AC360° Audio Designer
There I was last night before the show, busily making hand-puppets with the sleeve of my fleece sweatshirt to try and entertain a co-worker when the Director, Eli, not-so-nonchalantly yet fairly calmly tells me to fire up the back-up control room's audio board as the video switcher in our main control room developed a serious case of what we in the business call "not working." This was about 15 minutes before our first live event, Anderson's much anticipated nightly Larry King Live tease.
This last-minute-things-not-working-right-before-going-live stuff was beginning to get annoying! First Monday's madness that Brooke Turnbull, our Technical Production Manager, had to deal with, and now this! They say bad things happen in threes, so I'm wondering what else will go wrong this week. It's like waiting for the third shoe to drop.
I'll go out on a limb right now and just go right ahead and blame Brooke Turnbull for this one, if for nothing else than the simple fact that he was in the room at the time! But then again, whenever things go wrong, I have a tendency to blame Brooke... but that's just my bad habit. Actually, if something is going wrong, Brooke is working like crazy to make things right, and 99.9 times out of 100, he and all the others in the control room and engineering are putting their backs into it, getting the job done, and making things like what happened the other night - when Anderson was on remote live from Israel - appear (hopefully) to the viewer to be a seamless and flawless broadcast.
So back to last night, I put the puppet down and leapt to action (no joke, I leapt). Unfortunately, driving a control room is not as easy or as simple as driving your car. You can't just get in, turn the key (or press the button if you drive a Prius), and go. There's a lot of moving parts and a lot of people needed to drive it. So while our Technical Director, Beth, was busy working with the engineers applying balms and salves to the switcher to try and bring it back to life, Eli jumped in the chair and returned to the former glory of his Technical Directing days and got the second control room's video switcher up and running while I fired up the other audio room.
Not to bore you with the gory details, but as I'm sure you can imagine the process of setting up audio for broadcast involves lots of knob twiddling, button pressing, and fader pushing and pulling in order to get all the right audio signals sent to the right places. Crucial places, like Anderson's IFB (that little earpiece he uses to listen to the voices from beyond: The Producers), or the various phone lines we use so that our remote guests can hear Anderson and vice versa. There are myriad other tiny little details that need to get taken care of... all while still zooming across the hall to the first control room to check in on the situation, and grab my bible for the show: the shot sheet. This one sheet holds all the crucial information on all the incoming remote satellite shots (like Nic Robertson on the Israel/Gaza border) I'll need for the show, and is dutifully provided by Brooke every night, with of course a healthy dose of me giving him a hard time. Hey, everyone needs a hobby!
By the time I returned to the back-up control room, I realized that the phone line I was using to dial into the Washington DC bureau control room running the Larry King show was still engaged in our now defunct control room. This was maybe 3-4 minutes before Anderson's scheduled hit-time, this time of night there's no other sound folk to lend a hand, and everyone else was busy either applying digital triage or gearing up to run across to the backup room full-time for the show. I ran back to the other room, disengaged the line, zipped back to the backup room, got on the intercom with my colleague in DC audio asking him to disengage the line on his end so I could dial back in, finally got through, those Plain Olde Telephone lines are tricky and don't always give up the first time, all in about a minute before we hit live air on Larry King. Just enough time for Larry to say a quick hello to Anderson during the preceding commercial break and welcome him back from his trip to cover the Israel/Gaza beat.
Whew. And just as soon as the Larry King hit was over, we got word that the switcher across the hall had been revived and was awake and taking solid foods, so we returned to our original control room and carried on in the normal comfy environs of our home-base.
And now to the happy ending of the story, (which I swear when I started writing that just now that the pun was not intended, but upon further reflection I'll let the reader decide for themselves,) I got to have fun after a hectic night of broadcasting by playing cheesy porn-styled music over Anderson and Erica's read on the Porn Industry Bailout in the last block of the show. It's fun watching them struggle and try to keep a straight face while delivering news of such import. Ahh, you gotta love the little things in life!
Though many nights are 'routine' news nights, some of our best moments, both on and off the screen, seem to be when things are going wrong, breaking down, or at their worst. Like most human endeavors, we never know what we're capable of til we are faced with adversity, and last night was just one more testament to what I like to say after a show well done: "We fooled 'em again!"
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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