Friday, November 20, 2009


I've sat in at Operations a couple of time now. In case you're just tuning in, the person who works in Operations is in charge of making sure things get on the air correctly. They get reporter's stories from the field, they record weather reports and program them to be played at the touch of a button, they pull sound from the wire services or news feeds, and they listen closely to make sure nothing sounds wrong.

The operations desk sits in a corner by itself. It's always unnaturally warm or unnaturally cold over there for some reason. The desk has two computers. Each one has two screens (one cool thing about WTOP, all of the computers have two monitors). There are cabinets that hold various cables and interconnects and headphones and microphones. Also, there are different devices that pick up feeds. Ops has it's own on air light so the person working there knows when the anchors are live. Most impressively, there's a huge board at ops.

Lights flicker everywhere. Faders going up and down, buttons to be pressed, sound coming in from every direction. the phone rings a lot. It's overwheliming. In my opinion, it's the most overwhelming spot in the newsroom.

I thought I had gotten pretty good at editing audio using Adobe Audition. Well, I have gotten better and faster and more accurate. But the people at ops make me look like a two year old trying to run a nuclear physics lab. They know all of the keyboard commands, they know exactly where to put their cursor to ct correctly. It's fast, it's accurate and almost graceful.

A side note: the Audition is usually gray with green highlights. One of the women who works in ops (a former intern, I might add), knows how to change the colors. Her Audition is fuchsia and purple. It's my secret goal to learn how to chameleonize (not a real word) Audition to be teal and aubergine. I'll let you know if I ever achieve this.

I saw a lot of things happen that I never even thought about. WTOP puts WJLA Channel 7 weathermen on air. Only some of the weather reports are live, others are prerecorded throughout the day. To get prerecorded weather, the weatherman calls the ops desk and records the forecast through the phone. Each weather report has to be an exact length or it can't go on the air. The ops people have to edit it down if it's too long. Also, ops likes working with some weathermen better than others because some are better at recording the forecast in one take.

Ops then loads the final weather forecast into the board. That way, the anchors can hit a single button to play the weather in the studio. Weather is always on the eights (1:08, 2:08, 5:08, etc.) so the button needs to be loaded before this. That way, if live weather fails, there's a backup.

The least favorite job in operations (unanimously) is helping the entertainment editor. He does movie reviews, but does not know how to edit or record audio. When he knows what he wants to say, he grabs the person in ops. They go to a small empty studio. (There are many studios of various sizes at WTOP. Just in case one stops working. And another stops working. And another.) Once there, the ops person starts the computer, opens Adobe Audition and hits record. Then they leave and let the movie reviewer record his piece to air later.

When he's done, he grabs the person from ops again. They stop the recording and save the file. Then they get to edit it down to about a minute's worth of material. Often, they tell me, the file is twenty minutes long. They let me listen to some of it. It's full of mess ups, false starts, musings, swearing...The editing process takes a long time.

And a disclaimer, everyone likes the entertainment editor a lot. His reviews are clever and he has a good on-air presence. I know the op people have a lot of fondness for him. I'm not trying to make him look bad.

Anyway, sitting in at ops has given me a lot to think about skills-wise. I have goals, especially since many former interns work in ops. Aubergine and teal Audition, here I come!

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