The Digital Journalist
Interruptible Foldback
June 2004

by Amy Jo Marash

I'm paid to do nothing. Sometimes I do plenty of nothing.

Yesterday, I was paid to produce a live shot from the foot of the George Washington Bridge.

5AM: Mike, the satellite truck operator, parked on Bridge Street South, in Fort Lee, New Jersey and tuned his transmitter to the correct satellite while I did nothing. Another Mike, the cameraman, selected a place to set up our shot, a 500 ft cable run from the truck. When he asked whether he should shoot handheld or on sticks, I chose tripod. Soundman Mike (I know), asked whether we could go with the handheld mic (I know) to reduce background noise. I asked him to try the lav, but keep the handheld handy, but he would have done that anyhow, so I had actually done nothing.

5:15AM: I checked in with the control room of Studio 1A, told them everything was fine. They gave me our IFB and PL numbers, the communication lines essential for Tom, the correspondent, and Mike, the cameraman, to hear the Today program, interrupted with cues from producers or directors in the control room. I wrote the IFB (interruptible fold back) and PL (private line) numbers on a grease board in the SAT truck, and added my cell phone number with its remarkable 505 area code. The three Mikes were doing their jobs; I was doing not much.

5:45AM: Mike fetched me to talk with a cop from the Port Authority who wanted to know who we were and whether we had permission to be on the Lemoine Street overpass. A simple "yes" convinced the officer. "Nice art," I added, acknowledging the tattooed skulls and eyeballs covering his arms.

6AM: I rang Tom Costello, our correspondent, to let him know where we were parked. Without this courtesy, I bet he would have found our satellite truck with the peacock logo. Tom and I picked up coffee (two regulars, one Diet Mountain Dew) at the Food Emporium where Tom did his makeup and bought a paper.

6:35AM: From our position on the Lemoine Street overpass, I checked in with the Today Show control room. They listened to Tom's mic, and rechecked his IFB and Mike's camera PL. We were the lead story for the start of Memorial Day Weekend. Tom would go live at 7:02 to intro his taped report, and come back with a live tag.

6:55AM: Fog had enveloped the GW Bridge. We felt pit, pit, pit, a few drops of rain. Soundman Mike asked "how much time?" till our hit. When I replied "seven minutes," he took off to get trash bags and an umbrella from the crew van.

6:59AM: I called the control room. Everything was fine; there was nothing for me to do but keep a phone line open during our shot.

7:00AM: "We're live," said Erin in the control room. We should have heard the show open on the IFB. Instead we heard: click, click, click..

7:00:10 "We lost IFB," said Mike the soundman. "Redial IFB, we lost IFB," I was already calling on the walkie-talkie to Mike the uplinker, in case he wasn't already redialing. "We lost IFB, we're redialing," I communicated to the control room, where someone had to decide whether Ann Curry should read her lead-in to us, or bail.

7:00:30 "We're redialing," I repeated; if Mike's redial went through, we'd be in on time.

7:01:00 Program was back in Tom's ear, on the IFB.

7:01:30 PL was reestablished in cameraman Mike's headphone.

7:02:00 We were on the air, from New Jersey, overlooking traffic at the Toll Plaza at foot of the George Washington Bridge. Everything went fine.

Mike, Mike, Mike and Tom had done their jobs.

I got paid to do nothing.

And I earned it.

© Amy Jo Marash

AMY JO MARASH has worked in television field production for 30 years but can never remember what IFB stands for.
(More about men in makeup: see