Daily Archives: November 3, 2009

High wire act

Audio_Technica_SharpLavalierMicrophones“Here.  Let me clip this mic on you.”

There’s no getting around it.  One cannot gather news unless one records audio.  Operating in a world that lacks boom-mic toting audio techs, the local TV news goon typically has two options:  Hold the unwieldy, flag-draped stick microphone under the chin of your interview subject; or clip the discreet lavaliere mic to her garment.

From the standpoint of the visual aesthetic, the latter is almost always the preferred method.  It also has the greatest potential for personal embarrassment.

Lisa Borders, Doug Richards, WXIA

Is that a mugger? IRS agent? Perv? Or TV reporter?

“Let me clip this mic on you” is the easy part.  As those words are uttered, the TV goon is making an immediate assessment of the couture of the interview subject.

The woman above is Lisa Borders, Atlanta’s City Council President and candidate for Mayor in today’s election.  Not only does Borders have the best haircut of the six candidates, but she’s also a very smartly dressed woman.  Such well-dressed women are often the most difficult to rig with a lav.

There are three components to the procedure.

lisa borders on wxiaClip the mic to the garment. Though you can’t see it in the photo, the mic is clipped to Borders’ left lapel.  When evaluating the subject’s couture, the TV goon almost always looks first for a jacket.  Jackets make life much easier than, say, a mere T-shirt or, God forbid, a form-fitting garment constructed of mesh or lace.  There needs to be a place to apply the clip.

Whatever the female subject is wearing, the TV goon almost always finds himself positioning his awkward, sweaty hands on or near her upper torso.  “Sorry.  I do this all the time,” he might find himself saying, trying to maintain an air of straight-faced professionalism.  Most women react with passive bemusement, closely watching where the stranger’s hands are headed.

Hide the wire. The tiny mic is attached to a wire.  The wire either attaches to the camera, or to a small, boxy wireless transmitter.  The wire should be invisible.  On Borders, it was easily placed inside the jacket.  Again, the TV goon must ensure such placement by opening the jacket and gently running the wire within.  Awkward.

However, the wire sometimes has to go inside the woman’s only outergarment.  You hand her the mic and wire, then ask her to extend it inside the waist opening of the garment, then out her collar.  I always casually turn my back for a few seconds while she fishes the gizmo through the inside of a shirt or blouse.


(L) Mic and transmitter, (R) receiver

Secure the transmitter. The boxy transmitter, attached to the mic via the wire, has to go somewhere.  Sometimes, if the wire is long enough, the TV goon can hold the transmitter.  More often, however, the transmitter has to be attached to the interview subject, out of sight of the camera.

Most transmitters have clips that can be put on belts.  Sometimes, the transmitters slip easily into the pants pockets of the subject.   Neither option worked with Borders.  Our transmitter lacked a clip, and it was too bulky to fit into her pants pockets (a conclusion I drew from the earlier couture assessment).

But Borders was carrying a purse.  “How ’bout I just put this in your purse?”  Borders agreed, opened it and I slipped the transmitter onto the top of whatever was inside.

Following this ritual, the TV goon must shake off the awkwardness and conduct the interview.  Sometimes, the interview is contentious.  Frequently, the interview subject has gone through the same thing herself many, many times.  She knows the drill.  Occasionally, she can even manipulate the gear herself.  But it’s almost always quicker to assist.

Rookie interviewees are tougher.  You have to talk them through it.  “You need to run this wire inside your blouse somehow, ma’am.  Then I’m going to clip this to your collar…”  Many laugh giddily at the unexpected placement of gear and hands.  A rare few will feel a bit threatened by it.

Then afterward, the process is reversed.  The TV goon reaches toward the interviewee and liberates her from the transmitter, wire and microphone.  Tear-down is (almost) always much quicker than the setup.  By then, the awkwardness is an accepted part of the encounter.

“I’m a professional.  I do this all the time.”

Photo credit / blame:  Liz Flowers, press secretary to Lisa Borders.  Story on WXIA is here.