If the world ends, you don't want it to happen in Eagle Pass, Texas. Or Ulysses, Kansas. Or Valentine, Nebraska. Or western Wyoming.
Certain areas of the United States mostly uncovered by people are also uncovered by news organizations, and particularly, television news organizations. That means getting video out of there will require a road trip, and the story better be big. Thanks to the Internet, cell phone cameras, and video compression techniques that allow us to move pictures faster than ever, the problem isn't what it used to be. But I remember when it was.
In my days producing for KRGV in Weslaco, Texas, we spent several days covering a corruption trial involving a county judge and five others in Laredo. This was their second run after the first ended in a hung jury, and the case moved out of its home territory of Hidalgo County.
Laredo is no backwater border town, but when we trucked a crew up there, it lacked the basics. We didn't have a sister ABC affiliate in town, meaning we couldn't borrow newsroom facilities. Worse, Laredo was out of our microwave range, and the station we could've worked with lacked the technology to relay a shot back to our studios in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We didn't have a satellite truck; nobody in the market did. What would we use it for? North of Raymondville, we would be interviewing cattle, and beyond that, the story got into Corpus Christi or San Antonio's territory. Mexico lay immediately south, and we were sure as shooting not taking an expensive piece of equipment across the border. Ocean flanked us to the east, and to our west, mostly dust and colonias.
But now we had to go to Laredo, and we had to get video back in time for the 5pm news. We worked out a system where the crew would grab what they could and make a run for the Starr-Hidalgo County border. There, on the western fringe of our microwave range, we strategically planted a live truck in a fast-food parking lot. The crew still had to do a absurd amount of driving, but they could cut tape and soundbites and pump it back to us without having to break any land speed records to make deadline.
When I changed gigs to KOLD, we had to cover a triple-murder trial relocated to Prescott from Tucson. Again, we didn't have a satellite truck, but we did have options and some resourceful engineers. They rigged up a system involving multiple microwave links: one from our camera position on the courthouse lawn to a receiver on our microwave truck across the street, which was then relayed to a receiver the engineers tapped into the Arizona State University microwave system. From there it fed downstate to the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, which relayed it to us via another microwave link. This Rube Goldberg setup was the TV equivalent of a four-cushion trick shot in pool, and wonder of wonders, it worked.
Fortunately, technology keeps advancing. Now we can use Skype to get out of areas with a decent cell-phone signal. If you've got the cash, you can also invest in a backpack live unit that bonds several wireless signals together to transmit broadcast-quality video. It's definitely on my want list.