“It’ll work,” said Bill. Bill is a satellite truck operator at WXIA. He was handing me the box into which I would plug my earpiece for an upcoming live shot in Talbot County, Georgia.
My earpiece was probably ten years old, a vestige from another workplace. The earpiece is one of those morning departure accessories that’s required with wallet, keys, pen, phone and key card. If you’re en route to a TV newsroom for a day’s work, you carry the earpiece.
WXIA had given me a new earpiece. It came in a box. Assembly was required. It also had a large plug, which raised a red flag in my mind. My earpieces always had teeny-tiny plugs. The new earpiece was in my briefcase, unassembled. The ten-year-old mainstay was in my pocket. It’s the piece Bill assured me would work on WXIA’s equipment.
The earpiece is essential. If I’m standing in Talbot County, I have to be able to hear the audio from the newscast — especially the “toss,” which lets me know when to start talking. Producers in the control room can also talk to me through the earpiece, giving cues and last-minute info. The earpiece plugs into a box that’s dialed into a phone line which transmits the program audio. The box is typically worn on the back of the belt during the live shot.
“There’s audio in the box. Try it,” Bill said. I grabbed the box. I put the earpiece into my left ear. Instinctively, I turned the volume knob all the way to the left, then inserted the plug-end of the earpiece into the smaller of the two holes on the box.
Instantly, loud and distorted ear-splitting audio bombarded my brainpan. I grabbed the volume knob again, and twisted it to the right. The decibel level reduced. I could hear legible program audio.
The earpiece worked. But at WXIA, it seems that the volume knob is what tech geeks might call “counterintuitive.” Twist it to the right, and the volume goes down. Now I know.
So began my first TV live shot since June 28, 2007. There are additional highlights:
- Talbot County, Georgia is so small that its county jail has only four cells. Walk into the lobby, and you can see the cells from the front door. The high sheriff himself was sitting behind the lobby desk — straight outta Mayberry. We did the live shot in front of the jail. It’s the white building over my right shoulder. The courthouse is on the other side.
- We wanted to do the live shot in front of the rural home where the dogfighting raid took place. Investigators urged us not to do so. Turns out there are friends and relatives in the area who strongly sympathize with the alleged dogfighter. We met one at midafternoon. He was scary, probably drunk, and acted like he was packing.
- The chain was gross. But it was a cool, clanky, Dickenesque prop.
- Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous at all, despite the fact that live shots aren’t my forté and two years had passed since my last one.
The hardest part of the live shot: Remembering the correct outcue. I had to rehearse it, out loud, several times. Our web guy says there has been some chatter on the WXIA message board, speculating on how long it would take for me to absentmindedly lapse into a “fox five news” outcue.
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One more note: Upon reviewing this piece, I now realize I dopily used the word “treatment” twice in the first sentence. Grade: C.