A technical timebomb

Working for the BBC for 46 years has left me with many anecdotes, but of course a lot of them require an understanding of the technical equipment and the broadcast procedures and make no sense to civilians. This one is only mildly technical:

I was involved in the design of a special desk for sports and news programmes, with more facilities than usual. One new facility was that there was a small mixer on the announcer's desk in the studio, so that he could record an interview by himself while we got on with something else in the control cubicle. This was enabled by pressing a button on the mixing desk in the cubicle, which broke his microphone away from the main desk and routed it to his small mixer. When he had finished he had a button to press to return things to normal - obviously you wouldn't want the main desk to be able to break into what he was doing, particularly if it was on the air at the time.

A neat idea: but I never saw it used, and I'm not sure it ever was. After a couple of years the announcers complained that it was in the way and it was removed.

Two years or so later I went in there one morning to make a straightforward recording. We couldn't get the microphone to work. We did all the right things, even switched the desk completely off and on again - no luck. In the end we called maintenance and moved to another studio.

Maintenance subsequently said it was a faulty chip: I'm not sure I believe this. What I think happened was that the original button to break the microphone away from the main desk, which was still in place, had been pushed by accident. Once done, there was no way of getting it back because the button to undo this had been taken away with the announcer's mixer. The only cure was for maintenance to go into the desk and unwire things.

Fortunately this happened at a time when no serious consequences followed. However I can think of an excitable sports producer who might very well have pressed this button by accident in the middle of a live transmission.... and this accident had been waiting to happen for two years.

Posted: Wed - September 2, 2009 at 09:11 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM