Liar, Liar, Hair on Fire
Why would anyone
watch a report about cell phones at the gas pump that make people's
hair catch on fire? To see the surveillance camera tape of a woman ACTUALLY
BURN at the PUMP N SAVE? News you can use to PROTECT YOURSELF from catching
on fire while filling your tank?
What frightens you? Afraid of having your identity stolen? Your kid
stolen? Would you tune in at 5, 6, 10, or 11PM? News directors and sweeps-series
producers count on it.
If people die sorting your mail, do you care? How about accidents that
injure atomic workers? Race car drivers? Soldiers? You care? Statistically,
some are supposed to die, right?
Who would watch a report on factory workers who lost fingers and feet
because they didn't receive enough safety training? Would you watch,
could you care, if the factory were a tv station and the workers were
news techicians, reporters, production assistants, or interns?
are injured. The same accident happens every year on TV Live Shots when
operators raise the mast into power lines. Four people have died. There
are more trucks out there, with fewer trained operators, doing more
When I pitched a story about ENG safety to a show producer, he explained
that it's too tiny a problem, numerically, for network news. In addition
to this logic, I suppose viewers aren't worried about how to protect
themselves from this kind of injury, and are not interested in the safety
of newspukes in "the media" since we have it coming, anyhow.
FRIED AT FIVE: Most local news stations transmit their "Live Shots"
by microwave signal. Under deadline pressure, the truck operator, who
is also the camera operator for the shot, and often shoots and edits
video for the taped report, parks the truck, raises the microwave dish
on a mast, transmits a signal to the station, sets up a live camera
outside the truck and runs cable to it, wires a microphone and IFB for
the reporter, and another box with a headphone to the control room.
The truck operator should take care not to park under a power line,
and not to raise the mast into a public utility. Sometimes it happens.
WHAT'S YOUR POLARITY? I haven't set up a Live Shot by myself from a
microwave truck in over twenty years. Whoever trained me at WBZ probably
cautioned me to watch out for power lines and always lower the mast
before moving the truck. He told me about a tech who had set up a live
shot in a cul-de-sac in suburban Boston. All the neighbors turned on
Channel Four, to watch. The truck operator decided to move the truck
before going Live, and took down a power line. The neighbors came running
out. "We want to watch you on tv," they told the reporter,
"but we just had a power failure."
I also remember talking on the 2-way to a tech taking in my signal at
KNBC, Burbank. "What's your polarity?" he asked. Polarity?
I was clueless. Hang on, and I'll check, I told him. Um, where do I
check? In those days, the feedhorn in the antenna could be physically
turned clockwise or counterclockwise. The tech said I could climb on
the roof of my microwave truck. Naw. "Hey, I think it's in the
usual position," I radioed back. "Okay, thanks," said
the engineer, "it looks fine."
Every time I produce a clean Live Shot, I make the same pronouncement.
"We cheated Death again." By Death, I usually mean we avoided
the consequence of blowing a Live Shot. But now that I think of it,
I guess I also mean, WE MADE AIR, WITHOUT CATCHING OUR HAIR ON FIRE.