Monday, October 18, 2004

Yanks/BoSox Note

In the middle of the 14th, I flipped to f/x to get an update on the Houston/St Louis game. I saw the Beltran diving stop and wanted to weep a little bit for the loss of one of my favorite players from my favorite team. But that's for another post and another day. That's not what this is about.

After the inning ended on that channel, I flipped back to my local Fox affiliate to make sure I didn't miss any of the bottom of the 14th. I caught a couple seconds of the last network commercial, then a few seconds of a Fox slate before the local commercials kick in. This is painful for me to watch. You see, I'm a broadcast engineer, and a program slate on air is always a sign that the master control operator screwed up. Furthermore, I've been a master control operator for 5 years now. I feel this poor man's (or woman's as the case may be) pain.

For those who aren't broadcast engineers, master control operators run the switcher that controls what goes on the air. It's an important job.

Games like this are wonderful for fans. There are very few things that are more pleasing than a 14 inning nailbiter. But it is a scenario strait out of an MC operator's nightmares. Stations always schedule an extra break or two just in case of overtime or extra innings, which would result in extra local breaks. Nobody schedules enough conditional positions to cover an extra 5 innings. The only two nightmares that infect our dreams more than this kind of thing, are the one where there's a complete technical meltdown, taking the whole station off the air, and the one where you screw up and miss a break during the Super Bowl.

I've had only one game that was this bad. It was a Stanley Cup playoff game that had 3 or 4 overtimes several years ago. I used up all of my extra breaks and had to start waking people up to build breaks filled with advertisers who we were sure would actually pay the bill for a spot they didn't schedule ahead of time. And compounding the situation is the fact that at any point, the game could be won by a single play, and you'd have to drop the break you just built on very short notice.

49 days out of 50, being a master control operator is a pretty easy gig. That 50th day is a humbling, terrifying, and very tiring experience. It makes the other 49 days worth the trouble of employing somebody to do it.



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