Back when IBM made huge mainframes and public school clocks, an IBM promotional sign hung in several of my childhood classrooms. The signs said “THINK” in large block letters. “THINK” was the one-word slogan developed by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr. early last century, and it lives on in the Thinkpad. It’s a powerful message, and as I later learned, the key to broadcast engineering.
Engineering managers quickly learn the importance of critical thought. In the case of broadcast television engineering, critical thinking is required to have a workable Plan B cued and ready at all times. TV is show business. The show must go on.
The one full-length prime-time newscast I was most proud to be associated with was produced during a major ice storm power outage, switched on a 10x router and mixed on a Shure M-67. We didn’t win any awards, but we put on a heck of a show in the worse possible conditions. When the broadcast studio lost its secondary power feed, we stayed on the air with what we could power from an ENG van generator. There was not enough juice for the news studio or production switcher, so we improvised. How I found myself in this situation is the basis of this tutorial.
I was chief at a station that didn’t have a studio generator. My predecessor and I asked for one on the capital budget for years, and every year we were shot down with the same response. It had become something of a joke in capex meeetings. Someone in corporate had determined that on average, we were off the air due to electrical service interruptions about two minutes each year, which works out to 0.0000038% of the time, and it usually occurred overnight. The worst slot machine in Las Vegas has significantly better jackpot payoff odds than that. The risk simply didn’t justify a $500,000 expense.
For better or worse, a brand new GM was at the station, and he found the ice storm situation unacceptable, especially as it went into a second day. He jumped up and down and the station got a honeymoon present from corporate — money to install a generator. The GM blamed the lack of a generator on me. At the time, I was rather insulted, but in retrospect, the GM was right. I had failed to do my job.