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Termination: It’s almost never right on the night

It’s almost never right on the night.


3 November 2010

Text:\ Graeme Hague

You must have been living on another planet during the last few months if you haven’t heard of the kerfuffle over the Australia’s Next Top Model final. The host Sarah Murdoch mistakenly announced the wrong winner. A few minutes later with a pained expression worsening, like she was fighting really bad wind, Sarah had to correct herself and all hell has broken loose in the media since. By sheer accident (my wife grabbed the TV remote first that evening, damn it) I saw the show and my only real criticism up until that point was Sarah dragged out the, “and the winner is…” suspense a ridiculous length of time – she took forever. It makes sense now, because scuttlebutt has it Sarah’s in-ear feed from the producers dropped out at exactly the wrong time and she was desperately waiting to hear something… anything, really. Finally she tried a guess, which, given the 50-50 odds of being right wasn’t a bad plan. She must be crap at the racetrack, too.


As the media put the boot in, the producers shrugged it off and blamed it on the perils of broadcasting live TV and now every fluffed script line on television is compared to Sarah’s disaster. What bugs me is the suggestion that live television is somehow more difficult and challenging – and therefore more excusable – than live theatre or music, or the live presentation of a keynote speaker at an important conference. I mean, hell, Shakespeare never had an IEM in his lughole during the premier of Macbeth with lots of 16th century producers in tights telling him where to stand, what to do, what to say…  

Anyway, discussing the ANTP thing makes people like us reminisce about our worst production stuff-up and for yours truly it’s more a favourite since no harm was done. It always reminds me of how I learned this AV business mostly at the expense of our clients. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but they didn’t know either, so I got away with it.

The customer hiring our 1100-seat theatre was the annual Jehovah’s Witness convention and about 3000 attendees filled the joint to bursting, baptising each other in a bathtub in the foyer, holding meetings under the trees outside… it was like being in a Cecil B DeMille blockbuster with a million extras. Inside, on stage they rotated a series of lectures and workshops. You couldn’t help but like everyone, even though they took over the place – we let them operate simple audio, lights and flies. You see, the brothers and sisters were so damned polite. It was infuriating! You could poke them in the eye and they’d apologise for inconsiderately putting their face in front of your jabbing finger.

There was another reason we welcomed them. Have you ever seen those wildlife documentaries on Argentine Army ants? The ones that march in a column of billions and devour everything in their path? Amazingly, lots of South American people like being invaded, because the ants eat absolutely everything organic and leave the rest. They don’t miss the tiniest crumb and ignore the plasma TV. So, as long as the kids, dogs and chickens get out the way the ants’ passage, it’s like the best of spring cleans. The house is pristine after the ants leave (and the cat’s missing). That’s what the Jehovah’s Witnesses were like. Part of the deal was they cleaned up afterwards and you could go deaf to the roar of a hundred vacuum cleaners. We couldn’t have paid for a better job.


I’d left two cheerful chaps to run the audio desk from the Control Room. This wasn’t normal, but it was only a lectern mic, a couple of floor SM58s and a CD player – what could go wrong? Then I got a polite (of course) phone call from the bio-box. The audio guys apologised (of course) for disturbing me in the office (where I was hiding) and interrupting my work (playing Solitaire), but the PA system was “fading out”. Could I come up?

When I got there things were okay, so feeling empowered I gave them a stern and impromptu, expert lecture on how audio systems could go wrong in many ways, but would never “fade out”. They were imagining things. As I blathered importantly on, the bloody PA did exactly that.

Remember, I was almost a complete novice myself, but luckily I noticed what was going wrong – one of those tricky, compressor thingies was doing something. Today, I can tell you that a Noise Gate over the main desk outputs had a very low threshold and attack rate. When the gate cut in and killed off the entire FOH it did, in fact, sound like a fade. I recognised a bypass switch, punched it in and continued my rave at the cowering audio guys who I swear were on the verge of falling to their knees and begging forgiveness. My exit from the room was masterful and spectacular.

It was my mistake and 20 years later I’m still making them. They happen in the AV and theatre industries every day, and have happened in live TV for over 50 years. Everyone, get over it and move on.

With all the fuss, anybody would think Sarah’s dad owned the network or something.


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