Thursday, February 1, 2007

We're Going To Have To Float That Live Shot

A crew with WDJT in Milwaukee is alive, but their microwave truck is down after it fell through thin ice (click to see photo). We're told the driver mistakenly thought he was still on the road. The station later pulled the truck out, and now station engineers are trying to see if they can salvage any of the thousands of dollars worth of electronics inside, which may or may not include the following:

* Microwave transmitter and amplifier
* IFB system (the in-ear device that lets reporters hear producers snarling at them, "Wrap it up!")
* Videotape editor
* Various TV monitors
* Cell phones

When I worked in the Rio Grande Valley, I had to deal with several mishaps involving live trucks. Often photographers driving the trucks would venture out into colonias for some story. Those who know colonias know these ramshackle wildcat subdivisions often lack paved roads. So the live units would get stuck in the mud and we'd have to call up a tow truck.

The microwave masts took a lot of abuse. One election night, a photographer drove under a low-hanging tree branch and ripped off the transmitting dish. Another dish came off during high winds. One photog stripped part of the siding off a fast-food restaurant during a turn, forgetting he was driving "Unit 11" -- our behemoth production van rivaling the size of a UPS truck. People got behind the wheel and thought they were driving a tank. The damage added up.

When one driver ended up ripping out the mast, our general manager called a staff meeting. "I'm sick of the truck gettin' torn up," he said in his displaced Louisiana drawl. "You think we can report this to our insurance company? They'd cancel our damn insurance!"

New rules went into effect, and a few people ended up with suspensions. I'm not sure whether the Milwaukee crew's jobs are on thin ice after this incident [rim shot], but I expect everybody's gonna get a dose of re-training on the live truck once it's dried out and repaired. At least it looks like the mast survived.

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