Amy Bowers TV Talk

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?

People 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 Live Shots.

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.

Amy Bowers
Contributing Writer

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