Live TV news headsets
February 19, 2021 11:15 AM   Subscribe

When a journalist or anchor is speaking to camera, what do they hear in their headset? Are there a lot of prompts? Or do they only hear corrections for when they make a mistake?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
They hear the producer, who will be telling them "you're live in 3, 2, 1..." and "Cutting to commercial in 30" and that sort of thing. Otherwise nothing (so they can focus on reporting) unless they mis-speak and need to correct or the story is breaking and they are getting facts to relay to their audience. If a story is late breaking, the producer will positively CRAM them with facts until the literal second they go live. (I imagine some of this can be relayed on digital teleprompters now, though. You did not used to be able to type those scripts on the fly.)

Source: one of my dads was an ABC News producer back in the day and I used to hang out to watch Peter Jennings sometimes, who 100% wore shorts under that desk in the summers.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:56 AM on February 19 [23 favorites]


Some examples that you might like to see taking place in real time are clips of the anchors like Cronkite who had phones on their desks. When the producers needed to talk to them for something like breaking news, they'd ring and the anchor would answer and then relay the information.

Of course eventually the telephones were replaced by earpieces.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:01 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Sample Director Chatter:
This is a bit more than you would always hear - some of it could be silenced if it's not directly to the host (like calling for the tape segments), but sometimes the host would hear all of it.

Director: Ok this segment will be 2 minutes long, coming out of This Thing. About halfway through, you can throw to the video clip, I'll take it off your cue. And at the end you'll throw to That Thing. All good? Ok roll record, and coming to the floor with Camera Two in 3.... 2... 1, Take Two, Cue Host.

(long silence while Host talks)

Director: Don't forget to mention the Other Thing.

(long silence while Host talks... Host mentions a web address)

Director: Ready web Chyron, and Chyron, ok it's in....
And Chyron out
(this means there was a graphic of a web address visible, Chyron is the name of the machine that used to make these)

Director: Ready video clip on Blue (the different video sources are usually coded by colour as there may be a few used in one segment. In the old days they were literally VCRs, now they're digital), and 3...2...1.... Roll and take Blue full ("meaning, start the video, then switch to a full-screen view of what the Blue source is playing").

VTR Operator (video tape recorder) says: "And, blue's up, 30 seconds to go".

Switcher says: "Host is clear." (This means the host's mic and video feed are now off, so the viewer can't see the host any more and the host can talk candidly for a sec.)

Director: Ok, that was great! I just found out we need to extend by 20 seconds, so maybe you can talk about The Thing? Yep perfect.

Assistant director: And 10 seconds to end of Blue

Director: Blot your forehead real quick? Looking great. Ok coming back to floor, let's start with Camera One pushing in from wide, then we'll cut to Two, and Host I'll cue you.

Assistant: And 5, 4, 3....

Director: Coming to One in 3, 2, 1, and take One, Dave push in faster... nice, and ready Two, and take Two, aaand cue Host.

(Ready Two - means telling the operator of Camera Two to finesse their shot, standby and hold still, as their shot will be live next.
Take ___ - means telling the Switcher to switch the feed to that camera or VTR source.)

Assistant Director: And 10 seconds to end of clip

Director: Ok wrap it up

Assistant: And 5... 4...

Director: Ready Extro.... (Telling the Switcher to cue up the goodbye theme song)

Assistant: 3... 2... 1...

Director: Roll and take Extro, and take it full, and we're outta here.

Switcher: Clear!

Director: Nice work everyone!

Host: Was that ok?

Director: Yeah it was great!

Source: I've worked in live TV for years.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:24 PM on February 19 [50 favorites]


YouTube has a surprising number of director reels from local news shows. Here's one from an ABC affiliate in Georgia. Here's one from CBSLA, which is a bit of a larger setup and starts off with some fun chatter with reporters in the field. Like nouvelle-personne's script, these videos from the control room—some feature much more complex setups than others—will give you a really detailed idea of how these shows are made. Many of the ones on YouTube are slimmed down setups for local news where one person is doing three or more of the jobs at once.

A YouTube search for "tv news director reel" brings up a lot of these.
posted by zachlipton at 1:23 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


In addition to what's already been mentioned, it's how they hear interviewees or field reporters.

In general, a seasoned TV journalist doesn't need a lot of audio prompts for the stories - they have the teleprompter for that.
posted by Candleman at 1:25 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Amazing explanation, nouvelle-personne.

I can just add, as someone who's been on local and national TV a couple times as a guest on a news show, you get a very specific part of that director chatter. I would get handed from a remote coordination producer (this was via a remote studio) who would be checking my sound and video with the producer/operator on site. The camera was stationary and there'd be a background of like Seattle or Mt Rainier or something so he didn't need to operate anything live after initial setup.

The host audio for the interviews was also in my little earpiece, not on studio speakers or anything. It can be disorienting because the live TVs (big delay) and live monitors (small delay) don't match up to each other, and the voice (almost no delay) doesn't match up to either.

As pointed out above the anchor gets a lot more of it but guests like me will get a little prompt here and there, "wrap it up" (though that might go to the producer on my end and they'll make a circular "wrap it up" motion), etc but generally it was minimal during the broadcast. Before, they give you the timing and heads-up on images and cues that should be watched for (and not interrupted), and afterwards they drop you like a hot rock about five seconds after your mic is cut — not in an unfriendly way but when your part is played you are cleared ASAP so you don't clog the channels. "Thanks, that was great, look forward to having you on again!" Chatter is discouraged. A 5-minute hit took about half an hour since they want you on the line 10-15 minutes early and it's best to be 100% well before then.

I've always been amazed at the behind-the-scenes work for live broadcast. We get a taste of it at our events, which are also broadcast live from stage.

You may also be interested to know that at least on stage, we have visible monitors that can display prompts and clips, and big digital countdown timers that only moderators can see. Whoever's in the wings will usually give a 2 minute or wrap it up warning if the mod doesn't seem to be watching — we don't have earpieces. There's a lot to juggle! And most of it is deliberately hidden from editorial so we think of it as magic — no, it's a bunch of pros at monitors a lot like the newsroom. And a LOT of prep and rehearsal.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:59 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


One other minor follow-up - for non-pros who were being interviewed, either in the studio or the field, we would give audio prompts through the ear pieces sometimes, anything from letting them know that their segment was about to start in 2 minutes to reminding them to certain points that the show was trying to bring forward if they were wandering off topic to asking them to pause so the host could get a word in.
posted by Candleman at 12:33 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


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