Often, as our newscast begins, I’ll quickly tune the TV at my desk to see what the other stations are leading with. I can’t be the only one in TV to do that?
It’s idle curiosity. Most of the time we all have similar ledes¹. When we don’t, there’s usually a technical or structural reason that trumps the actual content.
Friday, while tuning, I came to WFSB – Channel 3 in Hartford. They were ‘in black.’
As I sat and wondered what was going on, a tape began to rewind on-the-air. I could pick out the specific digital format by the distinct square pixelated areas. Even the non-initiated could see it was Oprah, running backwards at breakneck speed.
WFSB’s news never did air Friday afternoon. A burst sewer pipe in the basement of their soon-to-be-abandoned building was threatening the electrical system. Everyone was ordered out as the smell of sewage and electricity began to permeate the building (Hey, I’ve got sources).
Last night it was WABC’s turn in New York. A bulb above their news set exploded, causing a curtain to catch fire!
Again, the building was evacuated as fire crews moved in to quickly douse the flames.
In neither case was anyone hurt. That’s a good thing. In neither case did the news get on-the-air. That’s troubling.
I remember reading, 15-20 years ago, about stations that had suffered misfortunes and mounted their newscast from the parking lot or other makeshift locations. I’m afraid those days are over.
As television equipment has become more sophisticated, it has also become less versatile. We can’t just pick up our videotapes and use a live truck, because we’re no longer using tapes. All our video is held in a few racks of computer servers.
Each and every part of what we show on-the-air is controlled by computers. When they communicate nicely, things are smooth as can be. When one system decides it won’t play well with others, it can stop the whole show.
All things considered, I’d rather have to tell the audience fire kept us from bringing them the news than blaming it on poop!
¹ – This alternate spelling “lede” has become more and more popular recently. I’m sure someone will cite longstanding tradition, but I never remember anyone using that spelling prior to the last four or five years.