We usually just watch on a regular TV; they upgraded this year," said Andrew McManus of Cincinnati. "Either way, it will work out. We can just watch it at someone else's tailgate."