A broadcast engineer’s nightmare.

I’m referring to a literal nightmare here, not a figurative one. I had a pretty frighteningly vivid one last night. I blame being a bit tired out after having subjected myself to transistor horror.

In this dream I had been invited to visit an engineer at a local TV station. In reality, up here in the northern Sacramento Valley, there’s pretty much just one TV station that produces the news for most of the cities north of Sac.. anyway…

I walked into the facility which was in some nondescript warehouse bay, past a row of dusty screaming servers, and into a dark, cold little control room that had unpainted drywall walls and a window looking out on the news set.

Photo by Tiia Monto

There was just one guy there. He sat in front of some kind of really REALLY dummied down console that had a few faders and buttons on it which apparently did next to nothing as they were covered in dust. A small cheap netbook computer with the power lead duct taped into the side sat in the middle of this console. The only button that did anything was an illuminated and quite worn TAKE button on the lower right corner. Above this console was some kind of weird rackmount unit with two 16:9 CRT monitors and a satellite receiver. One was on program out, one was showing the output of a waveform rasterizer somewhere which revealed the same thing that the program monitor did: the cameras which were on robotic pedestals out in the studio, which were set on auto white balance and auto iris, were shaded very very badly. No controls were present to correct this.

Nobody else was present.

The news show opened and the talent began reading from their teleprompters. The prompters were fed from who the hell knows where (the engineer didn’t even know!) and there were really messed up lower thirds and captions that appeared and disappeared pretty much whenever they felt like it – the guy was reading the show rundown on the netbook screen and calling the scenes, as he pressed the worn old take button to transition between them, but only the people on set actually ever seemed to listen. The cameras often didn’t move when they were supposed to, or pointed at the ceiling or something, and nobody was here to fix it— he’d just smash the take button again and skip the scene where they were supposed to be used.

Of course, the Sinclair group ‘must read’ propaganda piece on fake news was read by the talent. (In reality, this one local news station we have up here is a Shitclair property, but they have never read this that I’m aware of— instead they just have this weird pretentious sounding statement about accuracy.)

The weather was then run, supposedly from a local meterologist, but in reality it came from a satellite feed from who the hell knows where. A low Eb/N0 warning flashed on the receiver display and it glitched out. The engineer just hit TAKE again and the commercial break began.

I just felt this horrible sense of terror and started running. The shitty little warehouse bay suddenly became an endless maze of alternately insanely dense or empty racks of nonsense equipment and cabling. At some point I saw a display showing the transmitter readings, the VSWR was high as hell, the signal was (miraculously) in mask, but the 8VSB eye diagram showed two entire levels smashed flat and missing… I thought to myself “well, at least that means nobody is able to watch this shitty trainwreck over the air!”…

Then I was suddenly back home in my bedroom watching this shit on the television. There was a badly corrupted picture on screen as they started talking about a farmer’s market up in Shingletown. I saw one of my enormous Yaesu satellite base radios sitting on the nightstand, which was actually a useful detail later in convincing myself I dreamed all this shit.

Then I woke up, but I was stuck in that horrible state of having to convince myself that this incredibly vivid dream was NOT real.

WHAT THE FUCK WAS ANY OF THAT, BRAIN?! What’s scary is, depending on who you ask, this is the grim future of television news. It was truly horrifying at the time.

Here, enjoy these ridiculous-ass 90s game commercials.

THE SAME VOICE IS USED IN THE NEXT ONE— which made me loudly exclaim “ohhhh hell nope”.

As a palate cleanser, here’s a Gak ad. (GAK FARTS INTENSIFY.)

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