Ever since I started working in television I have always been fascinated by ‘live TV’. There’s a healthy productive stress, an addictive buzz that draws you in and no matter how close to the wire things get, once the cameras start rolling, you’re on a rollercoaster that just can’t stop until it reaches its destination. That’s why one area most dear to my heart in Leeds Trinity is our wonderful TV studio 1.
Finding out the results of something like an election is always that bit more exciting if you are watching them come in live. How many of us stay up all night to watch the General Election results with their fantastic studio sets, guests, animated charts and statistics. In years gone by, if you were not in the bar on the Students’ Union election results night – then basically it was a case of you missed it. The last couple of years various live streams have been done without any real production, format or presentation.
This year I thought I’d set myself a challenge (like I didn’t have enough things to worry about or do, but challenges keep us learning and developing): to broadcast our own Election Night Special live from our TV studio, with presenters, guests and a live feed from the bar for each result as they were announced. After selling the idea to Simon Law, General Manager of LTSU (he loved it), I knew we had the means to achieve this. Now I just needed to figure out how to make it all work in the simplest manner possible.
Using the TV Studio and streaming the output to the LTSU Facebook page was going to be the easy bit, but getting a live feed from the bar – that was going to be the challenge. We have various cameras that have the ability to stream direct, but these would involve overcoming many obstacles with IT and expensive technology.
Somehow, I needed to get a wired feed from a camera position in the middle of the bar floor back to our TV Studio. The ‘lightbulb moment’ came from thinking about Graduation and how we normally send video from the Chapel to other locations on campus. We already had the cables required and I was able to locate the boxes in the ceiling and reverse them. It was a somewhat traumatic experience in the ceiling with cobwebs and large spiders both living and dead, but now the video from the bar would get sent up to the Auditorium and TV Studio.
This worked well, but still involved running a cable from the camera across what would be a busy floor on the night. The solution was to transmit wirelessly from the camera across the top of everyone’s heads to a receiver positioned on top of the rear seating cages and connected onto the cables back to the studio.
With the technicalities sorted and tested, now to find someone to present the show.
I thought this would be a good opportunity for a couple of our MA Journalism students, and luckily Jack Walker and Richard Liddle both rose to the challenge. My initial description was literally: “I want you to present a show for possibly over two hours, there’s no script, no crew (other than myself and Tom Pollard who kindly offered to help me with the sound), we don’t know what will happen, what guests we might get or what you need to say, and it may not all work anyway, I’ll direct from the gallery and try prompt you if needs be.” This didn’t seem to scare them too much (or perhaps it was the offer of a couple of beers and food that did it).
I flung a simple 12-second title sequence together which, along with Richard and Jack introducing themselves was the only planned bit going into the show!
On the night of the results Jack and Richard arrived suited and booted – I could see they were taking this seriously, I had a couple of safe hands here, I knew it. Simon from LTSU had a brief chat about their Social Media Policy, addressed any concerns with content and promised he would try to bring up some elected candidates to the TV studio for interviews in between each result announcement.
Everything was set up, kit tested, batteries full, spares on hand, presenters in place, first guest lined up – 6.00pm we went live on the SU Facebook page, rolled the titles and then…
Well it just happened, as I had imagined. Jack and Richard were fantastic presenters. We had our first guest interview with former SU President Miki Vyse, the live feed from the bar displayed on our large studio centre screen for Jack and Richard to see, discuss, and throw to when signalled, and into the first results. No sooner had they been announced, Simon wheeled in a group of sports society winners to be interviewed. This sequence of winners, interviews, and live results continued with no loss of signal.
As newly re-elected Vice President Chris Dow arrived for his interview, the bar feed went black before announcing the results of President – my stomach hit the floor. As the interview started I raced down to the bar from the gallery, and as I weaved my way in I could see the socket where I had plugged in the power for the wireless receiver was now hosting a student’s white iPhone charger, my plug on the floor.
With power hastily restored, the wireless receiver then refused to come fully back to life. ‘No connection’ bounced across our monitors. The main President result announcement was imminent.
A further Usain Bolt sprint back up to the Media Department to grab a length of BNC and gaffa tape, back down and hastily connect the camera by cable (the very thing we were trying to avoid) with Simon parting the crowds as I slithered across the floor on my knees taping cable like a crazed floor manager.
At last with the connection restored, I raced back up to the gallery and we had the results announced, Jack and Richard managed to keep ad-libbing for a while until it was clear we were not going to get an interview with a clearly overwhelmed newly elected SU President Chelsy Grooby, so we closed the show. I took my crew for a well-deserved beer and food at The Old Ball.
Yes, it was rough around the edges and could have done with a lot more production, but in the end, we did what we set out to do and it has been the best coverage of the SU elections we have ever had. Hopefully we have created something to repeat and expand on next year, with a bigger opportunity for Journalism and Media students to gain practical experience.
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