Sunday, March 11, 2007

What I do at work or A little TV 101 for y'all (warning it's a LAP, long a** post)

So, I your humble blogger am sitting here on a Sunday night. It's prime time and we are about to roll into "Deal or No Deal". Now, I am a trained professional broadcast operator, don't try this at home, and I can execute my assigned broadcast duties flawlessly (sorry Rush) with zero mistakes, and I have tonight. The show "Grease" is on right now and I recorded it over an hour ago. Unless noted otherwise, we have an hour delay so even though prime time on Sunday starts at 17:58:00 (that's 5:58 pm for all my trailer park friends in Fountain, Colorado) we actually started recording at 17:00:00 (5:00 pm). There is a reason for this madness. Now, you may ask, "Slayur, why do you guys do that? isn't it supposed to be live?" Well, the reason is JUST BECAUSE WE CAN! WHAT THE HELL DO BOTH OF YOU PEOPLE WANT FOR FREE? No, seriously, seeing as how I am a professional broadcast engineer (kids, don't try this at home, remember?) I will explain the best I can, so all 2 viewers of our air signal (I am kidding, we are the 13th largest TV market in the country, we are coming up to 4 million people here in the Valley of the Sun, so really, we have 3 viewers, maybe 5 tops when Ice Skating is on.) I really could confuse you if I started telling you about the "mountain minute" but I will save that for another time. The picture on the right above is the server area in the "TOC", which is a highly technical TV term for "Technical Operations Center". We call it "TOC" for short. I know the pics are not that good, but I took them with my phone camera, sue me.


Anyway, we don't use tape. Since the advent of computer technology, we now use servers, kinda like the big brother to TIVO. Actually, TIVO is really a rip off from what we use in TV. We have several servers that are tied together through an "Air Client" named HAL that manages everything (that's part of the lists on the left, that's just 5 of the playback channels, no record lists as they are minimized!). HAL is a great guy. I gave him that name. I often tell people that it's taken from "2001 A Space Odyssey", which it is, but it occurred to me that it can be an acronym (I hope I am not losing any of my Fountain, Colorado friends by using big words) for Harris Automation, Louth. See, when we first got the system, it was built by Louth, an English company specialising (notice the King's English spelling of "specializing, those damned brits! can't spell worth a damn and they have bad teeth!) in broadcast computer automation. But then that big bad Harris Corp, (they're a big corporation, so according to the libs, they must be evil) they make all things broadcasting, bought them out. So now Louth has become Harris. See? that's not that complicated. Anyway, HAL keeps track of everything we program into him. We get daily playlists from traffic & programming with all the show & commercial information and then we "clean" them up removing extraneous elements (there are those big words again, stay with me, ok?) and then we append them or tie them to the previous list, so it's all one great big list. (The pic on the right is one of the panels of one of our servers, 2 record panels and 4 playback, bet you wish your TIVO could do that!)

So, on to whatever the hell I was talking about. Anyway, Tonight is special. Sunday night's we run 4 hours of NBC programming as opposed to 3 hours on weekdays. And, since we started airing Deal or No Deal (from now on, I will call it what we call it here, DOND, pronounced "DON-D"), it has been a pain in the butt because it's suppose to be "interactive". That means that each episode has it's own unique branding for each regional time zone (East Coast, Central, Mountain & Pacific) and can have 4 different episodes. Well, they are all the same episode, they just contain different elements unique to the timezone. So, on the East Coast, Vinnie Bagadonuts will be mentioned in the episode whereas in California, they will mention Biff Cokerazor from Hollywood. See what I mean? Well, seeing as how this is Arizona, we always get the ram up the ole exhaust port. Technically we are supposed to be in the mountain time zone, but since we don't change time like the rest of the country, we can be in the pacific time zone for part of the year and then mountain for the rest. Right now, we are now 3 hours behind New York, so it's after 23:00 in NYC. That means, we have to change all our record lists for recording network and syndicated programming. Syndicated programming is anything other than network, i.e., Ellen, Millionaire, Regis, Extra, ad naseum.


So, we get an email from NBC on Thursday. I have a discussion with our programming manager about this and since I am your humble "vidiot" on the weekends, I have to make sure that everything is where it needs to be. This is the email from NBC regarding Sunday night programming;

From: Givemetheairtime, Debbie (NBC Universal) Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2007 2:59 PM
To: Showmethemoney, Sheila (KPNX)
Cc: Krunchdanumbers, Judy (NBC Universal)
Subject: Sunday 3/11 line up (updated)
Hi, Sheila, as discussed below is KPNX AND KNAZ lineup for Sunday 3/11. Thanks so much for your help any question please let me know. d

SU DATELINE receive at 5:00pm on your 1R DELAY to 6:00pm
GREASE receive at 6:00 pm on your 1R receiver DELAY to 7:00pm
DEAL receive at 6:00pm on your 2R receiver DELAY to 8:00pm
APPRENTICE receive at 8:00pm on your 1R receiver DELAY to 9:00pm
DATELINE AN you will have to go get it on channel 17 at 6:00 pm.
MTP AN you have to go get program on channel 17 at 6:58.


Now that probably looks like a lot of Greek to you, but actually it's English. I can't speak Greek, much less write it. Anyway, basically, we have 3 net lines. We have Net 1 which is our main feed line, Net 2 which is normally reserved for Pacific coast but is also used as a "backhaul" channel, meaning, NBC can program it in New York to send us whatever the hell they want and of course Net E also known as our routable channel, that means that we can change channels on it; Channel 9 is the east coast feed, channel 10 which is the Central time zone, Channel 11, which you guessed it, is the Moutain time zone and finally, Channel 12 which is the Pacific time zone. Channel 12 is not written in stone as NBC in New York hasn't figured out there is anything west of the Hudson except California. They think it's nothing but double wide trailers and prarie out here until you get to Burbank. And then, they can put whatever the hell they want on Channel 12. We have what we call the "SOS" terminal, which is a computer screen that we can see what NBC is or is not sending us. We have a joke that NBC stands for "Never Be Consistent" (another Bob'ism). The SOS terminal is also where we can change the channel assignment to receive programming or promo feeds. Normally we take Channel 9 (the east coast feed) for show backups and NBC Nightly News and use that. Then we change the assignment to channel 16 for promo feeds in the morning and in the afternoon and finally we get a pre-feed around midnight on weeknights for backup purposes (funny thing was, the boys at NBC once said, "you're not suppose to record that" huh?) only, for "Days of our Lives" and "Passions", the soap operas. We call them "Days" for "Days of our Lives" and "Passions" for "Passions". We can actually know what's going on both soaps before it even airs! wow, we could call our friends and tell them about Marlena on Days and Tabitha the witch on Passions, however, Passions doesn't have the appeal anymore since Timmy the dwarf died, bummer, he made that show.


So, tonight I had to utilize every resource I had to accomodate our primetime programming. I had to record off of Net 1, Net 2 and Net "E" (the routable channel, the panel is shown on the right) and also, "clock" Grease (Greased, as we call it). Clocking is when we catch the break times, but since it's really live, we watch it and get the break times when it airs on the east coast. Then we "plot" it so that we know the duration of each segment and the start of message (SOM). Normally, NBC gives you a twixt with the times of all the national and local breaks and being a good little beancounter, you figure out your times and then input them into HAL. We have a highly specialized computer that we use to figure out the times (a calculator. It works in time, it's called a "timemaster". It also works well for 'Zoe when he is figuring out how much money he has after he makes a payment on his 'vette and also when he is figuring out how much he has left over to take Necrophelia, his wife, on vacation.) HAL does the rest. I like to think of him as my own personal aircraft. Punch in your destination and Wham! he goes where you tell him to for how long you want him to, TV can be so fun.


So, you will notice that I had to record 2 shows, "Greased" & "DOND" at the same time. Now being a civilian, you ask, "but Slayur, how can you do that?" Well, I have 3 state of the art servers, (5 actually, one a "standaone" that is not tied to HAL, we just use it for backup to the backup and then the Hi-Def Server for any Hi-Def shows, of which there were none this weekend in primetime) I told one server VDR8C (Octave Charlie) to record "DOND" off of Net 2 and then told VDR8A (Octave Alpha) to record the regular primetime off of Net 1. Then, through more magic, I go in and manipulate the list so that DOND is just single show. Then I insert DOND into the proper playback time in the list for KPNX & KNAZ (Flagstaff station) Normally when we record primetime, we record the entire thing as one clip with 00:00:00 being the start time and 2:59:30 being the end time. In between is the clip. So, normally the first show is 1 hour. So that means the 2nd show start of message is 1:00:00 and runs for an hour. The 3rd show then starts at 2:00:00 into the clip and runs for 59:30 usually. This is how weekday prime time breaks down. It used to be a solid 3 hours, but they took :30 seconds away to give to the tonight show, so primetime during the week only runs 2 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds. However, on Sunday nights, it runs a full 4 hours. Get it? I didn't think so, it's not really all that complicated and maybe it would be easier if you were here. TV? so easy a caveman can do it!

Just to show you what a twixt looks like, here is a sample from APT, the website (that's it on the left, click to see it bigger) that we get our timing sheets from (I am not including the whole show as it's just too long to paste and this post is getting out of hand anyway!)

First off, I really want to thank Rasheed and Dishwalla from the APT help desk for doing a fine job of speaking Hindi to me, calling it English and then apologizing for it every other sentence. Rasheed likes to tell me his real name is Eric, those guys can be so funny! they're probably from France to begin with!. Anyway, here you go;



DATELINE NBC - SUNDAY : SU1625 Sunday, March 11, 2007 at 06:00:00 PM - MT Duration: 01:00:00* Show Attributes: O, SD TV
Timings

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR:
SUN D LINE
SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007

SHOW STARTS AT 07:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:00:00

TIME INTO LENGTH POS TITLE PRODUCT
SHOW
--------- ------ --- --------------- ---------------

00:01:02 00:30 01A J P MORGAN/CHAS CHASE
00:01:32 00:15 01B P & G MR CLEAN
00:01:47 00:15 01C SCHERING-PLOUGH CLARITIN
00:02:02 00:30 01D RE/MAX REAL ESTATE
00:02:32 00:20 01E PROMO NN:DIRTY BOMBS
00:02:52 00:10 01F PROMO DAYS: DADDY

00:09:22 00:30 02A DARDEN, INC. RED LOBSTER
00:09:52 00:30 02B CHRYSLER DODGE AVENGER
00:10:22 00:30 02C GEN ELECTRIC
00:10:52 00:30 02D ALLERGAN BOTOX
00:11:22 00:30 02E SPRINT PCS PHONE/RETAIL
00:11:52 00:10 02F PROMO DAT WED:TEACHER
00:12:02 00:20 02G PROMO JORDAN/MEDIUM

00:19:05 00:10 NET ID (Int) IDENTITY
00:19:15 00:31 NET ID (Int) MON 8-11
00:19:46 01:34 STN BRK (Int)

See how that works? they give you the times that the national "pods" or commercials hit and then tell you when the local break hits, highlighted for your viewing pleasure. So we know that our first local break in "Dateline" hits at 19:46 into the show. That means the duration is 19 minutes and 46 seconds. The break is 1:34 so, we run 1:30 of commercials and then add a :04 second id. once that is done, HAL switches back to the program server with a start of message of 19:46 + 1:34 = 21:20. That means your next SOM is 21:20. You tell HAL that and Bob's your uncle (a quaint English phrase there). There are 2 breaks in Dateline normally, actually 3, but the 3rd one is a :10 TMYK cover, the more you know, we cover those with the same exact :10 spot PSA usually, but they are sponsored with a client's logo and that means it becomes a commercial, in essence;

00:47:39 00:30 04A AFLAC INSURANCE AFLAC INSURAN
00:48:09 00:30 04B JOHN&JOHN SPLENDA
00:48:39 00:15 04C SHERWIN WILLIAM MINWAX
00:48:54 00:30 04D USPOST OFFICE PRIORITY MAIL
00:49:24 00:15 04E P & G CHARMIN
00:49:39 01:00 04F GLAXOSMITHKLINE ADVAIR-ASTHMA
00:50:39 00:10 04G PROMO GREASE:ONE THAT
00:50:49 00:20 04H PROMO DEAL/APPRENTICE
00:51:09 00:10 04I PSA MYK/MORE KNOW (we cover this with another :10 sec. TMYK)


So, you can see what kind of monkey business goes on. An old saying in TV is that "TV is a lot like making sausage, it's not pretty to watch being made". Thank God for servers though. I remember the days when we had tape and man that could be a nightmare and usually was. I think why I am so good at what I do, which I am, is that I learned how to be very good working around tape machines. You just have better control with a server and it's easier to manage since you use timecode (usually time of day) for many things and then "running time" which is what you see above. (The pic below is one of our engineers desks, we call him "Darth Voss", right now he is working on the "Death Star" in his spare time. You may ask. "what the hell does that have to do with anything?" Well, nothing, i just took a pic of Darth Voss' desk to put it here so you would ask the question, and that's Darth Voss working on his "death star")

Now, so NBC sends down different timing sheets for different versions of the shows, this is an example of what the headers looked like tonight in order;

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: SUN D LINE SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007 SHOW STARTS AT 07:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:00:00
____________________________________________________________

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: GREASE SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007LIVE SHOW - NO TIMINGS AVAILABLE SHOW STARTS AT 08:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:00:00 TIME INTO LENGTH POS TITLE PRODUCT SHOW --------- ------ --- --------------- ---------------
____________________________________________________________

00:30 01A FARMERS INSUR INSURANCE
00:30 01B MAYBELLINE SHAMP/COND
00:15 01C P & G CREST
00:15 01D JOHN&JOHN MONISTAT
00:30 01E SCHERING-PLOUGH CLARITIN
00:30 01F THE GAP, INC. CLOTHING
00:20 01G PROMO RAINES:PLOT
00:20 01H PROMO WEDDING CRASHER
___________________________________________________________

SCROLL DOWN FOR ALASKA/HAWAII/P.RICO/STNS DELAYING ***ALL FEEDS-VERSION 2****-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: DOND - EAST/CENT/MTN/PAC ***** VERSION 2 *******SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007 SHOW STARTS AT 09:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:01:00 TIME INTO LENGTH POS TITLE PRODUCT
_________________________________________________________

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: DOND-EAST/CENT/MTN/PAC - B VERSION (IF GREASE RUNS LONG) **** VERSION 2 ******SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007 SHOW STARTS AT 09:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:00:00
_________________________________________________________

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: DOND -ALASKA/HAWAII/P.RICO/STNS DELAYING ***** VERSION 2 ********SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007 SHOW STARTS AT 09:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:01:00
__________________________________________________________

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: ****** VERSION 2 *******DOND-ALASKA/HAWAII/P.RICO/STNS DELAYING -B VERSION (IF GREASE RUNS LONG) SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007 SHOW STARTS AT 09:00:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 01:00:00 TIME INTO LENGTH POS TITLE PRODUCT SHOW
___________________________________________________________

OPERATIONS SCHEDULE FOR: APPRENTICE ***** VERSION 2 *****SUNDAY MARCH 11, 2007 SHOW STARTS AT 10:01:00 PM/ET AND RUNS FOR 00:59:00

ok, so is your head spinning yet? are you doing the Linda Blair scene from "the Exorcist" where her head spins around and she says "your mother sews socks that smell"? Probably. Good thing you're not drinking or doing drugs, eh? oh, you might be? wow, my bad. (The picture on the right is our new redesigned men's room. They actually flush themselves and I hear that management is trying to find a way to tie them into HAL. Next thing you know, they might go for the Hi-Def urinals. I confused one of the reporters here when I told him what they were, he responded "un-uh, thems are potater washers, ain't they?" again you ask, "what the hell does that have to do with anything? well, nothing really, but they are kinda cool aren't they? Darth Voss said he might install some of them in his "death star" when he gets it built, yeah right)

Anyway, as you can see, we potentially have 4 different versions of DON-D, but not to despair. I being the highly trained broadcast engineer I am (though I am severely underpaid), I know which version to use. "What?" you ask, "Slayur, how do you know which version to plot out?" I won't share that with you. I have to keep some trade secrets to myself, ya know. So, this post is getting really long and you kind of know what I do when I am here at Fort KPNX performing my assigned broadcast duties flawlessly. We just hit the 10pm news and I need to get some stuff set up for overnight recordings and tie up some loose ends. I hope you have at least a little understanding of what I do, not that it matters, it's just a job and frankly, I can do this job in my sleep. Hell, we have a few operators around here that DO sleep while they are here and the rest of us do all the work. Anyway, I will continue with more on what I do for a living later on at a later date. For now, just study what I have written (there will be testing in the newly redesigned men's room later as it's about the only place they aren't doing construction!) and hopefully, you can come down and apply for a real broadcasters job! Maybe next time, once I get the audio portion of the blog working, I will upload some "cue track" which is what you hear from the director and crew during live events such as news. Of course, if I do, you will only hear part of it since I will have to bleep most of it out, otherwise it sounds like "Stand by camera 1, take 1, ready Dekko 2, where the F*** is that G****** graphic, who the F**** writes this S***? Where is her F****** mic? does she have her F****** G**D***** mic on? go to the F****** break, G**D*** it!". Just a teaser for ya!

Time to go dark for now,

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