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The right frequency: Bemidji company provides expertise for title game

Ben Stowe from Bemidji is in charge of North Dakota State University’s technology needs for the FCS title game today in Frisco, Texas. David Samson | Forum News Service1 / 2
Ben Stowe checks out FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas. David Samson | Forum News Service2 / 2

FRISCO, Texas – Some aspects of a football game don’t garner a lot of fanfare.

But the X’s and O’s of technology – mainly the secure, uninterrupted audio of a coaching staff’s intercom system or video for team meetings – can be as important as players who are blocking, tackling, kicking or running with the ball.

That’s how Ben Stowe makes his living.

It’s a job that has taken Stowe, the 37-year-old president of NLFX Professional in Bemidji, around the world.

Today it takes Stowe to Frisco’s FC Dallas Stadium, home of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game.

“He is really just one of a handful that specializes in football communications,” said Michael Doucot, a regional sales manager for Burnsville-based Bosch Communications Systems in Burnsville. Bosch makes the Telex intercom systems that Stowe sells and services to clients.

“He’s the hardest working guy I know in the industry,” Doucot said.

One of Stowe’s main clients, North Dakota State University, is aiming to win a second consecutive national championship in a rematch with Sam Houston State. To help give the Bison the best chance at winning, Stowe made the trip to Texas. He also made the trip last year.

His expertise with communication technology – Stowe started the company at age 17 in 1984 – also means he’s responsible for coordinating and assigning frequencies used by both teams, security personnel, stadium announcers and national television and radio broadcasters, including ESPN and Westwood One.

“When you start talking about radio frequencies, there’s only so much air space out there,” Stowe said this week.

And it’s a bit more complicated than simply having enough frequencies.

NLFX, which employs about 20 people, makes sure each user’s frequencies are harmonic – without causing interference or interruption to other users –  and that the frequencies are encrypted for privacy.

“We’ve taken the guiding role to make sure everybody’s stuff works,” Stowe said of NLFX’s job at the game. “The only way you ensure one person’s works is to make sure everybody’s works.”

The behind-the-scenes work plays a role to the millions watching and listening to the game.

“On game day, the crucial thing is to make sure those people back home watching the game on TV can hear it,” he said.

And it may mean even more to the players and coaches on the field.

The National Football League, like NDSU, uses Telex intercom products. Doucot said communications can’t be understated in the high stakes of college and professional football.

“It’s overlooked until it doesn’t work,” he said. “As soon as there are problems with communications, everybody is screaming.”

In 2012, NDSU defeated Sam Houston by a 17-6 score.

Stowe noted that the game came down to six or seven plays.

“Every one of those plays is extremely critical,” Stowe said. “We need to make sure the coaches can communicate and make the correct play calls to the best of their ability.”

During this year’s game, Stowe again will be on the NDSU sideline, out of view but an integral part of what’s happening on the field.

“Everybody on that sideline has a job to do,” Stowe said. “The doctors have a job to do. The logistics people have a job to do. The coaches have a job to do. Every player has a job to do.

“And if they don’t do their job, it hurts your chances of winning. My job is to make sure the technology works.”

While the game will play out on the national stage, Stowe said NLFX – self-described as a dealer of audio, video, lighting, and intercom equipment – handles jobs of all sizes.

Among the list of NLFX clients are churches, health care facilities, nuclear power plants, and events and entertainment centers like Bemidji’s Sanford Center and the Fargodome. Even the U.S. Department of Defense contracts with NLFX.

Stowe said he spends about 200 days each year traveling for work, which includes clients in Europe and Asia.

“We’ve become well accustomed to travel,” Stowe said.

Still, some clients like NDSU, want to have someone on hand at crucial moments –  which is why Stowe flew this week with NDSU’s football team to Texas.

“You want to give them the best possible chance to win,” Stowe said. “When you do, you feel like a part of that.”

NLFX’s work with the university goes beyond coaching intercoms. In addition to work at the Fargodome, Stowe has installed equipment on campus at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse and regularly has access to equipment while coaches are talking game strategy and reviewing video.

“They come to us all the time with technology issues,” Stowe said. “We love technology. We’re passionate about it. We’re passionate about helping people.”

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

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