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ArchiveAUGUST 2018


AUG. 30, 2018    I GOT YOU

I'm not a concert-goer.

Folk-music concerts?  I've been to two.  Jan Olson and I attended a Judy Collins performance at Oberlin College way back in October 1968, as well as a Pete Seeger concert the following February.

Rock concerts?  I've attended only one.  Terry Rockhold and I saw Sonny and Cher at the Ohio State Fair.  Their single “The Beat Goes On” had hit #6 on my 20th birthday six months before.  We sat uncomfortably close to the stage-left loudspeakers.


That's engineer Charles E. Nobles below.  As World War II was drawing to a close, television was about to become a reality, but TV signals reached only as far as the horizon.  Nobles considered the challenge of broadcasting to a large region.  He got out his slide rule and calculated that an area 400 miles in diameter would require about sixteen 50,000-watt transmitters and towers.  The cost to operate them would be about $13,000 per hour.

Or that same area could be covered by just one 1,000-watt transmitter, if it was feeding an antenna hanging down from the belly of a twin-engine airplane circling in the stratosphere at 30,000 feet.  The cost?  Only $1,000 per hour.

His company, Westinghouse, proposed launching 14 such airplanes.

By uploading signals from New York and passing them along to the next plane in line, this method could bring TV to 78% of the country's population.  (Sorry, Florida.  And Oregon, on the far end of the chain:  your pictures might be a little grainy.)

The plan was called Stratovision, and I described it in this month's 100 Moons article.


AUGUST 24, 2008 flashback   CLOSING CEREMONY   

Protesters must fill out a
lengthy application. NONE

—Artwork caption from
"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
by Selena Roberts in this week's
Sports Illustrated.

My dear troublemaker comrade!  Of course your government affords you the freedom to express your opinions during the Olympics, even if those opinions happen to be at odds with one of our policies.

Although foreigners claim that the People's Republic of China represses dissent, they are mistaken.  It was 51 summers ago that Chairman Mao famously proclaimed, "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend."  The dissidents accepted Mao's poetic invitation to come out of hiding, whereupon he had them killed adopted many of their worthy ideas.

To demonstrate the openness of Chinese society, we have counterfeited duplicated an American procedure.

Whenever the U.S. President speaks at an event, protesters are welcomed to a "free-speech zone," where the authorities do not interfere as long as the protesters stay inside the fence.  Of course, decorum must be maintained.  Those attending the event should not be subjected to having to see or hear  disturbances.  Therefore, the free-speech zone is located several blocks away.

We have made our own improvements upon this American idea, because the Olympic Games are very important to China.  For this event, we have set up not one but three free-speech zones.  We have prudently located them in public parks, many kilometers distant from the Olympic venues.

We have also taken the precaution of not allowing just anyone inside these special zones, lest ordinary hooligans enter and cause mayhem.  To ensure that you, as a potential protester, have a legitimate grievance, we ask you to fill out this application.

In addition to a description of your complaint, we need proper identification, including your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, next of kin, and funeral instructions.  For verification, we also need you to supply similar identifying data for three other people who share your views.  We apologize for the length of this form, but the Olympic Games are very important to China.

When your application has been rejected approved, you will be contacted promptly by an official of the Department of Detention and Correction Parks and Recreation.



I've discovered this fuzzy 60-year-old image from New York City.  Inside a large room on Seventh Avenue, a shiny round object appears to be breaking through a curtain above these men's heads!

Was Orson Welles right?  Had the War of the Worlds begun?  Had the infernal Martian machines landed in New Jersey and invaded Manhattan?

Relax.  It's only a CBS television camera.  Several lenses of different focal lengths, from wide-angle to close-up, are mounted on a turret so they can be rotated into the proper position.

On January 18, 1958, Leonard Bernstein, the 39-year-old music director of the New York Philharmonic, took the podium to host a Young People's Concert.  The orchestra had a long history of performing for children, but this was the first such event to be televised.

Bernstein went on to present 53 of these telecasts through 1972.  He would have turned 100 years old this coming Saturday, so Turner Classic Movies recently celebrated his centennial by airing a few Young People's Concerts including that first one from 1958.

At the time, I myself was a young person, and I was a piano student.  But I don't recall watching the program.  I was only in fifth grade and didn't feel like sitting through an hour-long lecture.

Twelve years later, however, and just half a mile to the east of Carnegie Hall in the library of Syracuse House, it was with more interest that I did sit through an hour-long lecture given by the Emmy-winning producer and director of these telecasts, Roger Englander.  I was with 50 other graduate students on a “Benchmark Series” field trip to learn more about broadcasting.

Englander told us he currently deployed eight cameras, including one for those head-on shots of the conductor.  This position, we learned, was referred to as “Lenny's camera.”

In 1958 at Carnegie Hall, as seen below, Lenny's cameraman had been rather crudely concealed.  He stood against the rear wall of the stage, on the back row of the orchestra between the double basses, hiding behind a couple of drapes with only his lens poking out.



I was only seven years old.  I didn't keep a diary, so I have no record of all the many things that went right on that particular date in 1953.  But I do remember thinking as bedtime approached, “Today has been a perfect day!”

Then something happened to spoil it.

Grumpily, I approached my parakeet to say goodnight and cover her cage.  Miss Pete regarded me in her usual curious way, with no comprehension of the ups and downs that were coloring my life in the second grade.

My mother and I had always provided for her needs — in particular, her seeds.  We kept her birdseed cup filled, and her water cup too.  For her gizzard, we scattered bird gravel on the floor of her cage.  For calcium, we clipped a cuttlebone to the bars.

But there was another item in the pet supply kit:  a small package of “parakeet treat,” which was probably millet seed.  Birds absolutely love the taste of millet.  It must be like candy to them.

If we had been training Miss Pete, we would have rewarded her with a few seeds every time she did something correctly.  But she was under no such regimen, and we offered a treat only when we felt like it.

I  felt like it.

I poured a teaspoon of the special seed into the special little treat cup and pushed it through the bars.  Miss Pete eagerly gobbled it all up.

She was happy.

And my day was perfect again.

As Betty Comden and Adolph Green would write for a musical seven years later:

Make someone happy! 
Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy too.


AUGUST 16, 2008 flashback   SYNCHRONICITY   

Pittsburgh journalist Brian O'Neill wrote a column last week about visiting his wife's folks in northern Wisconsin, where live bait and fireworks are sold at a store called “And Linda's.”

Brian's father-in-law likes to watch Milwaukee Brewers games, but he “can't stand the TV announcers, and so he mutes the set and listens to Bob Uecker call the game on the radio.”  However, the radio is seven seconds ahead of the TV.  The seemingly precognitive Uecker describes the play, and afterwards it appears on the screen.  Brian found he couldn't stand this.  He had to turn his chair away from the TV.

Lots of folks like to watch games, especially football games, while listening to their home team's radio announcers.  But this out-of-sync situation has become a real problem.  On the TV side, there are different amounts of satellite delay and compression delay.  It depends on whether you're watching a local station or a national network, in standard definition or HD, from an antenna or from cable or from a satellite dish.  On the radio side, it also makes a difference how the signal is being transmitted back to the station.  And some broadcasters might intentionally delay the signal to edit out profanities.

A few gadgets have been invented to solve the problem.  DelayPlayRadio, SportSync Radio, and Radio Shark all claim to delay a radio broadcast to match what you're seeing on TV.  But what if the sync is off in the other direction and it's the video that needs to be delayed, maybe for many seconds, as it would be if you were listening to streaming audio from the Internet?

A simple modification to a DVR (digital video recorder) or TiVo could solve all the problems.  Am I the first to think of this?  Just add to the DVR an audio jack to accept an input from the radio, and a new operational mode:  a “simulcast” mode in which the DVR substitutes the radio audio for the regular TV audio.

These are only simulated buttons, silly!

You watch the “simulcast” live, but the DVR is prepared to record either the audio or the video and replay it moments later.  For each press of the first button, the DVR will delay the sound by, say, half a second.  If you go too far, pressing the other button will reduce the audio delay by half a second each time, until the delay reaches zero, at which point it will start delaying the picture by half a second each time.

A little trial and error will enable fathers-in-law to synchronize the audio and video, and their sons-in-law will be happy again  

update from 2018 

Here in Pittsburgh, the radio stations usually delay their audio by almost half a minute, so I use my DVR to delay the video to match.  It's not as easy as repeatedly pressing DELAY PICTURE, but I can eventually get the feeds synched by trial and error.

On the other hand, if the radio audio were actually ahead of the video, I guess I could run the audio through my computer and use software to adjust a variable delay.  That's not a particularly simple solution, either. 



I had already watched episode 16 of the eleventh season of The Big Bang Theory, and I didn't notice anything strange.  Then when the show aired a second time on August 9, I happened to DVR it.

Upon playing back the recording, I immediately did notice an anomaly.  The actors were mouthing their lines silently!

Nevertheless, the audience was laughing at the appropriate moments.  I felt like I was in a silent-movie theater.

The frequent chuckles clearly had not been recorded at the same time as the actors' lines.  It became obvious how few of the show's giggles actually emanate from a live studio audience.

A minute later, the picture blinked and now it was possible to hear the dialogue.  Seven minutes into the show, there was another blink followed by another dialogue outage, only 20 seconds this time.

During these outages, I heard only an “effects track” consisting of the fake canned laughter and the whooshes between scenes.  (Part of the time I could also hear the dialogue very faintly.)  Why does an effects track exist?  It comes in handy for dubbing, when the dialogue is replaced with another language.

One possible explanation:  CBS was playing video and audio from an improperly configured server that was providing the wrong audio output.  Discovering their error, after a minute they switched to a backup server.

Another less likely explanation:  Because Pittsburgh's CBS affiliate KDKA was airing a Steelers preseason game, The Big Bang Theory on August 9 was actually being broadcast on WPCW, which normally is a CW affiliate.  (This will also be the situation on August 16 and 30.)  Maybe the guys in the WPCW control room patched in the CBS feed incorrectly.

But this particular mistake would be impossible unless CBS was transmitting at least two audio streams, the correct one and the effects track.  And why would they be sending the effects track at all?

Unless...  maybe someone somewhere objected to the artificial laughter and requested it to be transmitted on a separate channel.  Then, if they reversed the phase of the effects track and added it to the normal track, the laughs would be canceled out and the show would sound as clean as Young Sheldon.

2021 ALTERNATE IDEA:  I've since realized that this could happen assuming that the Effects including laughter are in stereo (separate left and right channels, EL ER) while the Dialogue is "centered" in mono (equally present in both L and R channels, DL = DR).  Then, somewhere along the way, perhaps left and right were combined into a monaural mix.  This should have been EL + ER + DL + DR . . .

except that the phase of the right channel somehow got inverted (turned negative) and the resultant mix was EL – ER + DL – DR.

Because left and right Effects channels are different from each other, the viewer could still hear them (EL – ER), but because left and right Dialogue channels are the same, subtracting one from the other would leave nothing (DL – DR = 0).

EFFECTS                   DIALOGUE



AUGUST 14, 2008 flashback   SCANDAL?   

Eleven years ago tonight, I was in Baltimore, working on a national telecast.  Fox Sports Net's "Baseball Thursday" was featuring the Seattle Mariners at the Baltimore Orioles.

It had been nearly two years since Orioles infielder Cal Ripken, Jr., had broken Lou Gehrig's major league record for consecutive games played.  Ripken was still adding to his streak, which would continue for more than another year and eventually reach 2,632 straight games.

On that night, August 14, 1997, we went on the air as scheduled, but the game did not start as scheduled.  Some of the lights at Camden Yards were not working.  The electricians tinkered with this and with that, fixing part of the problem temporarily, but then the lights went out again.  Finally, after more than two hours, the people in charge gave up.  The game was postponed, to be played as part of a doubleheader the next day.  FSN did not have a "Baseball Friday" package, so our involvement was over, and I returned home.

Somewhat later, I began to hear rumors:  the electrical failure might have been deliberate.  Allegedly, Ripken had been involved in a domestic dispute, and the repercussions would have kept him out of that night's game and ended his streak on an embarrassing note — if the game had been played.  Orioles management put Ripken's name on the lineup card as usual, but, according to these rumors, they quietly made sure that the game would never start.

But there was no such domestic dispute and no such conspiracy to cover it up, according to Snopes.com.  So there.



Many an American wants to drive a big truck.  Sitting up high, he feels empowered.  He can look out over all those lesser vehicles and get a good view of the road ahead.  But he can't see all the road!  He mustn't neglect his immediate surroundings.

When I came out of the grocery store one day last month, I noticed that a Ram 1500 had parked next to my midsize Subaru, as in the illustrations on the right.  But he was getting ready to leave.

Then I heard a crunch.

The driver hadn't even noticed my insignificant little sedan.  All his windows were higher than my roof.  When he pulled out with a carelessly wide right turn, his running board dented my fender and ripped off part of my bumper, including the fog light.

He heard the crunch, too, so he stopped and got out to survey the damage.  He was apologetic, and we exchanged information.


When I got home, I contacted my insurance company, Liberty Mutual, and they connected me to the other driver's insurance company, Geico.

Geico very efficiently made arrangements for me to have my car repaired.  Coincidentally, they sent me to the body shop owned by the dealership where I had bought the car.

I've added a gecko to the photo below.  The company spokeslizard wasn't actually there to greet me, but I did find a Geico desk inside.

There was also an Enterprise desk, where I rented a temporary replacement vehicle.

The bill came to over $1,700, including $329 for the rental and $1,395 for the repairs.  All of it was covered by the other driver's insurance.

For four days plus a weekend, I drove a rented Kia Soul.  Despite the fact that this subcompact weighs 15% less than my Subaru and costs considerably less, it has a quiet cabin and is surprisingly pleasant to drive. 

The Kia is also better adapted for parking lots.  First, the steering is much lighter.  (When I got my repaired car back, I had forgotten how firmly I had to grip the steering wheel, and my hand slipped right off the rim at one point.)  Also, it's two feet shorter than the Subaru.  But most importantly, it's four inches taller — and therefore less likely to be overlooked by anybody parked alongside.



Today is the 175th birthday of Robert G. Ingersoll, the celebrated 19th-century orator.  In observance of Ingersoll Day, here's an excerpt from his "God in the Constitution," comparing the benefits of theology and science.

When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few.  To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts.  The poor were clad in rags and skins — they devoured crusts, and gnawed bones.

The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day.  Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times.

But above and over all this, is the development of mind.  There is more of value in the brain of an average man of today — of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor — than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago.

These blessings did not fall from the skies.

These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests.  They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars — neither were they searched for with holy candles.

They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication.

They are the children of freedom:  the gifts of reason, observation and experience.

And for them all, man is indebted to man.



I watch news and sports live, and I channel-surf.  But often I doze off in front of the television, so I set the DVR to record any prime-time programs I don't want to miss.  If I can stay awake, I'll watch some as they air; the rest, when I get around to it.  (Late-night political talk is better the next morning, anyway, when the resulting angst won't disturb sleep.)

Last week, according to my planning grid, I recorded 23 such shows.  They came from 14 different channels and totaled 14 hours.

Who needs the other 220 channels?


AUGUST 6, 2008 flashback   LET THE SUN SHINE;

The bit of wordplay in the title is, I think, the work of Galt MacDermot, who composed the music for the groundbreaking hippie rock musical Hair.  He took the line "Let the sunshine in" and broke it up thusly:

Let the Sun Shine!
Let the Sunshine In,
The Sun shine In!

In 1970, one of my fellow students in graduate school was Su Morris, who said she had performed in a production of Hair.  Its original staging on Broadway was then in the middle of its four-year run.  Su did look the type; she was a redhead with "long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming."  But she was rather shy.  I didn't ask whether the famous nude scene was included in her production.

(Of the Broadway show, Groucho Marx said, "I was going to go buy a ticket, but I went back to my hotel room, took off my clothes, looked at myself in the mirror and saved eight dollars.")

This year marks the musical's 40th anniversary, and it's being revived.  The official opening is tomorrow night at the open-air Delacorte Theater in New York's Central Park.

A Playbill article includes this sentence:  "Originally born in 1967 under the auspices of Joseph Papp at the Public Theater (then known as the New York Shakespeare Festival), Hair was substantially reconceived by its creators for its 1968 Broadway debut at the Biltmore Theatre."

The Biltmore Theatre?  Where have I heard that name before?  I know!  It was in one of my own articles, one that I updated just last month.

Ten years before Hair, the Biltmore Theatre — then known as CBS Television Studio No. 62 — was the very place where I attended the telecast of the short-lived game show Dotto.

Built in 1925, the Biltmore was leased by CBS from 1952 to 1961 before going back to being a 900-seat Broadway theater.  Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park ran here from 1963 to 1967, and Hair opened on April 29, 1968.

I just keep on learning more and more peripheral trivia about that one experience I had 50 years ago.  Give me another half a century, and I'll be a real expert.



Back in 1988, NBC flew me and more than a thousand others to South Korea, from whence we telecast the Seoul Olympics.

I also traveled to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, where I worked not for NBC but for the international feed.  NBC was able to send a somewhat smaller crew to the site this time because Georgia is part of the U.S., which meant they could easily transmit multiple video streams to New York.  There the “remote” feed from Atlanta could be “integrated” with graphics and replays and other elements from NBC's existing production facilities at 30 Rock.

It's called REMote Integration.  REMI (but not this kid) has slowly found its way into routine TV sports production over the past two decades.

Two years ago I noted that ESPN was saving money by using it for some college basketball telecasts.  Graphics operators like me are traveling to fewer remote locations.

A week ago today, another operator, Linda P, tweeted from her Tennessee home where she was watching NBCSN.  I've added a couple of images.


In my den, watching the first NASCAR Xfinity Racing "REMI" race where 80% of the TV crew is not on location in Iowa.

Of course I'm not doing the race at all ... cuz why would you want your main standalone race operator to do your first-ever?

It's definitely the end of an era.



In August of 1968, I visited Massachusetts and Kentucky and a Cleveland Orchestra concert, and I checked in on the WOBC-FM engineering department.  Meanwhile my lab partner joined the Methodist Church.  But our summer vacation was drawing to a close, and our senior year in college would soon begin.

Click here for the latest installment recalling my life 50 years ago.