January 8th, 2009
05:04 PM ET

Tales from the backline: Waiting for the third shoe to drop

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/08/art.soundbooth.jpg caption="AC360°'s main audio board."]
Jason Greenspan
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!"

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Filed under: Behind The Scenes • Jason Greenspan
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Tales from the backline? Oh, those shoes that drop! Two down and you're holding your breath on that third boot to plunge to earth. Thanks for the warning! I guess if AC360 fades to black tonight, we can assume that the dreaded shoe descended and hit you upside the head..

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    January 8, 2009 at 8:44 pm |
  2. Hannah Marner

    Actually, that sounds like my kind of fun. I'd enjoy all that technological scrambling around and scheduling!

    Though I am surprised that you only have one backup board. 🙂 I have triple backups of everything essential. Stuff always goes wrong at the most inconvenient time!

    January 8, 2009 at 8:39 pm |
  3. Dulcie, Denver, CO

    Thanks so much for your blog entry, Jason!

    I love behind-the-scenes stories. Yeah, I'm one of those people that listens to the commentary on DVDs even when a star isn't doing it. Some directors, producers, etc., are very entertaining and interesting.

    Thanks again and I hope to see more of these entries. Yay!

    January 8, 2009 at 8:30 pm |
  4. Sara W. California

    A job well done. None of us at home hat the slightest idea that you were all running around like crazy people to bring us the news.
    You are an amazing team, and you all make a great show together.
    I love these behind the scenes blogs!!! it is amazing to see how it all comes together.

    January 8, 2009 at 8:25 pm |
  5. Cherisa

    You guys are pros – it looked great on this end.

    January 8, 2009 at 8:18 pm |
  6. Stacy

    Good blog. Thanks for letting us be a fly on the wall. For the record, it all looked good to me.

    January 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  7. Pati Mc

    LOL Jason, you are not "fooling" us. We are well aware that you guys are totally capable. It shows. Night after night, disaster after disaster.

    So, do you have a "no liquids" rule at the master board? I feel certain you do. Last thing you need is someone spilling something on there. OMG, what a nightmare. Sparks would fly in more ways than one!

    Well, if "twos" are "threes" I am sure you will handle it flawlessly. Look at it this way, you sure have gotten your disaster practice this week.

    Very funny and informative. Thanks for taking the time to illuminate us.

    You guys rock! Just sayin'. (And the porn music was stellar. )

    January 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm |
  8. Em

    Is there no end to the comedic talents of the 360 crew? You guys/gals are awesome!

    January 8, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    The porn music was a masterful touch – I think Erica kept a straighter face than Anderson. You all do a wonderful job in that control room in getting the show out – knowing all the feeds you have coming in and going out each night without a problem must seem like a miracle. Keep up the good work – and remember that some of the best 360 moments have happened during a glitch – Anderson is always fast on his feet with those.

    January 8, 2009 at 6:17 pm |
  10. Pamina

    Well, if you didn't tell me there had been problems, I never would have known. Nice job!! And the cheesy music was perfect!
    Good luck tonight.

    January 8, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  11. Linda from Boulder

    Loved the music; nice touch for such a probing story.

    January 8, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  12. Kathleen

    Who knew there was such a thing as " porn-styled music?"

    Oh wait. I suppose that would be people who watch porn! (looking at you.....)


    January 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm |
  13. L Griffiths Australia

    .... and you just happened to have the porno music available at the flick of a switch? Right.

    January 8, 2009 at 5:57 pm |
  14. John Treadway

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

    January 8, 2009 at 5:55 pm |
  15. Kim

    Houdini CNN controllers of magical technical media wizard control.

    January 8, 2009 at 5:52 pm |
  16. Kathryn from Australia

    Fantastic blog! You are a very funny man!

    January 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm |
  17. Cindy

    Hey...just be glad that there was a back-up board to go to! What if there wasn't!? You all would have been up the creek without a paddle! LOL

    And yep...once again it looked seamless, so you did your job well!

    O..and I loved the porno music playing in the background too! LOL Coop just gets so embarrassed by stuff such as that. His face was red as a beat. That is just too funny!


    January 8, 2009 at 5:19 pm |