Start of 2nd Quarter . . .
Saturday, January 2, 1971
Having just come through my first holiday season at Marion CATV, it's hard for me not to think of Christmas as just an opportunity to make more money from the advertisers. At TV-3, we must have doubled the number of commercials we sold. We put on a number of special programs, too, many of them sponsored. A lot of money was coming in. (Quite a bit was going out, too. The week of December 21-26, I worked 21½ hours of overtime, which means over $90. My earlier savings and the CATV paychecks bring my total savings to about one year's wages not bad for a fellow only five months out of school.)
In the same way that you couldn't cook chicken livers without observing details you'd learned about in classes and labs, I can't watch a television program without observing details I've learned about at Syracuse and Marion. I doubt if many other people notice what I notice, but I get the same sort of joy in recognizing the mirror flip from slide to 16mm in a color film chain as you got from discerning the portal vein and the hepatic artery in your entrée.
I pointed out to my mother once as we watched the Glen Campbell show, "Do you notice that at the end of each scene, instead of dissolving to black, they dissolve to a solid-yellow color? Or if the predominant color of the preceding scene was red, they dissolve to red, and then come out of it into the next scene." She hadn't noticed. I thought it was rather clever.
If I get bored while watching a football game, I just observe the video shader's technique in readjusting the output of the camera as it pans from the sunlit to the shaded portion of the field.
Sunday, January 24, 1971
So here I am, living at home to save money (most of my paycheck goes into the bank) and working at nearby Marion, Ohio, home of our greatest President, Warren G. Harding.
Marion CATV Inc. has been around for five years now. The city has fewer than 40,000 inhabitants, and yet Marion CATV is among the twenty largest CATV systems in the nation, with about 7,000 subscribing homes.
Every system with more than 3,500 subscribers is supposed to start local origination of programming by April 1. Marion started it on June 1, 1970, so compared to the rest of the nation, we're real veterans in this business.
Programming could be subsidized by part of the $4.95 that each subscriber pays every month for cable, but the higher-ups that own Marion CATV feel that it's better to try to make programming pay for itself through advertising. So far, we haven't succeeded. In fact, we've been losing hundreds of dollars a week, according to the rumors.
If you still read Broadcasting, you may have noticed an item in last week's "Closed Circuit" which reported that some members of the FCC "have been impressed by data from National Cable Television Association and Rand Corporation, indicating that [the FCC] may have been unduly optimistic in assuming 3,500-subscriber systems could sustain cablecasting."
I don't even think our system in Marion, twice as large, can sustain cablecasting profitably, though I may be surprised.
Say a given locally-originated program had a rating of 10 (which is optimistic, since there are usually network programs on the other eleven channels). Say an advertiser was willing to pay a cost-per-thousand of four dollars for a minute spot (also a bit high). We would end up charging him $4 times 10% of 7, or a grand total of $2.80, for that minute spot. That's two dollars and eighty cents! Selling spots at that rate wouldn't even pay the continuity writer's salary.
One is to charge more for the commercials, and we are doing that: from two to four times as much as the figures I was just talking about. Most of our sponsors are local merchants Hemmerly's Flower Shop, Mike's Family Restaurant, Plaza Bowling Lanes, Frank Bennett Chevrolet, Home Federal Savings and Loan, Wolohan Lumber Company and most of them probably never heard of cost-per-thousand. They think nine dollars is a fair price for a commercial on television, especially since radio spots run about the same. They discount the fact that CATV stops at the city limits, while the local radio station covers seven counties.
The other way out is to cut expenses down to the point where they're less than our tiny income. And we have done that.
our peak week, December 21-27, we were on the
It's amazing what we've done. Using scissors and electrician's tape, I cobbled up a Y-shaped patch cord to connect the earphone jack of our audio tape recorder to one of the inputs of the audio mixer and also to one of the inputs of the PA amplifier that feeds the speaker in the studio. To play the audio for the commercials in one program, I unplug this contraption from the tape recorder and plug it into my own portable cassette machine, on which I've recorded the commercials. To obtain a fourth microphone in the studio, this same cord is unplugged from the earphone jack of the cassette recorder and plugged into the earphone jack of a portable FM radio. Out in the studio we have a twenty-dollar wireless FM transmitter connected to a spare mike from a tape recorder; this, then, is our wireless microphone.
Unlike educational stations, we don't have any source of volunteer help for cameramen and things like that. We have to pay anybody we use. So, to save money, we don't use many people.
The usual set-up calls for a production crew of two people. (In Studio Ops, we used ten, remember?) One man is in the control room, playing the role of director, audio man, technical director, projectionist, VTR operator, and video engineer. The other is in the studio, playing the role of cameraman one, cameraman two, stage manager, stagehand, lighting director, and associate director in charge of timing.
For a couple of programs a day, the man in the studio plays one additional role as well: talent. Both cameras are locked down in fixed positions, and the man in the studio reaches out-of-frame to flip his own graphics and that sort of thing. That, in fact, is the way I do my daily newscast.
Incidentally, I've developed a new attitude toward local news since I've started working on it myself. I'm starting to look at it as a form of instructional television. I feel like I'm teaching a daily course in local current events, using the various audio-visual aids that are available in TV. Ever hear of that viewpoint on the subject before?
Amazingly, our programs look fairly good; the most noticeable flaws are not human errors but breakdowns of our less-than-broadcast-quality equipment.
I've concluded that CATV requires a special kind of television nut to run its local origination. You definitely can't be the kind who throws up his hands in despair and asks how he can be expected to create good programs without five color cameras with Chroma-Key and H-V lock on all the VTR's. You've got to be the kind who looks at the proverbial tin can and a piece of string as a challenge.
Sunday, February 14, 1971
Here in the great Richwood-Marion megalopolis, the CATV business has slowed down a bit. It seems that Christmas is the peak season for the merchants who advertise on TV-3, while January through March is the slack season. So there's an abrupt fall-off in advertising after the first of the year. We've cut back our programming in an effort not to lose any more money than necessary. Several shows have been dropped, leaving us with only 12¾ hours of programming a week. During the week of December 21-25, we put on 31½ hours, or two and a half times as much.
Sunday, March 14, 1971
Speaking of studio design, Marion CATV has kind of an unusual set-up for speakers. Most radio and television studios have speakers through which you can hear the program audio, except that the speakers automatically cut off whenever a microphone in the studio is opened. We have none of this. If you want to hear the audio in the studio, you walk over to one of the two TV sets we have in the studio and turn up the volume. But of course this can't be done if any microphones are to be used, because then you'd get feedback; the TV set won't shut itself off automatically the moment a microphone key is opened. (As a matter of fact, our audio control panel doesn't have keys. Just pots. The mikes are always open, but they can be potted all the way down if they aren't wanted. This audio board is also distinguished by the lack of a cue channel.)
So we've taken part of the signal from our audio tape recorder and part of the signal from our turntable and feed them into a public-address amplifier. This amp can be switched to drive a speaker in the studio, or a speaker in the control room, or it can be switched off. The studio speaker allows the performers to hear the music or sound effects that they're supposed to be singing or acting to, while avoiding feedback because no mikes are being fed to that speaker. The control room speaker allows us to cue up the audio tape recorder and/or the turntable without putting them over the air. Thus, all our problems are solved.
I've never before been in a studio, as a matter of fact, where it was possible to have a performer sing while the accompaniment was played from a record in the control room. This cobbled-up system we have in Marion works beautifully when compared to the sophisticated set-ups that more affluent stations have.
Sometimes sophistication isn't everything.
Sunday, March 21, 1971
I'm a mite weary this weekend, due to some unusual activity at Marion CATV. It all started on Tuesday, when our general manager managed to get the people who handle the TV rights for the high-school basketball tournament to agree to let us televise certain games for only $200 apiece. The price had been $800, but they agreed to the reduction partly because we aren't a station with a million viewers but a CATV with a few thousand. Another factor might have been that the games in which we were interested were Class-A games, whereas everybody else seems to be interested in the Class-AA and Class-AAA tournaments in which the bigger high schools compete. Marion County had two schools in the Class-A tournament down at Columbus, and those were the games we wanted to televise.
On Wednesday morning, the general manager sold advertising to five sponsors for $80 per game. His success astounded the rest of us, since those sponsors would be getting only about two minutes of advertising apiece for the $80 they each put into each game. Forty dollars a minute is about five times our regular rate. But he had no trouble selling it, which indicates that basketball is big in Middle America.
As it turned out, we broadcast three games over the weekend. (One of the local teams won on Friday night, so they played again on Saturday, making the third game.) Our income was $1,200; our expenses were $600 for rights, plus about $300 in other expenses. CATV made a profit of about $300, which is a 33% return, which isn't bad.
We took one of our two cameras and one of our two VTR's (one-inch slant-track, by the way) to Columbus. My job was to do the play-by-play announcing and then hop in my car with the video tapes and rush them back to Marion to put them on the air, while back in Columbus the other men were putting away the equipment. We didn't telecast the games live, since microwave would have been much too expensive. They got on the air with about a 3½-hour delay.
Unfortunately, the team that won on Friday also won on Saturday, so now they go to the state finals. We'll probably be telecasting their next game this coming Thursday, and if they win that one, the state championship game on Saturday. I'm tired already from this weekend; I hate to think what I'll feel like next weekend.
I don't know what the Sunday Tribune wrote about CATV, but a lot of the articles in the press talk about two-way cable, dozens of channels of special programming, shopping services, and facsimile newspapers; practically all of that is several years in the future. Some of it may never come to pass, depending on what the FCC decides the future of cable should be. In Marion, we have a one-way cable that carries 12 television channels and nothing more. One of those 12 is originated in Marion, while the other 11 are various TV stations in northern and central Ohio. And that's all there is to it.
Sunday, April 4, 1971
Things are going well here again, after I recovered from a case of the flu a week ago. I had to miss two days of work because of it, the first days I'd missed since I started, but I feel healthy again now. In recent weeks we've covered five high-school basketball games from the state tournament (one local team went all the way to the finals in Class A but lost the championship game); launched a new country-music show (twice a week, half an hour per show); and started a new split-screen format for the news that allows me to be on the left side of the screen at the same time that various pictures are flashing up on the right side. We're almost beginning to seem like a television station.
The only major difference between our basketball broadcasts and those of the big-city stations was that ours were in black-and-white. The country-music show we do is really a fairly ambitious musical-variety production, and we manage to do a pretty good job with it and still with only one man in the control room and one man out in the studio, while any self-respecting station would have to have at least four men in each place. This is the sort of thing CATV local programs have to do. We don't have enough money to hire full crews, so we have to be versatile and efficient and get along with a crew of two.
Sunday, April 18, 1971
I too get paid time-and-a-half for overtime. However, my base pay is only $2.81 an hour, not the $3.50 you will be paid this summer. Lab technicians must be considered to be more highly skilled than TV newsmen, or something.
Sunday, April 18, 1971
So what is my work at Marion CATV? Actually, I guess my title is "news director." In truth I'm not just the news director, I'm the entire news department, and I have some other duties as well. For one thing, I'm the sidekick on a half-hour housewives' talk show in the mornings called Marion Today. I give a capsule of the local news, dial the phone for our daily big-money giveaway (there's now $107 in the jackpot), and converse with the program's hostess. Incidentally, that program's hostess spends the rest of her time being our one and only account executive. It's her responsibility to sell the commercials.
I also do some behind-the-cameras work on other programs. Now the set-up at Marion CATV only vaguely resembles the studio operations organizational plan we learned at Syracuse. For one thing, we have very little money. The aim of management is to make Marion CATV's programming self-sustaining with advertising revenue. With only 7,000 subscribers, we obviously can't charge much for air time (consider the cost per thousand viewers), so we don't have much revenue; therefore, our expenditures have to be kept as low as possible. Here's our staff:
Our general manager corresponds rather closely to Mr. Barnhill's role as "executive producer."
The talent for each program also serves as the program's producer.
The man in the control room is called the "director," but he actually has six jobs which he must perform simultaneously: director, technical director, audio director, projectionist (both slides and film), video engineer, and video tape operator.
Finally, the man in the studio we call the "cameraman" must perform five jobs simultaneously: cameraman one, cameraman two, lighting director, stage manager, and assistant director in charge of timing the program. If we had a boom mike, he would also be the boom operator. And there have been times when we've hung a lavaliere mike around his neck and made him an announcer, too.
So we have a total of 13 jobs being performed by only three people (talent, director, cameraman). Not only that; on some programs, including the news, we don't even have a cameraman. The cameras are simply left in fixed positions. As you can imagine, we have to be versatile, coordinated, and alert. As you can also imagine, our programs aren't as technically sophisticated as NBC's.
Still, I think we put out some fairly good shows. We have a special-effects generator which we use for things like wipes and keying in the credits; we put video-tape inserts into the news; and all sorts of big-league things like that. Our chief holdback, in fact, is the studio, which is even smaller than the one in the basement of the library at Syracuse. There are a number of things that can't be done if you don't have room to move very far.
Maybe that's why our best-received programs often are our remotes. We cover things like the high-school prom, the high-school graduation ceremony, the annual all-star basketball game, and the annual drum and bugle corps championship, which draws bands from all over the country to Marion.
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