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The Day I Touched the Net
Written September 13, 2005


One Saturday in 1987, I held the CBS Television Network on my fingertips.

We were in Indianapolis for the Tenth Pan-American Games.  My company, TCS, was the "host broadcaster," providing audio and video for various national broadcasters.  (More details are in another article; click here.)  CBS was the national broadcaster for the United States, and they planned to televise several championships live on the final weekend.  I was scheduled as the graphics operator for baseball and men's volleyball.

As I wrote in that other article:

The baseball final on Saturday, August 22, began at 2:00 under threatening skies.  We were still in the first inning when there was a loud noise.  CBS play-by-play announcer John Dockery said that it sounded like a bomb had gone off.  But in the production truck, we knew what had happened:  a lightning strike, very close.  Our monitors blinked, and someone sitting near me claimed to have seen a spark jump from my fingers to my keyboard.

Most of our equipment recovered, but my Chyron character generator was dead.  The engineers worked on it for a while, then gave up.  It couldn't be fixed.  There were no further loud noises, but CBS had to provide graphics from their studio for the rest of the game.

But what about me?  I was there at Bush Stadium with nothing to do.

I wandered to the back of the TV production truck.  The door to the video compartment was open, and at the remote-control panel sat a video operator.  It was his job to keep all the cameras working properly.

A camera fails sometimes.  A cable breaks, or the viewfinder goes dark, or some other crisis arises.  With the help of the truck's engineers, the video operator has to solve the problem.  Usually, however, he devotes his attention to "shading" each camera so that its picture matches the others and looks as good as possible.

For each camera, he can manipulate many electronic controls.  But the most important control is electromechanical.  In the recent photo on the left, the lever in the foreground adjusts the iris inside the lens of Camera 6, which opens up to admit more light or closes down to keep the picture from being too bright.

I stood there in the open doorway, watching over the video operator's shoulder.  When his attention was distracted by another problem, he turned away from the control panel.

Just then, the camera that was on the air panned from the grandstand to the field.

As in this archival photo of Bush Stadium, the grandstand was shaded.

The field was in bright sunlight.

Too bright.

I saw immediately what had to be done, and although it wasn't my job, I was the only person in position to do it.  Almost without thinking, I reached out and gently pulled the iris lever down so that the scene was no longer overexposed.

And I thought to myself, "I just touched the CBS Television Network!"

At that time, I had been a Chyron operator for five years.  Some of my work had been nationally televised.  Eventually, my graphics would be seen live on all the major networks at one time or another.

On occasion I press a key on my keyboard and the graphic animates.  I'm hitting a button that immediately and directly affects what viewers are seeing across the country.

But somehow this moment was bigger than that.  It was not calculated and digital; it was tactile and analog.  I was not merely pressing a button to play a prerecorded animation; I was moving a lever with an infinite number of possible positions.  That lever at the tips of my fingers was proportionally affecting the brightness of the picture, live, in real time.  It was affecting it not only in the production truck in Indianapolis but simultaneously on every TV set tuned to CBS that afternoon.  I was adjusting maybe millions of TV sets, in restaurants and living rooms from coast to coast.

What power there was in that one control!  And I happened to be the person called upon to move it.  It might be the highlight of my career.



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