Postaday2011 – 31/334 Reality TV

The suggested topic for the last day of January was if you had your own reality show what would it be called etc… Well having worked in broadcasting for 25 years I know quite a lot about television programmes so rather than make one up I thought I might share some of my experiences with you.

In my early days in TV I worked at the BBC studios in Pebble Mill Road, Birmingham. At the time this was a relatively new complex with double, possibly triple, height windows along the front of the building, it was quite an imposing sight but it was in a residential road and I imagine when the planning application went in there were a lot of objections.

Every day, Monday to Friday we produced a live 45 minute programme from the reception area known as the foyer. It was a long wide strip with the reception desk situated opposite the double glass doors and at about 12:30 the receptionists would disappear to the end of the building where a secondary entrance was put into operation. The presenters sat with their backs to the windows and the street and every movement behind the camera could be reflected in the windows depending on the light outside.

Pebble Mill at One went on air at one o clock sharp and for the audience, usually pensioners bussed in from somewhere, it appeared to be a very calm and organised event. However this was not always the case.

We always had a music number at the top of the show and another to close the programme before the signature tune was played. It was fairly normal practice too have a band rehearsal for the sound crew at 12:30 but this didn’t always happen. If things were not going smoothly then this went out the window resulting in a sound supervisor trying to balance the sound of several instruments and voices hearing it for the first time as it’s being transmitted. On the studio floor we always had one member of the sound crew to provide and control “foldback” a feed of the sound being produced to the vocalist. If you haven’t heard the music properly it can be difficult to get the level right. Musicians could often be seen gesturing to someone out of shot that they couldn’t hear properly. To make things more interesting we also provided PA, amplified sound for the audience. Because the foyer was not acoustically treated this reflected all over the place and it was not unusual to hear a “howl round” where the PA or foldback was being picked up by the microphones and coming full circle out of the speakers again. Not a nice noise.

Another joy was that we only had four radio microphones and on Fridays when we did the gardening feature at the very back of the building one presenter would have to relinquish their microphone so it could be taken to the rear of the building for the gardening presenter. This created another set of problems, the signal from these early radio transmitters was not good so a portable aerial had to be manoeuvred into position to pick up the signals. The presenter with the gardening expert needed to hear foldback from the foyer, so you now have two radio microphones, a portable aerial and a loudspeaker all outside, so much fun when wet.

It didn’t always work but we did our best and I will always remember one little old lady telling me I had an easy job, 45 minutes a day. Little did she know that to create this organised chaos we started at 08:45 and by the time we had cleared up it would probably be 14:30 before we could go to lunch.

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