The Remote Broadcasts

The current fantasy...

...flawless remote broadcasts...

The remote broadcasts were interesting when the lines worked. But Colin was having some trouble with the phone company on that point. Remote broadcasts are broadcasts that originate at a site other than the radio station studios. The audio signal has to be sent to the studio through some form of medium, and the phone company provides special equalized lines that radio stations can use for this purpose.

The first remote had worked flawlessly, even though it was hastily set up the day the station went on the air. Colin had taken the equipment down to the Recovery Room, plugged everything in, the jazz group played and it went over the air without a glich. However, many of the other remotes didn't...

One remote was at a club that was having some special bluegrass reunion affair. Some people paid a bunch of money to get the remote lines installed and have KCHU broadcast the whole affair... but when Colin arrived and hooked up the remote mixing console to the usual telco terminal box and sent the test tone over the line, it never made it to the station.

Larry is in the basement listening for the tone. Colin is now at the back of the club, where the phone lines enter the building. He called Larry on the lineman's phone. Larry said that the signal was just not making it to the station. Colin puts the signal on each repeat coil in the back, but Larry can't hear it. So they decide that the situation is hopeless and Colin proceeds to pack up the station's gear, which makes the person in charge of the whole affair really angry. "Well at least you could act like everything is working and going over the air OK." But pretending to be running a mixing console that was going nowhere was just not Colin's style, so he packs it all up and splits...

The next remote that was a dud was the one from the New York Ballroom. Colin had done the first one and had shown Clarke how to set up and operate the remote equipment. This time, Clarke is at the remote site and Colin is in the control room back at the station. Clarke puts the tone on the line and calls Colin up on the lineman's phone. Meanwhile, Colin patches the remote line into the unused input on the console and puts it on "audition," but there's nothing there. So he runs down to the basement, plugs his headphones into each of the three line equalizers and can't get a peep out of any of them. So he gets back on the phone with Clarke.

"Take a test lead and jump across the phone line to hold it open. Then put the lineman's phone on the repeat coil to see if the signal is there." Clarke tries this and the signal is there, loud and clear. Now he has the lineman's phone back on the line with Colin.

"It's there all right, now what do I do?"

"Take two clip leads and tie the output of the repeat coil onto the phone line."

Clarke does this and Colin hears the tone over the phone... It's time for the remote to start and Colin puts the "phone call" on the air. He can't believe how bad it sounds. Broadcast quality sound is going in to the phone system, but by the time it gets to the station, it sounds like Clarke had miked the band with a telephone handset.

About 15 minutes into the broadcast, a telephone operator cuts into den, completely unaware that she is being broadcast over the air...

"Would you please relinquish the line? There's an emergency call that needs to get through..."

By now Colin's had enough. He flips the microphone on and says, "Well I'm afraid we're going to have to hang it up on the remote broadcast. The phone company's done us in again." Everyone can hear him hang up the phone, which kicks the remote off the air. Now he has the unpleasant task of finding some emergency fill material to broadcast to fill up the time that the remote broadcast was supposed to air.

Colin waits a few minutes to give Clarke a chance to get the remote mixer off the phone line so he can call the station on the lineman's phone and Colin can tell him to pack it up and come back to the station. Only trouble is, Clarke is not listening to the air monitor and has no idea that the remote has been shut down. He's sitting there, twiddling the dials as if he were mixing for the multitudes, and the only person hearing the broadcast is some frustrated phone operator, who wishes to hell that someone would hang up the goddamn phone...

Finally, the remote ends and Clarke pulls the plug and heads back to the station. He is surprised to hear that his hard efforts were in vain. "Hay man, why didn't you shut down your end of the remote when I announced that I was aborting the broadcast? Didn't you have your air monitor on?"

"I tried using it, but the sound was so distorted I thought that something had gone wrong with it, so I plugged my headphones into the remote console."

"There wasn't anything wrong with the air monitor, Clarke. The distortion was from the phone line. That's why I had to shut down the remote. If you had been listening, you would have heard me shut it down."

Well Clarke was new at all this stuff and Colin realized that he should have told him how important it was to monitor the broadcast. Most stations order a voice line in addition to the program line, so that the remote operator can keep in touch with the station, but KCHU could not afford such frills and had to do things the funky way.

And indeed, it was funky... The New York Ballroom only had one phone line, and the thing about it... it was a pay phone line. In any other part of the city, if you stuck a lineman's phone across a pay phone line and tried to dial a number, the operator would get on the line and say, "hay bub, you've got to pay up first."

But this was the telephone exchange for the slums. You would think that the phone company would put more protection on slum pay phones than pay phones in the more ritzy parts of town, yet in the slums, Colin discovered he could connect the lineman's phone to any pay phone terminal block, dial a number and it would go right on through, which wasn't the case at all at the Recovery Room...

Anyway, the frustrating thing about the remote lines is you never know if they are going to work or not until you get to the gig and set up the equipment. Although many stations test their remote lines a couple of days in advance, that meant having to send someone out with the equipment and convince the club owner or whoever that you needed to test the lines.

Equally flustering is when a remote line that had been working fails, which is what happened at the New York Ballroom. The first remote Colin did there worked fine. Somehow within a week, the line suddenly went dead. So far, the remote line from the Recovery Room had worked flawlessly, but it only had to go through one telephone central office to get to the station. The line from the New York Ballroom had to go through three different central offices before it got to KCHU and one was the central office for the slums and "separate but equal" was still phone company policy. So ended the current fantasy of flawless remote broadcasts.

Copyright , 1995
Colin Pringle