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Live Television did, in fact, exist in the mid-1990's. I have directed such television. Real, actual live television without any 7-second delay... when I was a volunteer at my local PBS station. A highly-recommended experience.

Because it was PBS, we worked without a lot of overhead. The flow of information was:

  1. The talent and his/her microphone,
  2. The cameras and floor director in the studio,
  3. Me on the video switcher (alone with the audio guy in the production control room)
  4. The guy minding the 1.5 million watt transmitter in Master Control
  5. The tower.

The Manual Controls

Small potatoes, perhaps, compared to the machinations of our national monoculture, but no less of a thrilling experience for having an audience of several hundred thousand old ladies and college professors.

The thing is, it didn't matter who was watching, because I felt that I alone had been entrusted with some degree of power, focused down to the tip of my index finger as I would press buttons on the Ampex production switcher and and make different images from the studio, tape machines, and the still store appear on television screens in (potentially) a million living rooms.

It was the archetypal science fiction scene: A giant, powerful spaceship that flies itself most of the time, but... in a place of honor on the bridge, under lock and key, are the "manual controls". Some very significant flight stick or cluster of buttons which represents a pulsing, hot-wired pathway to directly sieze the visceral, untamed nuclear hellfire housed in the lead-lined recesses of the engineering section. These controls, frowned upon by the engineers as a seat-of-the-pants vestigal appendage, are taken up with gravitas in desperate situations by our steely-eyed hero. The crew and passengers look onward, realizing their very existence is no longer in the care of cold, precision technology but the simple application of raw power under the influence of an imperfect animal instinct.

Now, imagine the controls are a video switcher, and the power you are directing is a UHF transmitter, and you're pretty much there.

It's possible that I'm turning into an old fart.

In case it isn't obvious, I will add a disclaimer that the memories and feelings I draw from when I think about my experience in broadcasting come from a time which is not the present. It's possible that, with the advent of digital broadcasting, the days when it was possible for four people to run a television station during a live broadcast are over. But, the ideal of free expression in the name of betterment of the local community remains... and I tend to believe that things which were easier in the past should not become harder in the future.

It bothers me that we can talk about television and say there is no such thing as "live" anymore, simply because the majority of material we see on our screens comes in over a satellite from New York or Los Angeles. This would seem to be a form of brainwashing where we (as individual people who live in our own communities, with our own circle of friends) are divorced from the idea that we have as much right to do what we want with electronic media as any Network or Studio does. Not everything must exist solely as a profit center. Not everything should exist solely as a profit center.

New technology for television is engineered to reinforce the idea that you and your locality are insignificant, beyond your power to consume what you are ordered to. Concepts such as "Signal Theft" and the "Broadcast Flag" have been woven into our language and spun to convince people that they are acceptable.

For me, I have begun to hoard the gear which I so enjoyed using when I was sitting at the control board in 1994. Analog gear, semi-professional stuff... Video Toasters, Media 100 systems, Betacam SP Decks, BNC cables. It seems the only way that, if I care to again experience the freedom and sense of power I once did, I will be able to make it possible.