Drive Straight Away from a Career in Television

By Race Bannon

You’ve seen those brightly painted local television live trucks. The graphics are so fantastic. And there just might be (gasp!) a news personality inside! Is that the handsome Steve Day! No, O’migosh it’s the lovely Amanda Wi! And then three seconds later. . .REALITY CHECK. Wow. I almost hit that TV truck.

Live trucks are incredibly dangerous even when parked; but they’re even more dangerous in that scenario.

The live truck’s anatomy itself is dangerous. The mast – the telescoping antennae on top of the truck – makes the truck top heavy. Additionally, the equipment-laden truck is very difficult to stop once it gets going. Read on to get the inside scoop about why you ought to stay away from TV live trucks!

The person in charge of maintaining a television station’s fleet is called the fleet manager– usually a powerless employee who must wear many hats.

Because a television station is its own corporate bureaucracy, with bottom line obsessed bean counters in far away places, the fleet manager may have to wait for written permission to purchase a part or service. Repairs that are deemed non-essential may be delayed. Need new side view mirrors? The cracked ones are still OK. You say the trucks reverse and backing up alarm is down? Forget it. Brakes? Tomorrow.

There are, however, even greater challenges for the keenest of fleet managers. Many live trucks are driven around the clock. A photographer starts a shift at 9AM and drives the live truck for eight to ten hours. Then a night crew takes over the truck. The same truck may stay in use for the overnight shift.

News crews are necessarily rough on live trucks, because news events by their nature are difficult places to negotiate. Live trucks have to be parked in tight places, wacky inclines, stony fields, curbs, crumbled concrete– treacherous places where no “normal” motorist would ever go. That means that a live truck is in continuous need of repair and alignment.

Furthermore, the news crew themselves, though innocent in my view, are also a danger. Their thankless task masters incessantly call both the photographer and the reporter on their personal and company-issued cell phones and Blackberries, mercilessly urging the crew to hurry to breaking news, reminding them that competitors are already on the air, LIVE! with the story. After one call ends, another instantly begins as yet another person in the same office, from an adjacent cubicle, barks out the same questions: “WHERE ARE YOU NOW! NO, RIGHT NOW! I WANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW! WELL WHEN CAN YOU GO LIVE!?!

Never mind that these reporters and photographers just had the same conversation with three other people seated four feet apart back at the television station. In a live truck there are potentially four cellular telephone conversations going on at the same time as news crews handle their addled managers, the engineering department, those portions of John Q. Public – witnesses and survivors – directly affected by the news event, and the first responders’ public information officers, already at the news event. Let’s say it together with passion: !DISTRACTED DRIVERS!

Finally, the fair reader must know the truth about the occupants of the live truck, and about their employer. Because the aforementioned bean counters know that it is cheaper to make existing employees work overtime than it is to employ enough people to do the actual work, that news crew may be working a 14 hour, break-free day, using only coffee and cigarettes for sustenance. Be assured the driver of a local television news live truck is pulling a gruesome 50-60 hour work week, made up of a muesli of overnight shifts, doubles, split shifts, and turn-arounds. Indeed, the wretched souls who operate live trucks for local TV stations may be seeing double, and hanging on to consciousness like a loose tooth.

In summary, motorists should resist trying to get close enough to a local television live truck to recognize the people inside. The live truck anatomy is dangerous. The live truck may not be well-maintained. Of most concern is the human issue. More likely than not, the operators of these live trucks are exhausted, highly distracted drivers who are in a much different place that you could ever, or would ever, want to be.

Race Bannon is a pseudonym for a current employee of an Atlanta TV station. LAF welcomes submissions. We don’t have to publish your name, but we have to know who you are. Get our contact info from the “contact LAF” page.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

18 thoughts on “Drive Straight Away from a Career in Television

  1. liveapartmentfire Post author

    Race:

    My favorite conversation is this one:

    Voice on phone: How long til you can go live?
    Reporter in truck: We’re eight miles away. Traffic is at a crawl.
    VOF: How long will it take you?
    RIT: Under normal circumstances, 12-15 minutes. In rush hour, it’s impossible to say.
    VOF: I need to know how long it’s going to take.
    RIT: I’m giving you the best info I can. We’re eight miles out, bad traffic.
    VOF: (Angrily) I need an ETA.
    RIT: OK! 45 minutes?
    VOF: (as he hangs up) DOUG SAYS HE CAN BE LIVE IN 45 MINUTES…

    Reply
  2. extvtog

    Great piece! I have been that photog racing in a live truck as it tips and sways weaving in and out of traffic under the pressure to get to a breaking news story STAT!
    I am no longer in the biz thank goodness.

    Reply
  3. passengerside

    Race, it’s like you lived my life today.
    Only you found a way to make it funny.
    But it’s really not funny.

    Reply
  4. SSG Daly

    Oh you know I had to chime in on this one!
    I never had an accident in a live truck 18 years in News. How? I was just plain lucky! I don’t know how! Part of me kept sanity by knowing there were forces you just can’t overcome, like traffic. Part of me knew that if an assignment editor ever took me to task, I would have them meet me in the bosses office to explain themselves. I’d put the amount of times I put my butt on the line for our viewers against anyone who sat behind a desk and dare them to question my work ethic.
    So, here’s one of the last conversations that was another notch in the boot that finally kicked me enough times to let me know it was time to head out the news door.
    VOF:”Mike, why did you kill the live shot?”
    ME:”There was a lightning strike.”
    VOF:”Well…Channel 2 must be dumb then because they just went live from your location.”
    ME:”No they didn’t.”
    VOF:”Yes, they did. Tom Jones just did a live shot.”
    ME: “Tom Jones isn’t here. I’m in the area with Carol Sbarge. Have you seen her live yet?”
    VOF:”No.”
    ME: “Hang on, Hey Alan!(channel 2 photog) Did you just do a live shot?”
    ALAN: “No! Are you out of your mind? Did you not just see that F____ng lightning Bolt?”
    ME to VOF: “We’ll call you when it clears up. Meanwhile, just use the flooded mobile homes video I sent in our 5 o’clock report.”

    SSG Daly is a former photog of WAGA TV who quit after an even Dozen years at the station.

    Reply
  5. Don J

    Hey, that was my story. The same thing happen to me and every other photographer and reporter in Atlanta. Don’t we all know, nothing changes but the call letters…Thank God we don’t have to do that any more….

    Reply
  6. Edward

    I just want to convey my appreciation for this inside view into the world of the local news reporter. I know it gives me a better appreciation for what you actually have to do in order to perform your jobs. It isn’t just show up and look pretty for the camera, though that is what most people, I assume, would think.

    Reply
  7. rptrcub

    @Edward: Most folks have no idea what bullshit reporters of all stripes have to put up with, regardless of medium, thanks to insane and/or incompetent producers/editors.

    Reply
  8. Lynn Harasin Johnson

    Race, You are such a fantastic writer, I don’t know why you can’t be a reporter, photographer, editor and engineer.Look at the money you’d save your employer. When you listed the difficulty in parking one of these trucks, don’t forget when you have to turn over parking duties to your reporter so you can run to shoot. There was that time at Atlanta Municipal Court when I backed up the live truck and ran right over a parking meter. Pulled forward, turned it off, locked it and ran after the photographer. Don’t give Mayor Franklin my address.
    God bless you all.Come visit us in Maine.
    Lynn

    Reply
  9. spaceyg

    Growin’ up in the piney woods of Carolina, I was always told an overloaded pulp wood truck driven by a drunk redneck was the most dangerous piece of machinery on the planet. Well color me corrected.

    Reply
  10. TravisBickle

    One obvious omission to the piece: electrocution.
    I’m amazed there aren’t more tragedies
    I remember a time when live truck operation was a two person duty. It’s insane to think how one person must endure deadline pressure and, oh yeah, DON’T GET KILLED

    Reply
  11. Newman

    Mrs. Johnson……I believe the city of Atlanta has a bill for you…..and WSB found some damage to their bumper……

    Reply
  12. 20 year Veteren

    They tell us in safety meetings not to talk on your cell while driving. That said the assigmnent desk is quick to call you with a breaking news location so when you ask them for directions they will tell you they are too busy to help you go figure it out…..So you now have to pull over to get out a map while they are still calling asking you how faw away are you and when do you expect to be live… WTF!!!

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Transparency « live apartment fire

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