White Van: Tales from a Mobile Newsroom Page 3

March 11, 2010

A V-10 Workplace

Dog Dish    

Listening to people tell others what an ENG truck does is at amusing.  They'll point at the dish on a tall mast and say, "See that's a satellite and it sends pictures into space."  Problem:  Milwaukee is on west side of a great lake, our main microwave receiver is mounted on not far from Lake Michigan on a free-standing tower--Eiffel-style.  From there, signals are relayed to our station's studios farther north.  For most remotes, the ENG truck's microwave dish is pointed east for obvious geographical reasons.   It sends electrical signals into space, but not outer space.  There are satellite news gathering vehicles for that purpose.  These SNG trucks have very large dishes, which don't telescope 56-feet high. Instead these dishes point upward toward items that orbit earth's equator. Which in the Northern Hemisphere means, they "shoot" the southern sky.

Haven't I Seen You on TV?

On one assignment, a simple tag-out where the reporter stands in front of a tony suburban bank's digital display and says something pithy about the lousy weather, after the station plays a videotape ‘package'--hence a tag rather than an intro or a donut which is both.  Before, we could perform this perfunctory live shot, a woman on trek home from a nearby Walgreens wandered over and began to ask talent questions about TV news.  Honey, if you only knew the countless hours waiting, the boredom, the quest for a fleeting moment of eye candy, you'd run.

This woman asked, "What's your name."  Talent replied, "Peter."  "Peter Jennings," she exclaimed in a Nancy North Shore nasal tone, "You're famous."  "He is also dead," I said in Peter's interruptable foldback or IFB--a wireless receiver that permits talent to monitor what's on-the-air, and the control room to talk into the reporter's ear.  Peter meekly shared that he's not famous, but this woman, whose fascination with her less than six-degrees-of-separation from what she thought was ABC's cosmopolitan nightly anchorman, had something adrift upstairs.  Mostly likely, she was cognitively challenged.  But when you set your mind to it, nearly anyone who gets too close to a ENG van appears profoundly retarded--really.  Just drive a truck with a TV station logo on it--they'll find you.

Now, one parting shot.  If you aren't already frightened speechless, consider talent.  They're not stupid, although sometimes you aren't sure.  Yet, they can create a hazardous workplace.  For instance, reporters turn the van into a beauty parlor.  Hairspray, curlers, combs, brushes and makeup pour forth from their purses and bags producing foul vapors strong enough outdo Orkin.  After an elaborate face-making ritual, they stand for 15 seconds in front of a camera and then head back to the truck and ask, "How did I look?"  What am I to say?  The truth:  "The last time someone saw something like that they turned into a pillar of salt?"

Fact is, I spend more time checking audio levels, tweaking cable compensation and listening for cues.  I never confirm whether someone looks good on a nine-inch CRT.  I'm just making sure the PJ's camera's colors are accurate.  Yet, since this is a performance--show business--it's only human to seek affirmation.  I'm not, however, a theater critic.  I cannot determine from a waveform monitor whether you look good.  I can tell you whether we had 100 units IRE.  Then, there are exceptions.....


Sometimes, you team up with an edgy ham.  I call these people Ricochet--as in Ricochet Rabbit--bing, bong, bing.  These talent are just itching to let loose in front of a camera.  They can be fun, and at times those infected with the friendly news virus, make your day.  There are times, however, when they should stuff it, chill out it--emulate Connie Chung, Jacquelyn Adams or Frank Courier.  Believe me; I've done live shots for them.  Each was straightforward, businesslike.

Here's an example of what I've endured.  Oh, what I've endured.  The Ricochet is perky reporter--Chris.  He hasn't done this long enough to curb his enthusiasm.  Everything is exciting.  Everything!

The location: a strip mall; a bad omen, when you think about it.  Anyhow, the news story was how Halloween ranks in per capita spending.  High said USA Today.  We concurred without a shred of evidence.  The strip mall's temporary tenant:  a costume store pushing hundreds of Chinese-made garments stuffed in vinyl bags.  Its storage room held boxes of soon obsolete costumes.  Chris wanted to do his live shot inside the store.  Not, near the checkout counter, but as deep into this monster pit as one could go.  This doesn't win the engineer's affection; one must pull hundreds of feet of cables, protect them, keep hapless shoppers away from them and then pray the cables work.  They did, but why?

Chris illustrated on TV the spirit that surrounds Halloween by wearing costumes.  The first one was an apt metaphor, too.  He donned a toilet.  Yuck!  Why, I wondered, didn't he have good taste?  Wait, there's more.  You see, we had several cut-ins during this hour-long newscast; with that much news-hole to fill, something ridiculous was inevitable.

And Chris proved the point.  When I emerged from the ENG van to move cables for our next live shot, I saw an image the Medusa--so stunning, it took my breath away.  There was Chris, dressed as Barbara Eden in an "I Dream of Jeannie" costume.  It was shocking pink, had a bikini bottom, bikini top, blonde wig, and gauze-like fabric that I think was meant to diffuse the dangers that lurked underneath.  It didn't work.  Just one look at the hairline headed from Jeannie's--I mean Chris'--navel toward the bikini bottom sucked out my eyeballs.  Help!  A Screen Gem ‘BOINK' couldn't save me.  Chris cheerfully asked, "How do I look."  I said, "Put that back in the bottle and never come out!!!!!"  Instead, he jumped in front of the camera and did his live shot.

As I said, I drive an ENG truck.  It isn't pretty.

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