Take a trip around Transmission Control
“Take two and tone …. cut tone …. roll tape …. roll two …. fade and take one … fade … fade up grams … fade three … mix to C … fade grams.”
These are the first cues given as this station goes on the air each day. It is the start of an operation which provides you, the viewer, with a smooth and continuous transmission. As transmission controller I give these cues to the vision mixer who sits beside me and the sound mixer who sits behind me in Master Control.
Right in the middle of the Alpha Studios in Master Control with a dozen or so monitor screens in front of me it is my duty to make sure that the picture on these monitors and the sounds that go with them reach you exactly at the same time. My Alpha colleagues see that the pictures and sounds are of perfect quality. On the screens are pictures from the studios here at Aston, or from London, Manchester and Cardiff studios, or for that matter anywhere in Europe. When I said that the pictures must reach you at exactly the right time I meant it. All programmes are timed to the very second. In the morning I go through the films and commercials with a stop watch to see exactly how long they are because they must conform to predetermined time limits. I also check to see that the announcements fit the time allotted them. The announcer sits behind a glass panel on my right in his studio next to Master Control.
You see your days viewing is made up of films, slides, announcements and programmes from the different studios here and elsewhere. All these are fed to us in Master and then sent to you. This needs a cool head, great patience and concentration, especially when you realise that you are working to a split second and that the one golden rule is “Never a blank screen”. We know how long films and commercials are because we timed them in the morning but studio programmes and outside broadcasts are quite another matter. If they underrun or overrun, or breakdown for that matter, we have to act at once.
Just think for a moment that the Play of the Week, which runs for an hour and a half is given up to thirty seconds margin to over or under run. This may illustrate to you the exacting conditions under which Television is run to-day.
Once in the early days a monster production of ‘Hamlet’ was overrunning its allotted time. As the luckless Danish prince was being carried out on his bier the transmission controller faded the programme. A high executive ‘phoned the controller and said angrily “What in the …. happened there?” “He died” answered the transmission controller, put the ‘phone down and started the next programme .. ON TIME.