An Introduction & Some Memories
By Bob Burnham
The concept of remote broadcasts has become almost obsolete. The fact is any cell phone can “put you on the air” – maybe of not “broadcast quality” but certainly of “reasonable” quality for a short duration.
The type of Remote I’m referring to, however (which are also still done), are more of an “event” where all the talent involved with the show is on-site and appropriate equipment is set up to deliver broadcast quality from that location.
There’s lots of different ways to do it, depending on the nature of the show. Talk shows, for example, with listener call-ins are more complex. There are separate producers/call screeners back at the studio who have to manage that portion of the program and constantly communicate with the on-site talent and on-site producer.
Typically laptops with some sort of digital connection back to the studio call-screener’s screen AND the phone system are common tools to help talent coordinate what’s “coming up next.”
A “sponsored” remote (meaning an advertiser paid the station extra money in order to bring you out to his site or the event) usually has the biggest budget to do whatever you need to do, as well as pay for any extra support people.
A Promotions person sets up the station banners, hands out bumper stickers or whatever the freebie item of the day is, and coordinates any special activities during the show.
At a smaller station (or those with small budgets– which today is MOST stations), that person may also double as the on-site “engineer” who sets up the equipment.
Getting the audio back to the studio (and back again) can be accomplished using a combination of methods.
The method of “off-air” communication can be handled using any number of schemes:
Those methods include cell phones, a talk-back system (built into the broadcast equipment), a “chat” window on the laptop computers (or in the “old days” a 2-way business band radio-transmitter combination similar to what is still used for dispatching in taxis and police and fire departments).
A copy of the station log is normally required at the remote site. Alternately, the same log can be shown on the on-site laptop screen, though it is common practice to manage the “official” copy by the Producer at the studio site.
Normally, all programming elements are played from the studio site (except for what originates from open mics) although “in a pinch” (assuming support equipment is available), a special segment can be played back from the remote site.
I had a routine to set up a remote each and every Friday morning for “Fat Bob” Taylor at various Ann Arbor Kroger stores. These were “paid” remotes obviously, and I was the “combination” person on staff – (both Engineer and Air-Talent) responsible for making sure everything worked and was set-up correctly.
That went on for many months in 1979. Nothing bad ever happened and Taylor and I became good friends. (“Programming,” however, claimed all of me full time as their Production guy. After that, the only remotes I was involved in at that particular station were as talent.)
The most incredible memories I have doing remotes were at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show. Those were exhausting adventures that stretched usually over a 10-day period. It was me who planned and managed those events on-site for most of the 1990s.
I was usually the one who drove the station vehicle loaded with equipment, furniture and supplies, and the one who waited for hours on loading docks (freezing) while (sometimes rude and bitchy) unionized workers unloaded us and took our gear to our display site. The process was repeated in reverse after the show (often on a late Sunday night – that was fun Not.).
I usually had someone from the station with me, but sometimes I was alone. We eventually built a very high-tech remote customized furniture rig. It was on wheels and had everything pre-wired and equipped with a small console. I don’t know what happened to that rig, but it was terrific for what we designed it for.
There were a lot of details that went into these events like riser carpeting, table drops, banners, signs, furniture, color coordination etc. We also even had a small baby-grand piano at our remote site. The goal was to compete directly with other stations and out-class the best of them!
I was also the one whom every night fashioned heavy duty towing chain and padlocks through our furniture and equipment. Nothing was ever stolen. Details. You’ve GOT TO BE detail-oriented to pull off a successful Remote!
We had furniture stores sponsoring as well as a music store who provided the piano.
I was usually part of selecting the furniture, and always part of the physical moving it to our studios, then out to Cobo Center. Yep. We went through that routine EVERY year starting in late December!
One of our sales dudes was also the Italian program host, and he brought live musicians to our stage during his broadcasts!
But frankly, there were some years I ABSOLUTELY DID NOT look forward the Auto show remote! I dreaded it, in fact. As mentioned it was (usually) exhausting, our tempers got tried, and there were SO many details thrust upon basically only two or three of us.
Some of the years, I was part of the “black tie event,” and I remember the last-minute fittings at President Tuxedo! We had people on-air like Bob Lutz on our stage.
In later years, however, our management people and I decided to turn it into an unofficial staff “party event” in Detroit.
For the one year we were part of "RADIO AAHS" network (similar to todays' Radio Disney) I COULD NOT BELIEVE the huge crowds we had attracted. Well... it was kind of a cool concept at least for a LITTLE while.
Even though it was hard work, those became years some of us will never forget. It was entirely the people at that station who ended up making those Remotes among my career highlights. Thank you to all.
To name just a few: Jack Bailey, Scott Greenberg, David Wallace Johnson, Jerome Lott, Susan McGraw, Dino Valle, and behind the scenes, Kathy Carrington, Marylou Janiga and Carrie Abdo among others…oh yes, I can’t forget our beloved station “handyman,” Steve Fapka: Steve helped keep me sane during those trying moments on Cobo Center’s loading dock!
We all kept each other from going crazy and watched each others back.
- Bob Burnham
November 28, 2010