Tales of Television: What Not to Say

I had a good friend who was a television director at several small tv stations across Missouri and Iowa. Bill Daily did the classic “town to town, up and down the dial” in his too-brief career. He was extremely intelligent and had a notably low tolerance for stupidity, hence most of the stories he told me featured his encounters with some of the dumber things said by television people he worked with.

At most television stations the transmitter building and tower are not close to the tv station itself. When at the tv station your connection to, and awareness of, the transmitter is mostly by readouts and displays, and, of course, in seeing that you’re actually broadcasting on the air by looking at a television showing your interestingly arrayed patterns of electrons showing up as the pretty moving pictures we all enjoy. If that picture looks like a fuzzy, gray blizzard and your transmitter power readings are zero, you can confidently conclude you’re off the air.

Inevitably, when off the air, someone will rush in and ask, “Can’t you put a slide up?”, with said slide being the Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By graphic everyone at every tv station wishes to never see on the air. Then, hopefully, the miscreant realizes the impossibility of what he just said and blushes. Hopefully. That story is so common in television everywhere it hardly bears mention. But in Bill’s story the dolt in question failed to the greatest extreme I’ve ever heard in a basic understanding of how of television is broadcast.

You see, their transmitter tower fell down.

While this is rare, it’s certainly not unheard of. I know of a few times a tower collapse has happened. In this case I’m not sure which station it was or where; somewhere in the Midwest. They went off the air very abruptly. They checked and tweaked and pushed transmitter power controls. Then they received the report that their transmitter tower had actually fallen down. They quit trying to get the transmitter back on at this point. They quit trying everything, really, and just sat back and contemplated the magnitude of what had just taken place. They were going to be off the air for a very long time. A transmitter tower collapse is not something fixed or repaired in a day or, most likely, even a month.

As I recall it being told to me by Bill, it was a salesman who rushed in once it was determined what had happened. He was confronted by the sight of the entire technical and engineering crew sitting around doing nothing while the station was off the air. To clarify, they were doing nothing at all while his commercials were not being broadcast, hence money was not being made.

Once they broke into his rant and explained about the tower and the probable length of time it was going to take for them to get back up and broadcasting again, he calmed down a touch but still managed to fail most profoundly to understand what he’d just been told. “Yes, well, if you can’t run the programs or commercials, can’t you at least put a slide up?!”

The other dandy Bill told me involved a fellow who was looking for ways for the television station to save money. He suggested they shut off office lights when not in use — that sort of thing. Then he found a place they could really save money. There was a small building, not even at the tv station, that drew a huge amount of electricity and cost the station a horrible amount of money. Worst of all, no one was even at this building. Obviously, this was the best place to save money by shutting off power when no one was there. Yup… that was the transmitter building.

Bill Daily passed away in 2004 at the age of 50.
He is still remembered fondly, and is sorely missed.