Master Controller

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I get paid to watch TV. It's partly true - I do get to watch some fascinating TV (and most times weeks ahead of the general public) but there is much more to my job than that.

My position is Broadcast Operator which basically means I have to operate the broadcasts. This use to be a big to-do back in the days of tape and switchers but just about everything is automated nowadays.

When I am "on the board" I'm on duty as the Master Control operator. "On the board" used to refer to the actual physical switchboard that the person would push buttons on to change from program to commercial and back again. We still have one of these but it's only for like super emergencies.

Master Control is the hub of the station. In our station, it's this huge, freezing room with tons of computers, servers, HD beta tape decks, and SD beta tape decks. If you don't know what a beta tape is just think of a really big VHS. If you don't know what a VHS is…you'll never understand the struggle of rewinding.

The computers all have different tasks that we, as operators, have to ensure they do correctly. Some record programs into our server. Some allow us to play back a program and make sure there is nothing wrong with it. There's a computer to keep track of the transmitter, one to ensure all the details of the programs show up correctly on your DVR menu, and others that convert a file so we can upload it to YouTube. And there's still tons more.

My duty, first and foremost, is to ensure that everything airs correctly. There should be no black, empty spaces. No overlapping of programs or commercials. There shouldn't be two of the same spots airing back to back. All the programming should be correct as per traffic's instructions.

Traffic is what we call the people who time out and actually decide which shows go where and which commercials will air between them. They make the log and send it over to us, where we then make sure everything is good to go.

When a program is set to air live off of a satellite, I have to be sure that the application will switch to the correct satellite at the correct time. When a program is set to air off of our server I have to make sure we DO actually have the program. We record these programs prior to the actual airing. We watch these programs for good video, good audio, and closed captioning. There are certain standards and regulations that the FCC has (for example all programs over 10 minutes must have closed captioning) and we have to make sure that all the programs we air adhere to those standards.

Every hour we also have to monitor our transmitter. The transmitter, which is located in a different town, needs to be putting out at a certain power percentage. If it drops below a certain number then people who watch us over-the-air (with a digital antennae) will lose our signal.

When I know that things are good to go for my shift I have to look over the next day too. Our days are different than the normal midnight to midnight. For us, our day starts at 6:00:00am and ends at 5:59:59am the following day. It can get pretty confusing so we use military time. We also work about a week ahead when it comes to programming. We need to know which programs still need to be recorded, which will air live, and which will be ingested from a tape, or downloaded.

There is a total of four people (that's including me) who work as Master Control operators. We have rotating shifts so it's very important that we email and communicate. Something that wasn't done on my shift could affect the next person's shift or vice versa.

So these are the basics. Depending on the time of year and any special events that happen we have more duties as assigned. I've been here two years and it's interesting to see the continuous and ever-changing technological advancements. We have this application that basically downloads programs onto our server like Dropbox. It's insane!

I think my job is pretty interesting. It's fun to be able to watch so many things while I'm multi-tasking at work. As far as the position goes though it's not very creative. For that, I do editing. But that is another post for another day.

So what do you think? Would you like to do what I do? Is there something you have more questions about? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Talya Tate BoernerMarch 4, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    What an interesting job you have! Stars in my eyes.

  2. Thanks Tayla, it is really interesting and whenever I bring people by to the station they think it's glamorous. I'm not so sure about that but it's definitely fun.

  3. I have spent my whole career in TV as a producer. This post made me smile.

  4. Aww thanks! I could never be a much work & stress! You guys do it all.