Audio Engineering for the Stars
By Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Oct 1, 2013 5:42:00 PM
Tales of audio engineering for the stars with Tom Ray and Chris Tobin.
What does an engineer do when Bill O’Reilly starts arguing politics with you, or Dan Rather hands you a screwdriver? Or when WOR’s John Gambling won’t rest easy until you arrive on-scene? It’s part of a day’s work for big city and network radio engineers. Tom Ray and Chris Tobin regale us with hilarity and insight about working with high-strung stars and ordinary folks with household names.
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Announcer: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 184, is brought to you by the Telos Hx6 talkshow system. It's perfect for creating great content with compelling voices, six lines and two hybrids that sound great, on the web at telos-systems.com.
And now, our feature presentation. TWiRT. Engineers of the stars? Well someone has got to take care of those national and big city broadcast prima donna. Stories of Dan Rather, Bill O'Reilly, and more. [Sound effects]
From his palatial office of important business. Or in a choice hotel in a distant land. This is Kirk Harnack. What's it really like? Well Tom Ray and Chris Tobin join me with life lessons on engineering for the stars. You're dialed in to This Week in Radio Tech.
Kirk: Hey, welcome in. It's This Week in Radio Tech, I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. "Yes, the engineer extraordinaire, the magnificent Harnack." No, none of that. It's the show where we talk about radio technology and the engineers who make it all happen because they're some fascinating things going on in broadcast radio technology and everything from, well, the stylus on the turntable, yeah, we still use those, to SIPT telephony technology, which is just amazing.
We still take care of transmitters, transmission line, antennas, and towers. I was talking to a guy just the other day on Facebook about climbing towers, holy cow, he still does it. It's just an amazing world we live in of electronics and the physical world of engineering and we're here to talk about it. There's politics in this too, and there's science, and, well, let's just move on.
I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. I work for the folks at The Telos Alliance, so I'm very glad to have Telos sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. Also with us, we have Chris Tobin, he's live on location at the CCBE. Hey, Chris, how are you? Glad you're in.
Chris: Hello, Kirk. Yes, I'm at the Central Canada Broadcast engineers Conference here in Barrie, Ontario. It's an annual get-together of the broadcast engineers and managers across Canada and I'm here at the Horseshoe Resort. The folks were very kind enough to allow me into a suite that has, as you can see, a fireplace.
Kirk: That's awesome, I've been there. Listen, you tell me if I'm right, to get to Barrie you fly into the Toronto Airport, I don't know, YYZ or something like that, and you get a rental car and you drive through the horrible, retched traffic, and then you finally get out the north side of Toronto, and then you drive and drive and drive, and you drive past the last McDonald's on Earth, and you just keep on driving and driving, then you cut off the main road and you're on a dirt road or something, and you keep on driving even farther, and finally you pull into this golf course resort at the end of the Earth in Canada. Am I close?
Chris: Absolutely, yes. It is YYZ, the Toronto Pearson International. It's 400 north, it's 77 miles north of Toronto, and yes, you do bear a right at the end, you go down the road, you go past the Esso station, five kilometers on your right the Horseshoe Resort. That's it.
Kirk: I got to tell you, if you're there in the summertime and you play golf, it's an awesome place to be. This event is in, it's getting chilly I suppose, which is why you got the fireplace, that's great. I don't play golf so it's just not as interesting for me, but the engineering sessions are interesting. You guys, I guess you're giving a technical talk there, right?
Chris: No, this year is the first year I'm not, I was too late to get in. But there are talks on LTE technology, the Opus codec, Omnia, there's also stuff on VoIP-based studio systems, you're familiar with that gentleman who's speaking on that one. There's also talks about standards for SDI video over IP, there's a lot of stuff going on, that's just Friday. And on Saturday there's high-efficiency codec, video codec, the H.265, there will be talks on that from the folks at Tektronix. And then, let's see, there's also estimating remote site maintenance is going to be talked about from ComLabs.
And, let's see, practical applications of 4K technology, 4K technology for video. I was at IBC last week in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, got to see a 4K projection on a wall, a video. I have taken pictures of it. I dare anybody to tell me that this was taken off a video monitor and not a real image that you see. I'll get that together for next week, it was fascinating.
Kirk: At the CES Show this past January I got to see 4K and it was amazing. I didn't see it projected, I saw it on pretty big monitors. And then I saw the 8K display and some video that was just, oh, just gorgeous video. There was one video that they showed, and they got to show stuff that really shows off the detail, right? So there was this enormous field of yellow flowers and you could, even the last one in the field up by the top of the ridge in the barn, you could almost make out the petals on that one, it was crazy. And then the other video was-I'm sorry, go ahead.
Chris: Oh no, go, the other video, go ahead.
Kirk: The other video was they found a steam engine yard that had a working engine turntable, they turn the engine around like on Thomas the Train to move the engine somewhere else or park it, and they had the steam engine, enormous, big, belching, oil-laden, grease-dripping, steam-puffing, locomotive that had decades of wear on it. It was just laden with texture, let's say, and the 8K video on that was like jaw-dropping. You just felt like you were right there. So, yeah, so I've seen it, the 4K was like I'm there, the 8K was like, "What is going on?" So, is that the future? Is that where we're going?
Chris: Well, let's see, I talked to a gentlemen for one of the major networks in the United States and he said that 65 percent of their production material, the shows that they shoot, are currently geared up and operating in 4K. So, I guess 4K, 8K is probably two to three years away becoming a commonplace thing. So, it's happening.
Kirk: And is it going to be true that with H.265 that terrestrial broadcasters will be able to transmit 4K over the air and pick it up without incredible, or without too much compression?
Chris: In the lab, yes, that's what they're claiming should be able to achieve, they should be able to achieve it. I'm hoping to find out tomorrow by attending, Saturday, attending the paper that's being presented and see or hear if that's going to happen.
Kirk: I wonder how they'll end up making that compatible with all the, just the regular ATSC receivers.
Chris: They probably won't.
Kirk: Okay. "Well, we have two receivers. We have one TV for these channels and another TV for those channels."
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Looking back at the spinning wheel, the spinning color disk, spinning color disk.
Kirk: See, because current TV is about 2K, right? That's ATSC.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, roughly 2K, yeah.
Kirk: Okay, roughly 2K. So 4K is about double. "Well, we put the extra 2,000 pixels in the subcarrier."
Chris: Which is modulated with AM, not FM.
Kirk: That's right, in the AM subcarrier. Okay, are we talking inside baseball here? I don't know, maybe we are.
Chris: No, no, no. If people tune in, engineering types, should understand what we're talking about.
Kirk: I think so, I think so, you're exactly right.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely.
Kirk: Wow, well that's fascinating. There is some resolution, and I thought it was something even higher than 8K, but there is some resolution when projected and taking up a good part of your vision, I thought I heard that some experiments had shown that it become indistinguishable from reality. Or at least, not indistinguishable, your brain said, "Okay, I'll go there, that's real."
Chris: Yes, that is true. There are studies that have been done, have done that, and have reported that. IMAX is the very closest you can achieve right now. If the IMAX is set up right and you're sitting in the right, we'll call it the sweet spot in the theater, if the movie is shot just right, after about probably 30 minutes into the movie your mind has now accepted the fact that you're a part of what it sees.
Kirk: You've seen these displays at NAB where, usually it's NHK, is showing the latest high-res thing they have. And often times they'll have a camera pointing out of a hotel or at the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot and your brain wants to say, "That looks real." You've seen those?
Chris: Yeah. Oh yeah, yeah. AT IBC, the BBC technology folks were showing off this, I think it was 8K. Yeah, 8K, 120 frames per second, and 240 frames, some wild stuff with the video. And it was a large screen, about, I think it was 108 inches, it was a huge screen, and for a couple of moments if you stay focused and kept field of view within the frame you got a sense of like, "Wow, I can almost immerse myself in this video." That's how clear the resolution is.
On the 4K that I was looking at at one booth, I think it was the Toshiba booth, they shot a boat out on a lake, a fishing boat, a small single-person fishing boat, and the sun must have been overhead because the shadow through the water, which was clear, okay? You could see the bottom of where they were, I'd say the beach or whatever. You could see the shadow cast from the bottom of the boat onto the sand below and the depth of field and clarity, you can actually distinguish between the water, the clean, clear water, the shadow, the person who was in red and yellow, definitely contrasting colors. It was the sharpest thing I've ever seen of a moving image where you could actually follow this boat from left to right, and see beneath it, get the perception of seeing beneath it, because the water was so clear. That's how sharp the resolution was, it was fascinating.
Kirk: Where are we going to be when you and I are in our 70's watching television? What's that going to be like?
Chris: Probably a holographic room in the house where you'll sit in the middle of the room and everything will be 360 around you. Fraunhofer was showing off a 360 camera device with mirrors that was pretty wild. I don't even know how to explain it, if you could picture a cylinder on a tripod, say a cylinder about one-foot, maybe two-foot tall, sitting on a camera tripod. And then if you think of at 45 degree angles from the center of the cylinder are these triangular mirrors.
Chris: And at the base of the mirror are the camera lenses and it pieced together this 360 image. I'm taking a picture of it and in the picture you can see me off to the left taking a picture of the picture. It think it's pretty wild.
Kirk: I'll just mention, we're going to be in our 70's in 20-some years, what about my, I got a three-year-old son, in 20 years he'll be 23 and where's entertainment, television, technology, imaging, where's that going to be when he's 50, 47 years from now? It just boggles the mind, you can't imagine.
Okay, somewhere we run up against the limits, or the reasonableness, of television production. I know this is a radio tech show, we'll get to the radio. But right now, I've been on set, you've probably been on set where they're shooting a production, maybe an episodic drama, or comedy, or a movie, or even just in a television studio, and you know that, "Okay, we're making a slice of kind of reality here, everything is set up just right, there are set designers, art directors, people who are placing mics in the set."
How do you do that when the set is 360 degrees around you, or the viewer has control? I even think it's got to be difficult, can you imagine the new headaches of being a set decorated, or an art director, or even the directory of photography on a show where everything that's in the camera's field of view has got to be perfect because everybody is going to see it?
This is like the difference between standard-def and high-def all over again where we had to change makeup techniques and what we made a set with. Can you imagine the difficulties it's going to be for these people?
Chris: Oh, it's going to be huge. I remember working with the folks at NBC when I was at the 2000 Olympics, or 2001, and they were just introducing, internally and for the Olympic coverage, a certain number of venues that were going to be shot in HD. Okay? 1080i, and I got to see HD live action video in a controller room on a huge monitor, and I'm saying to myself, "Wow, I can actually see the muscles flexing on this skier's arm. Okay? The tight outfits they wear, you could see the flexing.
And right to the side of this monitor is a standard NTSC monitor, 720 x 468, standard-definition, and wow. I'm thinking, "Wow, look at this, it is unbelievable." Then I talked to some of the directors of photography and what they had to go through, the change in the sets where traditionally a piece of gaffer's tape on the back of the set will work just fine, nobody will see it. In high-def you can see the piece of tape that's doing its job.
And I was talking to two of the makeup artists on set and I was asking them about what are they learning or discovering with HD. and they said, "Well, what we discovered is you can't use the traditional methods of makeup, applying makeup. We actually have to use air spray and spray it on," because you actually see the, I guess, I don't use makeup so I don't know but I guess when you're padding it on your face you can see certain transitions from each time you touch. They're learning this, they're just like, "We're just discovering how to make it work with the air spray, spray painting on a person's face." That was in 2000, 2001.
Now as you point out, you fast-forward to 4K. 4K, 8K, and then do 360 field of view in that resolution. Yeah, you're basically, everything you're doing is just real. There is no room for anything other than, "This is it." It's going to be wild. These people in that field are going to be just totally challenged beyond belief.
Kirk: Wow, wow. All right, well, things to think about, and this is a show about radio tech so we're going to jump right into some radio tech stories, but it's always fun to think about this kind of stuff.
I guess we can also feature how will audio for video change. So, we used to have one speaker on the TV, then we had stereo for some years, and now we have surround on not every but a lot of shows. And I'll tell you what, at first audio engineers were finding new ways to screw up sound with 5.1 surround.
More and more shows, I think, are getting it as the tools become better and the knowledge propagates, but still, not every show is perfect. And that's why our sister company, Linear Acoustic, makes some tools to fix bad 5.1 audio. I've heard Fraunhofer doing some things with this sound, not Penteo, that's a different brand, but this sound that's all around you. There's going to be some wild techniques out there.
Chris: Yeah. The audio is going to definitely advance and radio stations will need to stay in step, at least with the music. And even when they're doing talk, once the high-def stuff, 2K and everything else, keeps going the way it is people will just become accustomed to seeing and hearing sports and talk in a certain presentation.
Radio needs to follow the same suit, so if you're doing a sports format and you're covering a ballgame or hockey, or whatever, you're going to have to step up your game. No pun intended, but you're going to have to step up how you cover it and create that audible, visual, theater of the mind, otherwise you will lose out to the folks doing the video and audio put together. Even if you're in the car, because the car is going to change.
Kirk: Six, seven, maybe even eight years ago Telos started showing surround sound in our booth at NAB. And for four or five years in a row we had a beautiful vehicle there and the guys from Fraunhofer would come outfit it, or would come attach a receiver to it, and we showed broadcasters how you can transmit perfectly compatible stereo and surround sound by the MPEG surround method and it wasn't that difficult to do.
You could get surround files, of course you could transmit perfectly compatible stereo the way you're doing now, and the surround information was carried in an extra, about 16-kilobit per second, data stream. If you lose the data stream, you still have sound in all the speakers, it's just no longer actual surround, and this was really cool. And you know what?
Nobody was interested, just nobody was interested. It wasn't that hard to do, didn't require anything extra except 16 kilobits out of your HD radio stream, and there was other ways to do it too if we thought about it, and nobody was interested. Any idea why?
Chris: And that's why the radio industry is in the trouble it's in now. Yeah, I went to those shows, I went to the NAB's, I sat in the car, I also worked for a company that was doing some experimenting with that stuff up in New England. And it was just fascinating how people that got to hear it, saw what was involved, and they just did not see its potential. They came up with many excuses why it wouldn't work. I sat at that booth a couple of times at NAB, listening to the people come through, and I was fascinated by how much negativity there was.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah. Well, Fraunhofer's MPEG surround method was just really incredible. You can, as I mentioned, transmit stereo and you have to have the original material with all the six channels, the 5.1 channels, or 7.1 if you desire.
There were other competing methods that always involved smoke and mirrors, that always involved hiding, tucking away a sound and they're not mono-compatible. So you got people with a clock radio and guess what, their audio is 3 dB, 5 dB, 6 dB lower than it should be in certain passages in certain songs. So, I don't know. We have the technology to do it, we have the technology to do it easily. I know NPR experimented some with this, using that other method, I'll think of it in a minute, maybe you remember the name of it. One good thing about that other method, it was compatible with a whole bunch of receivers out there, or mostly compatible. And of course nobody has an MPEG surround decoder, even though they could have been added for pennies under big production. But, just nobody got interested, very frustrating, thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
By the way that MPEG surround method, the same method could be used, nobody has done it, but could be used to transmit mono FM instead of the compatible stereo method we have now where we transmit left plus right, 19 kilohertz pilot, left minus right on the double stereo baseband. You can transmit just plain mono FM and a 16-kilobit data stream and have stereo, actually it would be less than 16 kilobits, and have stereo steering and it would be just awesome and very immune to multipath, really cool. And you know what? If you lost the stream, so what? You got mono audio.
Chris: Yeah, you still have the audio. At the end of the day, no one is going to complain.
Kirk: And there's no 23 dB penalty for stereo separation, of noise penalty.
Chris: That's right.
Kirk: So, oh well. Hey, let's hit a few new stories, and coming up on the show Chris Tobin is going to regale us with some interesting stories about home studio work that he's done. And I think it's going to be really, really exciting. I heard of these stories over the weekend, over several beers and steaks, and you got to hear them too, you're going to like them. By the way, our show is brought to you by Telos and the Hx6 telephone talkshow system. You can create compelling content for your listeners by putting listeners on the air. That was a tease, that was a tease. We'll do the whole spot in just a few minutes.
Hey, so I was looking through RadioWorld as I often want to do and I noticed that in his, oh we do? Awesome, you want to bring him in? Tom Ray, are you there?
Kirk: Tom, howdy.
Tom: How are you?
Kirk: Good, glad you're here.
Tom: Sorry I'm late, Skype wouldn't let me sign in.
Kirk: You got to pay your Skype bill, dude.
Tom: Well, no. It said I changed my password. And I was like, "Yeah I did," and I typed my password in, it's the one I always use, and it didn't like me.
Kirk: Caps lock?
Tom: No, I have no idea why, just didn't like me. The third time it took, it must have been the charm.
Kirk: Well glad you made it. Hey, so, Tom, we've been dishing on video and audio and surround. We're going to hit a few topical stories here real quick, boom, boom, boom, just get your opinion on a few of these things, and then after a quick sponsor announcement we're going to hear some stories from Christ Tobin about installing celebrity home studios. And, Tom, you may have a thing to add or two about that too, since you've been a New York engineer for so long.
Hey, let's hit a couple things. John Bisset, famous for his ongoing column in RadioWorld, writes, "Humor helps talent on the job." These pictures made it around the interwebs a week or so ago. So he's built some, an engineer here has built some panels. Who was this? Who was doing this? Oh, I thought I had the name right here.
Okay, you build a button panel for talent, you got a cough button and a "mic on" and "mic off," and maybe a "bring me a glass of water" button, and he had some buttons left over sometimes. What did he put on them? Well, how about a sign that says you push this button it says, "Free beer," "Free beer." And you make it light up or something.
Tom: Sign me up.
Kirk: Yeah. So, oh, I'm sorry, here we go, this was Al Peterson, that's who it was. What do you do when you've installed talent control panels and are left with more buttons then you need? Well Al Peterson uses this as an opportunity to put guests at ease with humor. You bring guests in the studio and often times they're really uptight, right? And so you can put them at ease but putting something humorous in front of them.
Al handles studio recording duties at the Radio America Network in Arlington, Virginia. He's a former on-air personality himself, he understands performance anxieties, especially with folks not used to being in front of a microphone. When they ordered new plates with extra buttons in them for the furniture, Al capped the unwired ones with "legends," that's the label on it, had nothing to do with anything. Put one on there that said, "Free beer," also another one that says, "Death ray." That's Tom Ray's cousin, isn't it? Death Ray?
Tom: Yes. And my Gamma Ray.
Kirk: All right, let's move on. I noticed this, Arbitron was bought by Nielsen. Now, as engineers, for many decades we didn't have much to do with Arbitron ourselves as engineers, just to make sure that the station is on the air. But we've had this PPM technology and that very much involves the engineer, we got to have PPM encoder in the air chain. Now Arbitron has been bought by Nielsen, they say not a lot is going to change but they're supposedly going to find some $20,000,000 of savings somewhere. Any idea if Arbitron's PPM will be changing now that Nielsen owns them?
Chris: Hard to say, there's a lot of money to be made in that.
Tom: Yeah, it's hard to say. Go ahead, Chris.
Chris: Oh, that was interesting. It's hard to say what's going to happen because there's a lot of money in the people meter situation because the ad agencies wanted the accountability and real-time stats. So, Nielsen, I'm not sure, there's a lot of controversy with people meter anyway. It's hard to say, I'm not sure how it's going to go.
Tom: Well, the technology is very similar that they use, the difference is I think they embedded, well, they don't embed it in the video, they embed it in the video stream on the television. With the radio, they embed it in the audio but it's the same, it's very, very similar technology. So, don't really know what, if anything, will change.
Kirk: Yeah, so they may not change anything at all. I know that Arbitron has been making or at least proposing changes that are making non-subscribers pretty unhappy with them. If you're not a subscriber in a given market where there are other subscribers, you may be put at more of a disadvantage. But they've also been suing some broadcasters who they say have been using their data illegally or without paying for it.
So, on the one hand, part of the business that engineers tend not to be involved, but, boy, that people meter business, that is our responsibility to keep that up and going every moment of every day so the station gets credit for every last listener, and that is just critical. Could mean a good sized difference in the rate of an ad, so that could make a difference between whether you get a new tube for the transmitter or not.
Chris: This is true.
Kirk: Hey, has anybody tried the new iTunes Radio? Nope?
Chris: I have.
Kirk: Oh, you have?
Chris: No, I have not.
Kirk: Okay. Yeah, I tried it out, I pay for their iTunes Match service which is pretty cool if you got 7,000 songs in your inventory, and you're not sure which ones you actually bought or not, now I've got a new copy of every single song. And I think I bought them all, I think. And they're all in the cloud so I can play them on any Apple player device.
But this iTunes Radio seems pretty cool. I've been listening to some, I made a cello music channel and it's just been lovely, although there's a lot of repeats, maybe there's just not enough cello music in the world. I think iTunes Radio is going to do okay with that, of course it remains to be seen. They say that Pandora's stock lost $2.5 on the day that iTunes Radio started but that could be a quick overreaction by the marketplace.
Let's see, and FCC is ready for LPFM filings, so there's going to be a bunch of filings coming out here pretty soon. Any thoughts about this process? The window opens October 15th, and let's see, how many are they expecting? Seven, no, that's translators. Got to be expecting a ton of filings for LPFM's. Tom, you, or Chris, have you been involved with LPFM filings at all?
Chris: I have not, no.
Tom: No, neither have I.
Chris: But LPFM's in the New York metro are kind of tough to come across.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah. There's got to be clashing goals between FM translators and LPFM filings because you still have to have separation and meet all the rules. So, I just got a feeling there's going to be a lot of disappointed as there were with the 13,000 or so FM translator applications that were filed, a lot of them which were mutually exclusive.
On the one hand, sure, if you can fit a signal in, fine, fit it in, broadcast, whatever. On the other hand, isn't this the kind of thing that has led to or helped lead to the demise of the AM band? Are there any parallels between just giving out FM licenses willy-nilly at 1 watt, 2 watts, 10 watts, 50 watts, and licensing AM daytimers at 250 watts?
Tom: And that's the fear for the FM band. Recently with Commissioner Pai at the NAB Radio Show and the plan for AM and to put AM translators on and to have more LPFM's, where are we going to fit all these stations? Are we going to start relaxing the interference regulations? What are we doing?
Kirk: Well, okay, if we relax them a little bit, if we let all these things on, I don't know, it's just so many choices. Choice is good, sure, and you know what? If you want to operate a station at a loss and somebody is paying your bills, maybe a church, or a school, or a civic organization, or it's coming out of your own pocket and it's your own playtime, fine.
And some of these serve absolutely legitimate purposes and others I just feel like are people's play toys. If it doesn't interfere with existing broadcasters who have put real money, real big money into being on the air, I guess it's okay. I just, I don't know, I want to make sure that low-power broadcasters have to follow the same rules that full-power broadcasters do. Any thoughts about that?
Chris: That would be my thing. I have nothing against low-power broadcasting or if you want to add more to the dial, technically if you can make it work, fine. But I believe everybody should be following the same rules, so whether you're low-power FM or high-power FM, whatever you want to call it, you have to follow the same rules. If you can't fit in an allocation because of second adjacency or first adjacency interference, or near field blanketing from the transmitter site, then you don't, that's it, end of story. There is no discussion, there's no, "It's a society thing, the neighborhood needs this," or, "All the world will come to an end because we're not here." It has to be a level playing field.
Look at the college non-com band, what happened there early on when the [80-90 dockets] came out and everybody was allowed to move around and do stuff, it became a free-for all. You had college stations on top of college stations, interference beyond belief, and nobody did anything. And eventually what happened? Nobody listened, nobody did anything because nobody could hear it, so it fell apart, but it just shouldn't go that way.
Tom: Well, you still have that in the non-com band to some extent where your spaces are a lot closer and you still have some of the interference. But I agree with Chris and I'd go farther to say with the rules, the rules apply to everybody and that means that the LPFM's need to abide by the rules too, frequency tolerance, modulation, the whole bit.
Tom: Okay, if you want to play, you're playing with the big boys. And once again, nothing against the LPFM's, I'm all for it in many instances and if they can fit in great but they need to play by the rules like everybody else.
Kirk: Tom, are you on a new microphone? You sound awesome.
Tom: I'm on a RE-20.
Kirk: Oh, okay, well it sounds good.
Tom: But then again, I am awesome, so, hey.
Kirk: Stop it, stop it. Well, look, on the internet, if you're an internet broadcaster, what's another voice? What's another 10,0000 voices? There's room for everybody because the bandwidth is between you and the server and it's possible to make more and more bandwidth. It's not possible to make the FM band any bigger without an act of Congress. It goes where it is and it's not possible to stop FM or AM signals at the border of a county, or a town, or a state, or even a country.
So, they follow the laws of physics and it's not possible, or it's not economically possible to make receivers that will tune in a station here when there's another one really strong right next to it, and that's what adjacent channel rules are all about. That's why in some areas you won't find a station on every FM channel. But if you drive a few miles in any direction, that station that seems blank, there will be a station there. You drive in one direction there will be one station, you drive in the other direction there will be another station.
And of course I'm talking about mostly east of the Mississippi River and built up areas. Sure, you can drive out into west Kansas and the panhandle of Texas and drive for miles and you may not stop anywhere on the dial for a while. But you got to obey the laws of physics and there's only so many stations will fit. How do we decide who gets them? I guess I've said all I'm going to say about that, I just would hate to see existing broadcasters messed up or approve a situation that results in a mess like we have on the AM band, or CB channel 19. Can you talk to anybody on CB channel 19 that's not right next to you in the truck parking lot? I don't think so.
Tom: But let's take that step one step further. You don't want to see the existing broadcasters messed up. We're not just talking about the "normal, commercial, high-power, big boy broadcasters," we're talking about the LPFM's and we're talking about the translators out there too, we don't want to see any of them messed up.
Kirk: Right, right. If you're an existing LPFM, you're already operating at kind of a disadvantage, not much power and not much height. You're covering a certain area but what if somebody comes in and effectively knocks you back even further even though it may be legal in whatever the rules are going to be? So, anybody of a summary of what Commissioner Pai has said for the AM band, what his overall plan would be? Or is he still gathering up information?
Chris: I think he's still gathering up information. You keep haring and seeing articles from dribs and drabs, "Favoring this, favoring that technology and approach," but I haven't, maybe I'm mistaken, but I haven't read anything definitive just yet.
Tom: Yeah, I think they were all just ideas of the show, Chris and Kirk. Yeah, he's throwing things out on the table, a lot of it's good, a lot of it's, well, like putting all the translators on. Well, that's good too but, A, how do you decide who gets it, B, where are you going to fit them all, especially on the East Coast? No, there are some good ideas out there and it's about time we started talking about it because these are problems that have been simmering for a long time.
Kirk: I wonder, I wonder. If you want to improve the AM band incrementally, and I don't think that's a great idea but let's just say that that's the way we go. We don't blow it up, like I'm kind of in favor of, but we improve it incrementally. What would it take to get some good number of AM station owners, AM license holders, to shut their transmitters off and never to be heard again? How much money would it take?
What if there was some money budgeted with the FCC to say, "You know what?
Over the decades we've kind of messed this up, we let too many people on the air, we let too many people believe they're going to get a license, spend money, buy property, build a tower, put in a transmitter, run programming, and be able to make a viable business. Now we never promised you could make money, that's not the point, but we did keep approving more and more stations and letting more people come in.
So, I'll tell you what we're going to do," this is the FCC talking,"Tell you what we're going to do. Anybody who wants to give up their station for let's say a payment of $200,000. We'll pay you $200,000, you turn your station off the air and turn the license in, never to come back." And some people will take that.
Then maybe a year later they come back and they say, "$400,000, or half a million dollars, any takers?" And maybe over ten years we get a lot more stations off the air and those who are left are people who were apparently serious about it, it was worth more money to keep and run their station than it was to take a payoff from the FCC. I know of plenty of AM station owners who would take a payment to shut their transmitter off.
Tom: Oh gosh, there's a station not too far from the house here where-matter of fact I just kind of checked him out this weekend because I have a client who was considering buying a station in another state that's on a frequency this station has a construction permit for. And he called me, he says, "Is anything going on at the site? Because the construction permit expires soon."
So I went over there to look and really the construction permit expires in two weeks and unless the tower fairy shows up, it's not going to happen. But the interesting thing was the station is off the air, and I said, "Oh."
And I had called over there just for fun to say, "I'll offer my services for free, if it's a tech problem, to put you back on." I've reached answering machines, never got a response, so I went over and made my way into the unkempt field over there.
And the first thing I found out was why they were off the air. There was a, the power company here calls it a breaker, they connect the high-voltage line on top of the pole to the ground wire, and they pull the fuse first. It's, A, to prevent a static discharge from building up on that disconnected line but, B, if someone is stupid enough to climb the pole and try putting that fuse into a 13,000 volt line, it's going to blow immediately and it will also blow the guy off the pole. So, apparently they haven't been paying the power bill, and then interestingly, they refiled for the construction permit. So, they don't have the money to pay the power bill but they have $3,000 to $5,000 to refile?
Kirk: Got to wonder.
Tom: These guys are off the air. Well, my attitude is if they're off the air, let's keep them off. They don't want to keep it on the air, let's somebody who could use the frequency use it or just pack it in and let this other station that would like to have some nighttime power get that nighttime power because they want to do something with it.
Kirk: Yep, yep. I don't know, it's a tough problem, it's a tough problem. And I think we should have, well, maybe we did see it coming but people want to hold on to what they have thinking that maybe someday it will be worth something. It was kind of encouraging, what? I don't know, 10, 11, 12, maybe 15 years ago when Clear Channel was buying up big AM stations, and it had those of us who owned AM stations thinking, "What do they see?
What do they see really valuable?" Because it seemed like they were paying some pretty top dollar for some powerful stations in out of the way places. I don't know, I'm thinking Casper, Wyoming maybe? Other places that seemed out of the way but big signals. Don't know, didn't seem to pan out well.
Hey, coming up on This Week in Radio Tech, Chris Tobin is going to be regaling us with stories of celebrity home studios, and that's going to be interesting. Tom, you think what you want to tell along those lines too. I'm Kirk Harnack, you're watching This Week in Radio Tech, or listening to it, on the GFQ Network. You're welcome to go to GFQNETWORK.COM and check out our show and other shows there and watch, listen, or subscribe. If you subscribe you get automatic downloads of this and other podcasts and you can keep your device, if it's a Google Nexus tablet, an iPad, a phone, an Android phone, an iPhone, keep it up to date, keep your latest podcasts right there. And it's just a great way to make sure you always have the latest one at your convenience.
Our show is brought to you by Telos and the Telos Hx6 talkshow system. Listen, I'm really hot on this subject. You got to have content that people want to listen to and one of the best ways to create compelling content is to put callers on the air. Now, not necessarily just any dumb cluck from the country, I shouldn't have said that, not just anybody who can dial your number, but you can get compelling callers on the air, you can get great guests on the air. Heavens, we've had some great guests on this show, you can get great guests on your radio station, on your podcast, on your TV show, bring them in by phone, ask them questions. Do a show with the mayor, with a stock broker, do a show with a doctor or a panel of doctors, a medical show.
Man, when I got started in AM radio, what? 30 years ago, we were doing all that kind of stuff. We'd have doctor panels and people would call in on Wednesday nights to ask the doctor a question, we'd have legal advice programs, and of course there's still plenty of network programs and some local ones too.
But if you run a station, if you are a content provider, if you do a podcast, take some phone calls. We're going to start taking phone calls on this show, we're going to eat our own dog food and take phone calls on this show. And hey, maybe other shows will follow suit. I know there are other shows on the GFQ Network that take phone calls and they are compelling, they let us know what's on people's minds, probably as well as the chat room does.
So, the way to do that, get some phone lines, whether they're SIP, or ISDN, or POTS, and get you a phone system like the Telos Hx6. Here, I got one right here behind me if I move my microphone out of the way. This is the Telos Hx6 right here, it is not expensive, six phone lines coming in, I've got mine being fed by a SIP adapter. I'm bringing these phone lines into my office via SIP, one of these lines is my Google Talk line, it actually used the Jabber protocol to connect with Google Talk. There's another one here that's coming in from, of all places, magicJack. Quality is not real high but you know what? If you had to do it, you could do it. And you can get perfectly good quality G.711 phone calls from any SIP provider, so that's one way to do it.
The phones, here we go, this is a VSet6 phone, this one is running power over Ethernet, see, there's the cable, PoE, power over Ethernet. It's actually being powered by a little PoE switch that I have back behind me. And there you go, look at this, I made up a radio station call error for me. What is this? KTel, for K Telos, lines one through four, and then there's the KTel hotline.
So, you can set all this stuff up in just in a matter of, even if you haven't done it before, a couple hours at the most, I think I did it in about ten minutes. You can have phones on your system that will let you do call screening if you want to do that, other phones will let you control the calls, put them right on the air. The Hx6 and the Telos VSet6, this is what you want to look at on the TELOS-SYSTEMS.COM website.
Also, if you happen to have an Axia console, any of them, you get to save a little money on your phone system. Instead of teh Hx6, you can check out the iQ6, it's exactly the same as the Hx6 but it doesn't have any audio connectors on the back, it's only Livewire. So the back of the cabinet on the iQ6 is very simple, power, Ethernet, phone lines, that's it.
On the back of the Hx6 you also have GPIO connections and a total of five XLR connectors, and you've got all the electronics inside to support that. Check them both out at TELOS-SYSTEMS.COM, the Hx6, and the iQ6, and he beautiful, cool VSet6. Put some callers on the air, let's get tradio going.
Tom: You just disappointed me, Kirk.
Kirk: How's that?
Tom: I thought you were selling albums, you have a K-tel line.
Kirk: You can tell it's K-tel from that yell.
Tom: That's right.
Kirk: Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Hey, we used to take callers on the air with two single-line hybrids and it was just terrible, and they weren't screened, we would take whoever called in, what a mess. Small-town tradio, or swap shop, but do it right, do it right. We're going to start doing that here at GFQ and get some callers on the air.
All right, This Week in Radio Tech, Number 184. Chris Tobin and I were having dinner a few nights ago and Chris was telling me some interesting stories about celebrities who wanted to put in a home studio so they could stay home and do their radio show. Chris, where would you like to start? I just heard story after story.
Chris: Well which one did you like, which one stood out in your mind? I'm curious.
Kirk: It's got to be the Bill O'Reilly story that stood out the most, that was just fascinating. I'm a little ambivalent about Mr. O'Reilly, I like some things he says but yeah, he's a bully, I do think he pushes people around unnecessarily. I don't always agree with him, sometimes I agree with him a lot. So, but he's an interesting character, he's physically a big guy, he's a little intimidating looking.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Kirk: Man, he can tongue lash you, he can be mean and rude, but I think he can also be nice. So, you did a studio in-home for Mr. O'Reilly.
Chris: Yeah, it was a very straightforward setup. This is when he launched his radio show many years ago and because his TV show didn't always tape every day of the week he wanted the opportunity to be able to do his radio show, which was every day, live from a location offsite, so we started with his home first. And it was interesting, he's a character. And like everybody else you can agree or disagree, the best thing is the fact that you have the opportunity to do that, disagree or agree.
And I went out to his home, set up the ISDN, very standard stuff, had phone, microphone, nothing fancy, and started doing things and just tried to keep away because I'm the engineering guy and he's the talent, and he has other things to worry about than putting in equipment in his room. And all of the sudden he starts talking to me about just current affairs, getting my opinion, and I'm like, "Okay, I'm trying to set up your ISDN, headset mic, and get ready for things for your show coming up in about two hours, and now you want to talk current affairs with me? Okay, you know what?"
I'm saying to myself, "Okay, here's this 6'2" Bill O'Reilly in his home, taking it easy, kicking back with a coffee and he's talking to me about the politics of the day. What my opinion is of the President, or what my opinion of what's going on in Europe." I'm thinking to myself, "How do I go down this path without finding myself either on his radio show at some point, thrown out of the house, screaming at me about something, and then my boss finds out that I've pissed off basically Bill O'Reilly because I was just there to set up an ISDN and we talked politics, he didn't like my opinions."
So I went down the path of, "Hey, what the hell, what have I got to lose? It's only Bill O'Reilly." So we started talking and before we know it we're going at it. I'm actually, not debating but just sort of going, "Well I understand where you're coming from, but do you really think it makes sense? People should be able accountable for their actions and that's really just a ridiculous way to do a solution. You're basically giving an out or an excuse to get away with murder," or get away with this and that.
He just looks at me, and he's looking down at me because I'm sitting down and he's sort of standing up at a high stool, and he goes, "I like that but you know what? You're wrong." And he starts pointing, I'm like, "Oh, okay, this is great. I'm in a corner of the room, I don't know what I'm going to do now," and, "Oh look, my phone is ringing, it's the office. They want to know how we're doing with the ISDN." I pick up and I said, "Mr. O'Reilly, can I get this one?" He said, "Yeah, yeah, take your call." I go, "Hello? Yeah, what's up? Yeah, we're almost done."
And all of the sudden Bill starts yelling and he starts going into a rant because he just liked the fact that I pushed back. And my boss is like,"What's going on?" I was like, "Oh, he's okay. He's talking to some producer I think back at FOX, it has nothing to do with us." He's like,"Really? It sure sounds like he's yelling at you." I said, "No, no, no. We're in the same room, we're fine, don't worry about it. Listen, we'll be dialing in to test in about five minutes, I'll call you back," click, hang up the phone.
He just looks at me and is like, "Really? All right, I understand, I see what you have to do." Set everything up, I said, "Mr. O'Reilly, would you sit down? Could we do a quick test?" Of course at that point that's like the softball, I just gave him the opportunity to beat the hell out of me with the guys back at the office because now he's in front of a microphone connected back to the network operations.
Needless to say the vice president, I think it was vice president of programming for the network, is at the studio end. Everything goes well and he's talking to them back and forth, he's talking to his radio producer, the call screener, everything is great. And then somebody blurbs out, "Is everything to your liking with your setup?" There's a pause. I'm listening on the headsets going, "Oh boy, here it comes. This is it." And he goes,
"Everything is great, the only problem is I don't like the politics of your engineer." And I'm like, "Oh boy. Oh, this is not going to be good." And the guys at the other end are going, "Well, neither do we, that's why we sent him out to you, we figured he'd piss you off."
So, that ends, I leave, his wife is very kind, she offered me coffee, we all talked, and at the end of the installation he was very happy, he's like, "Listen, I really enjoyed it. You're one of the few people that seem to push back, I appreciate it, you treated me like a human being." I'm like, "Well you are." I said, "Last I check you had two legs and two arms."I said, "I don't see any antlers sticking out of your head or little things like My Favorite Martian." And he laughed and I laughed, that was it.
Several weeks go by, he decides he wants to go on the road somewhere, do a show on the road radio. He calls his people, his people call my office, my boss. Guess who has to go out to Los Angeles to oversee his remote broadcast at another radio station. Me. Why? Because I'm the only one that's willing to talk back to him.
Kirk: What, he asked for you?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. It was fun. But the moral behind the story is when you're working with people like, I'll use the name Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, G. Gordon Liddy, Peter Jennings, people I'd worked with, Charles Gibson, just to name a few, okay? I'll name drop.
But for the story, you have to remember their name is on the marquee. And this is what I was saying to Kirk when we were out last week eating, when their name is on the marquee, you have to make sure it goes right. So if you're building a home studio or setting up on location, you have to make sure everything is going to work because if something goes amiss, no one is going to look at you the engineering guy, they're going to look at the guy's name on the marquee, or the woman's name on the marquee, and go,
"What the Devil is wrong with that person? Why can't they get their act together?" They don't accept that.
And I'll tell you another one, working with George Stephanopoulos, setting up his home, same thing. Great guy, got into a conversation, it was a hoot, just laughed, we talked, but his thing was, "I'm worried. What if something goes wrong because I can't have people thinking I don't know what I'm doing." I was like, "You'll be fine, don't worry about it. Just press this button, your producer will talk to you, as long as you can hear your producer and the cues coming back on the return audio, you're fine.
If that disappears, here's my advice to you, okay? My little bit of two cents. If you stop hearing the return audio, immediately assume that you've lost your connection and dial the speed dial on that phone to the engineering tech center, that's all. Because if you did lose the connection, they will know and will expect to hear from you. That's all you have to do."
Sure enough, George went off, did his stuff from home, was very calm, very happy, sent a letter to my boss saying, "Best advice I ever got from an engineering type. Appreciate it, good guy," whatever, "Keep him around."
And I wound up doing Peter Jennings, Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer, and several others. So again, just be yourself, be smart about what you're doing, and let them be an arrogant, pompous whatever, that's their thing. That's what they are, right?
Kirk: They got to have chutzpah to get where they got, that's part of it.
Chris: Exactly. But they have the right to their views just like you and I do as we do on the TWiRT show or anywhere else. Where out at a bar, if Andrew and I are at Press 195 by the GFQ studios and we're having a good time barking about politics or current affairs or idiots in the business, so be it. That's just your opinion, you're allowed to do it.
Bill O'Reilly is a great guy, I went to a New York Press Club session he did, he spoke at the Press Club in New York City last year and he basically let it out. He says, "Look folks, I know I can be a real SOB, I know I push and probably make a spectacle of somebody as my guest, but you know what?
You know that this is what I'm about and I'm not going to hold back. So if you can't take it, don't come. And as we know, he has many people he invites that don't come on the show.
Story going back even farther with that same line of thinking, Don Imus. Right? We all know Don Imus, or heard of him I hope.
Chris: Many years ago he was invited to a roast down at the National Press Club in Washington. I thought it was a great roast, I thought he did exactly what I expected because he's Don Imus. The next day the National Press Club I think it was or some news agency, people were livid, they were upset, they were appalled at what happened.
And I was like, "Well you invited Don Imus to roast the President," because that's part of the way it works with this thing, "What did you expect him to say? 'It's a pleasure meeting you, I hope the daisies on the veranda grow well. And it was a great job you did before Congress with the State of the Union last month'? No, it's Don Imus. He's going to say stuff you probably don't want to hear. Don't invite him." Okay?
Maybe I'm just being practical. So that's what I'm trying to show is that's what they are, if you have the honor or the pleasure to work with these guys, and it's a treat to be able to work with these folks and see what they do, do it right. That's all.
Then I had one with Dan Rather too I think, did I talk about Dan Rather? I think we did.
Kirk: Yeah, you mentioned you were fixing something under counter, yeah.
Chris: Dan Rather was a cool guy. Yeah, I was working, we were at the network operations center, we had a studio where Dan did his radio show, his radio update daily for the network CBS News Radio Affiliates. And one of the engineers called me into the studio and said, "Hey, we're having an issue with the headphone amp," or something simple. So I said, "What's the problem?" And we heard it and I was like, "Oh," it was the mic preamp, I said, "Oh, I know what that is."
We just got these new mic preamps, really good suite, like 150 dB voice floor, the whole bit, the dynamic range was great. But there was a setting on it you had to select depending on the microphone, dynamic or condenser. So, underneath the console I said, "Oh, here's the problem, someone hand me a Greenie." We're all familiar with Greenies in the audience, I hope? The one-eighth-inch, flat-blade, green-handled screwdriver? Okay, good. Just checking.
And I reach up, you reach up on the counter, and somebody hands me this screwdriver. I said, "Oh, great, thanks." And I fix it and I pop out and it's Dan Rather. I said, "Oh, Mr. Rather, I'm sorry. It's you're time to do your show?" He was like, "No, no, we got time. Go ahead, you needed a screwdriver, I thought I'd give it to you." I was like, "Thank you, that's kind of you to take time out of your day to hand me a screwdriver while I'm working. I appreciate that." He chuckled, he's like, "Oh, that's pretty good, I like that." I said, "Oh, I got to be a little humorous. You're a busy man, your schedule is tight and you got a network show that starts in an hour and a half so you got to get ready for it."
I leave the booth, he goes, sits down, gets his scripts, he's reading, he's writing his news, he writes all his stuff. And I guess it's his handler, or producer, or somebody comes up to me in the control, and you could see through the glass me and this woman talking and Dan Rather is on the other side of glass. And she just says to me, "You never talk to him directly without first seeing me. You understand?" I'm like, "Well I understand that you're upset, but you need to understand something. I was underneath the counter, I could not see him, he chose to answer my question that I threw out to the people in the room, and assisted on his own accord. I can't argue with that, if that's what he chooses to do then so be it. If you have a problem with it, you need to talk to him."
He gets up, I was livid, I was like, "You don't talk to me like that, you don't talk to anybody like that, I don't care who he is." I said, "I've worked down at the White House, I've worked in Washington, people don't do that even that way." So he comes out of the booth, he goes, "Is there a problem? Are we okay? Is something wrong?" I just turn to him and said,
"No, everything is just fine. I was just explaining to your assistant the finer art of how we manage radio shows here at the network and sometimes you have to be prepared for a delay."
Kirk: Oh, so you covered for her bad behavior to Dan Rather. You covered for her.
Chris: Absolutely, absolutely. I'm not going to throw her under the bus because again it's karma and somewhere down the road, we're working in the same building, we cross paths every day, why burn the bridge? But I made it clear that I'm not going to take gruff.
And you know what? Every time we needed something I could make a call. So, you got to roll with it. And Tom knows it, Tom has worked at a network, he's managed operations with talent, he knows all too well the same thing, and Tom ha probably got some good stories too.
Kirk: Tom, that puts you in the spotlight. You worked for years at WOR, had lots of people through there, common household names.
Chris: Joey Reynolds.
Tom: Joey. Oh my God, the all-night party.
Tom: But you know what's funny? Joey is a great and believe it or not I've known Joey since I'd been about three years old because he was on WDRC in Hartford around that time. I grew up around the corner from where the radio station was and my mother used to win things off his show all the time. And he kind of recognized the name and when I told him about that he actually pulled my mother's name up from memory.
Kirk: Oh my God.
Tom: Because she would go to the station to pick up the prizes and if he was there he'd come out and say hi. But I'm involved with this program on the weekend, it's Ron Ananian in The Car Doctor show, it's an independently syndicated car show so if anyone is listening and needs a car show on the weekend, give me a call, little commercial there. But anyway, we were renting a studio right now, we're building a studio in Ron's house.
But we're renting a studio and we're sitting there on the air one day doing the show and I was running the board, I usually don't run the board. I was running the board and I look up through the glass and I look again and who's standing outside the window? Joey Reynolds, at this station where nobody had seen Joey in a couple years. So, he gets through, he was going to be a guest on a program on the radio station where we're renting this studio.
And he's down in the kitchen and he gets me, he gets Ron, and we all go down there, he's sitting there and he's holding court. Telling stories of the past and the whole bit. Finally, the poor guy who was host of the show, it's like 15 minutes to air time, and he comes down and pokes his head in the kitchen, "Mind if I borrow Joey?" We don't mind, he kind of borrowed us. But poor Joey was just sitting there.
But many, many moons ago, when I was a young buck in the business, I was working production one summer and it was at WDRC in Hartford. And we had a car dealer in the Hartford area, a Chevy dealer, and he ended up somehow getting Reggie Jackson, Reggie Jackson is the spokesperson for his dealership. Don't ask me how.
But anyway, so they had done several television commercials so he comes by the station with Reggie Jackson and of course I'm sitting in the production room. And we sit down and he hands Reggie this copy and Reggie kind of looks at it, I punch play and record, figuring we'll do a false take or whatever. He does the worst read I have ever heard in my life, puts the copy down and says, "That's it, see you later."
And I said, "But guys, that was a great level check." I said, "Please sit down." "What are you talking about? You take that, you splice it." I said, "No, no." I said, "Let's get something straight." I says, "I don't tell you how to swing a bat." I said, "I don't tell you how to catch a ball, you don't tell me how to do audio production." I said, "Now sit down and read the spot like you mean it this time." And he went, "Yes, sir." And he sat down and read the spot.
And same thing like Chris when Dan's handler came in, "You don't talk to him that way." I said, "Yes I do." I says, "I got a client to protect." I said, "That spot was horrendous the first take he did." I said, "The second time he did it right." What the heck?
Chris: And most of the guys, most of these people I should say, if they're legitimate in what they do, they will take what you've just done to them and go, "You know what? You're right, I was being ridiculous and you put me in my place. Touche."
Tom: Right. And you know what? I didn't by any means, I wasn't disrespectful but it was like, "Look, I'm doing my job, you got a job to do too. But I don't play baseball, if I get out in the diamond I expect you're going to help me. I'm here to help you and I'm telling you that sucked,"real blunt.
But another CBS personality, Charles Osgood, when I worked at WTIC he came to town. First things first, many people don't know this about Charles Osgood, he is a musician, he plays piano, and we had a small piano in the studio. He insisted on sitting down with the morning guys and he played a ditty.
But his producer who came in, it was actually quite funny. Charles wrote this, great guy, great guy to work with. He's a real, real nice guy. The show fed at I'm going to say it fed at 35 past the hour, maybe it was 25 past, 25 past. And there were certain time limits to hit and we sat in the production room and he wrote the copy and he just couldn't get the thing to time out the way he did.
And this was before the days of where I could throw it into something like Adobe Audition or Pro Tools and quickly time adjust it and you'd never hear it, we were on tape. New York was starting to get nervous, this thing was literally one second over, and his producer went, "Who cares? Just feed it."
Well, I fed it and New York was insisting it was ten seconds over, it's like, "I'm sitting here watching the timer, guys. No." Then it was getting, keep in mind the thing feeds at 25 past the hour, it's five minutes of the hour and New York is getting nervous. "Feed it to us backwards, high-speed." "Okay." Racked it up backwards, ran at high-speed. "Well that was still ten seconds too long." "Well what did you expect? All we did was high-speed it."
Anyway, it came down to 23 minutes past the hour and they're still not happy and I just looked at his producer, who looked at me, and Charles Osgood is standing there and Charles Osgood got on the phone and said,
"We're running it live." We ran the tape back live on the network from Hartford. It was my first real experience with doing anything network, but it was like I just sat there and was like, "Yeah, I'm watching the clock."
It was cool, but just working with him he was rolling his eyes. He looked at me, he's like, "Just feed the stupid thing live." "Okay, no problem."
Kirk: But as Chris Tobin said, it's their name on the marquee and that's a great thing that you've got to remember. And sometimes we do have opportunities to work with celebrities, they've gotten to where they are by hook or by crook, by being really good, by being smart, right place, right time, whatever it may be, but it's their name on the marquee.
And as engineers who have to help them do what they do, we got to make sure that nothing that we've done or left undone gets in the way of them delivering their product, which has their name written all over it, to the masses, the people, the two listeners, whoever it might be. That is really, really key.
Tom: And my first boss in this business drummed that into my head the first year I worked in the business that you do everything in your power to make this guy look good, even if he's biggest doofus in the world you do what you can to make him look good and shine him up and make him fine because it's his name on the marquee, people don't know who you are.
And that stuck with me all these years. People like John Gambling, the morning man at WOR, his grandfather started the show, his father took it over, John took it over, and they're all named John, by the way. John Gambling has been doing a morning show in New York City for 80 years, three different John Gamblings, but still.
Kirk: Okay, all right.
Tom: You don't screw up his show. And he gets nervous whenever he has got to go on a remote, except when I show up. And he just sits there and he smiles, he goes, "Tom is here." And he just does his thing and he sits there and his board operator shows up and he knows when the board operator shows up, everything will be laid out properly, everything is properly labeled on the board, I go over everything with the op, I sit there right with him for the first half-hour till he's comfortable, and there's not a problem. Yeah, where some other people would just set him up and something would happen and he starts looking like an idiot on the air. Well, he knows that I'm not going to do that, and there are a lot of people in this business who won't let the guy look like a fool. Because you can't, it's your job to make him look good.
Kirk: I hear you.
Chris: Yeah, I had one with Peter Falk. You remember Peter Falk, he was a very famous actor. And I was working at a network operations facility and we were doing satellite media tours which are interviews via satellite for the affiliates. So the affiliates dial up a phone coupler so they can talk to the celebrity at the network studio, and then over the satellite the celebrity would answer the questions so you could have nice, clean, studio quality responses to your questions. And I'm in the ops center checking on I think our up-links at the time, the satellite, we had 56 channels up there with satellite.
And I get this call from one of the studios, the producer and board operator in the studio saying, "You've got to come to Studio 9." I was like, "Why?" "We have an issue." "Well what's the issue?" "Somebody is smoking in the studio." "Well tell them not to smoke." "Well we've tried to, they won't listen, they're yelling at us." "Well than call security, what are you calling me for?" "We don't know who else to call." "All right, fine. I'll come down." So I walk down the hall, I go into the control room, I look through the glass and there's Peter Falk. "Okay, so why am I here again?" "Well so and so in the other office," which is the head office, the engineering office, my boss' office, "Said you should talk to him."
"Really? I guess I must have pissed somebody off so it's my turn to get shot. Okay, fine."
So I go into the room, I say to Mr. Falk, "How are you?" He's like, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm the manager of technical operations for the network and I've been asked to touch base with you about the smoking condition you've created." He goes, "So what? Why does everybody have an issue with me smoking?" I said, "Well, it's not us, we don't have an issue with it, the city of New York does, the fire department does. So, if you don't mind could you just lay off on the cigarette for now and we'll let you take care of what you need to do in the hallway." He's like, "Really? Well, maybe I'll do that."
So, me being the wise ass New Yorker that I am, as I'm leaving the studio control room doorway I stop, I turn around, and I do this, "One more question though." I'm one big fan of the series Colombo, and I pull out a notepad, a little notepad in my hand, and I just turned to him and I said,
"By the way, is that cigarette filtered or non-filtered?" He looks at me, breaks out laughing to the point where he's like, "Don't go, stay here with me. I haven't had that done to me in years."
And people in the control room are like, they don't even know what to say because I have just done a Colombo mannerism to the guy who was Colombo. And I broke the ice, the guy stopped smoking, he put out everything, he apologized, the whole bit. I just walk out of there going, "All right, there's another one you missed."
Once again I got called down to the office and Senior VP of Engineering is like, "I just got a call from the VP of News," because the news division manages the satellite tours. He tells me that Columbo was visited by Columbo. "Now, is there any truth to that story?" I just look at him and say, "Well, as stories go, they sometimes are based on myth, sometimes they're just stories, sometimes they're unfounded. All I can tell is, yes, I was in the control room. Yes, Peter Falk was there. He is the character known as Columbo in many of his career, and I questioned him about his activity of smoking in the room, and at that point I left. That's the story." He just looks at me and he goes, "That's what I thought. Okay. That's it."
Then there was this other one that I had, again, to Tom's point, the name is on the marquee, so you have to remember that when you're engaging in a conversation with a celebrity. You may know her name. You may know of her antics and her politics and her ability to engage people in talkshows. This person was up in New York. She's normally based out of Washington. So we had our studio set up for her to do a show from the New York facility.
She had some issues with stuff in the booth. She starts hollering down the hallway, demanding somebody fix this problem. She's having issues. Mind you her show doesn't start for another hour and a half and she needs somebody to take care of this immediately, engineering is slacking, "This is ridiculous, I can't have this, blah, blah, blah."
So I get a call from the board operator saying, "Look, so and so is having an issue. You may have heard her yelling down the hall." I said,"Yeah, I can't miss it. I'm right down the hall." "They want something done immediately." I said, "Who's they, or her and her cohost?" I said, "Well, that's nice." I said, "We'll have whatever problem resolved. What's the problem?" "They can't print out their script." "Oh, yeah, that can be a problem, I guess. What time's the show?" "Oh, an hour and a half from now."
"Okay, I got you. Well, tell her we're working on it."
I should have told the board operator, "Don't tell her that I, my name, told you that we're working on it," because moments later the door opened up again, now my name is being screamed down the hallway to get my bum in gear to fix her problem.
So at that point I'm like, "Alright. Fine. It's 5:30. How bad can this be?" I holler down the hallway and I said, "I'll get your problem solved as soon as I've figured out what it is you can't print. Because I just printed your script and it looks just fine. Now, you can wait or you can have somebody else to call," and I go back into my office.
Three minutes later she comes into my office, looks at me and says,"Who the hell do you think you are?" I'm like, "I'm not nobody, really. I'm just VP of Engineering for the network. I'm trying to make sure your show goes off without a hitch. You've got an hour before air time and you're yelling to my staff about some printer issue." I said, "We've got three other printers in there. We just need to know what you want to print."
She stopped. She was like, "Alright, fine, I get it. Okay, no problem." She leaves. My boss walks in because his office is next to mine, and he goes, "Did you just engage in a shouting match down the hallway here in the CBS broadcast center, down the hall from the CBS VP of News to a talkshow host that many people might know the name if I said 'Laura Ingram'?" I said, "Yes, I did." He goes, "What were you thinking?" I said,
"Well, I was thinking that she needs to be told that we are working on it and she doesn't have to yell and I can yell just as loud as her and nothing will happen, just yelling."
He just looked at me and he's like, "You're crazy." I said, "Nah, it'll be fine. Trust me. We'll be fine. I've been down this road before." I got credit on her show and the next time she came to New York, guess who she wanted to see first.
Kirk: You got credit on the show, that was good. Okay.
Chris: I got credit on the show, yeah.
Kirk: And recognized she had a problem and stood up to her.
Chris: Yeah, every time I went to Washington, because she worked out of our bureau in Washington for the talkshow, I'd come down and see her. She would laugh. She'd call me into the room. Everybody else is looking at me like, "Who's this guy?"
I did the same thing with G. Gordon Liddy. You may know him from another infamous issue. He too was going to . . . hey, he's a hoot. If he was allowed to carry a gun, he would. He was another one that just love anybody who just basically would go toe to toe. That's just the way it goes.
But I've worked with some good people, as Tom has as well. They get it. The ones that don't get it? Well, then they deserve to get slapped, and that's just the way it goes.
Tom: You know who gets it, Chris? It's the ones who are the real pros.
Tom: Those pros who have been in the business a little while, especially when you demonstrate that you're looking out for their back. They sit there and they go, "I get it. You're cool. Next time I'm in town we're having a beer." "Not a problem."
Chris: I mean, I have put a lot of folks, I've been on remote locations and gotten people on the air immediately and breaking news story and made things happen like that because you only have one shot at a live breaking news story. After they realize what happened they're like, "You know what? He gets it. Cool."
And like Tom pointed out with his experience, when they found out that he was on location, they were calm. They knew everything was going to happen the way it should. That's what, really, people should strive for. We in engineering sometimes, we don't talk to the adults properly, and we're left in the back room. That's our own fault.
Kirk: Guys, this has been fun. We've got to wrap it up. We've had some good stories and a few topical conversation. This has been This Week in Radio Tech Episode 184. Chris Tobin has joined up from Barrie, Ontario, at the CCBE show there. Chris, thanks for taking the time and trouble to get hooked up from the far northern hinterlands.
Chris: No problem.
Fireside chat. I'd just thought it'd be nice to have FDR talk.
Tom: But the room was on fire behind you. But anyways . . .
Kirk: And, hey, Tom Ray, glad to have you back. Good microphone. You sound good and glad you were able to join us, even if a little bit late. Thanks for your contributions to our show.
Tom: Well, you're welcome. I apologize for being late. I just couldn't get Skype to pick them up. But anyway, yeah, it's good to be back, a lot of fun and we'll have to do this again sometime.
Kirk: Good deal. And Andrew Zarian for producing and switching our show, making us all look so good in New York. Appreciate you being here on the GFQ network. Andrew does equally fine work on all of his shows, so check them out on the GFQ network.
This has been This Week in Radio Tech, brought to you by my employed, the folks at Telos Systems and the Telos HX6 and IQ6 talkshow systems. They will add creativity and compellingness to your content. Check them out at Telos-Systems.com.
We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye bye.
Announcer: That's all the bandwidth we can pilfer this week. Another TWiRTs has propagated and all the transmitters and audio equipment lived happily ever after thanks to the handsome engineer and his kind, benevolent care.
We'll be back next week.
This Week in Radio Tech. Subscribe to iTunes and you'll never miss a show. Search for "This Week in Radio Tech" in the iTunes store. Soliciting is strictly encouraged. If you liked today's show, tell a friend. If you didn't like it, we were never here.
Kurt Harnack's wardrobe provided by the Salvation Army and the Red Cross Disaster Relief Services. Hair and makeup provided by Fanny Lope Garcia-Hernandez-Weinberg.
This ends this transmission. Tango. Whiskey. India. Romeo. Tango. Signing off. Okay.
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