Your broadcast is only as good as its weakest link

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Jon Chelesnik
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Joined: Thu Jun 01, 2006 8:27 pm

Your broadcast is only as good as its weakest link

#1 Post by Jon Chelesnik » Tue Sep 09, 2008 1:48 pm

(Thank you to the person who shared this email with me)

I learned a valuable lesson last weekend.... one I should have
remembered from years past.

That lesson is: Your broadcast is only as good as your weakest link.

I take pride in the fact that I do a lot of preparation for my games,
and have invested a lot of money in equipment to make sure that the
games sound great. I convinced the radio station to install ISDN
lines at the home stadium to make it sound that much better (and they
have been very happy with that investment).

So last Friday, we had our first Friday game (we opened on a
Thursday), and it was a road game. We had installed the line, and
there were no problems there, but I could not get anyone at the
station to answer the phone. I kept calling, and calling, but no
answer. I called the board op's cell phone, and again no answer. I
finally called the request line, and heard "Welcome to show, you are
on the air".

Oh, crap.

Turns out the station had sold the hour before the game to do a
sports call in show. Great idea, but the board op was also the
host. And he had not been the board op I was expecting, who had
already been trained to do football. And he did not have the cheat
sheet with instructions for calling us, and setting up the
broadcast. He finally calls me back 5 minutes before we are
supposed to go on the air, and asks for the phone number.

Oh, but it gets better. Because he had not been trained, instead of
calling us on the Comrex Hotline box, he tries to connect through the
Telos system, which for some strange reason is not a POTS codec, nor
is it compatible with one (go figure).

It's now 10 minutes into the broadcast time, and we are still not on
the air. I finally am able to contact the program director, and ask
him to please help us get on the air, since obviously there is a problem.

Finally, at 15 past the hour, the jock calls on the hotline, and we
get hooked up. He finally starts the pre game interviews, which run
til about :28 past the hour.

Now I have made a fatal assumption here. I have assumed that the
board op has been monitoring us through the hotline, and has checked
out the audio to make sure that all is okay.

Oh, no. He never bothered to do that. So at the time we are to go
live, he pots us up, and nothing.

And what does he do? He tries to call me twice, but I've set my
phone aside, thinking we were good. Now he knows we have return
audio, but instead of sending us stuff, he just plays commercials,
and never actually sent the return audio to us. We think everything
is fine... until we get to the first break, about 20 minutes into the
game, and don't hear anything. I look at my phone to see the calls,
and call him back, and that's when he tells me that oops, we've not
been on the air.

Turns out that a cable had come loose at the stadium, which took all
of a second to fix, but because the board op never checked....

An unbelievable comedy of errors. Made us look bad. Made the
station look bad. Made the fans upset.

So the question is... is your board op properly trained? Is he just
a minimum wage flunky who can't handle a crisis? Is the station
investing money to get the games on, but leaving you with a scenario
that is doomed to fail? When you are at the stadium, you can't
control what goes on at the studio, and if you've got a 6 dollar an
hour guy handling your $1500 an hour football broadcast, then you
have a very weak link in the chain.

Something to think about. (especially if you are a general manager).

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#2 Post by radiorat » Tue Sep 09, 2008 4:36 pm

Speaking as a guy who went from board op to play-by-play guy I'm sure I had my moments of being a bad board op but:

I had a board op once who for whatever reason didn't like to give me the return audio during breaks. Fine by me...I was usually focusing on which baseball players were coming up in the next inning or whatever wild on field promotion was taking place.

All I asked for was to let me know I was "clear" during the break, then a simple 15 seconds and 5 second mention. Here is the unstable part of the story. About 80 percent of the time (during his short tenure) he wasn't paying attention. So, during most breaks I might get something random like "7 seconds till air" or my favorite was when I got "1 second until air"

Usually with one side of the headphones off, talking to someone in the press box thinking I got at least 15 seconds.

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Location: Plymouth, MI

#3 Post by Krupper » Wed Sep 10, 2008 4:32 am

This happened to me when I was broadcasting the 2000 Ontario Hockey League Finals for the Plymouth Whalers against the Barrie Colts.

We were on commercial radio that season.

My board op that night was a former employee of the station who had moved on, but had been rehired. His first assignment was to board op my broadcast.

We missed most of the first period because as a rehired, new employee, he didn't have a key to get into the station. He had to call someone to unlock to station and this took most of 45 minutes.

I taped the first period and cut out the highlights, played a little later during the broadcast.

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Location: Missouri

#4 Post by radiodj2 » Wed Sep 10, 2008 7:22 am

I've had both sides of trouble. I worked with one board-op who recorded hockey highlights and edited them for playback between periods. He's really the one who made our broadcasts sound professional. He is also one I forgave for a few seconds of dead air because I knew what he was doing.

On the other hand, I had one board-op that would never put us in mix minus to hear the station. I had to break out the stop watch and call the commercial breaks. "We'll be back in :60 seconds," etc. Another time, during a football broadcast, I asked him to give a weather forcast because storm clouds were moving in and found out there was nothing but dead-air.

It got so bad one day that the owner came in, fired the guy, and finished game on the board.
Steve Casson
Voice of the Missouri State Ice Bears Hockey Team
WebSports Radio

Willing to trade for a job, and I have something to trade....

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#5 Post by sports_talker » Fri Sep 12, 2008 3:52 am

A good board op/producer can make all the difference in the world in this one. One station I was working with ran the gamut. It was a college station airing minor league ball and so the board ops were station employees who stayed in town during the summer. There were two who were phenomenal. One was so dedicated that he had to be talked off the ledge when in August (after running a perfect board to that point in the season) we had eight seconds of dead air because he was on the phone with a caller who was irate that baseball was on and not the music show he was expecting. Then the flip side was a board op who was routinely off in hitting spots, played the wrong spots and if you mentioned something, you could hear them start to tear up on the other end of the line.

We've talked about board ops a lot in this post . . . but to maybe take it a different way, what if the weak link is not hundreds of miles away in a studio, but is three feet away from you in the booth? What do you do when if there is so much tension between you and your #2 (or or the flip side, when a #2 is frustrated with the #1) that it is perhaps not so noticable on the air, but it feels uncomfortable in the booth and you worry that the tension could spill over into your performance?

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