Flat Stanley arrived in Tallahassee, Florida recently and he told me he wanted to see what a TV and radio station were like. Lucky for him, I'm in a position to oblige. And it's not just any commercial station, but a Public Television station and a National Public Radio station.
He was thrilled to have his picture taken with Bert and Ernie and Big Bird - three characters in PBS's flagship children's show "Sesame Street." Can you see him? He's peeking out from behind Ernie's shoulder.
I took him down to my office, which was kind of boring after meeting Bert and Ernie. He kind of liked my computer though and thought the program I was working on was pretty cool. He also liked my "Speak No Evil" monkey, which I keep on my desk to remind me that sometimes it's a good idea NOT to talk. I also have Elvis in there wearing a gold lame suit, but Stanley was much more impressed with the monkey. I guess a monkey would trump Elvis most any day to most people.
After showing him my desk, I took him around the TV station a bit. I explained to him that things change quickly in this business and that equipment that was state of the art not so long ago is now OLD and not used. Part of our station is like a museum - we have old cameras (not HD) and old videotape machines on display. Stanley though this one was pretty cool. It's a 1" machine, called that because the tape on the reels is one inch wide. Before these, we used 2" machines! As you can imagine, those tapes were very heavy and cost a lot of money to ship. A lot of programs used to run off tape. These days, the videotapes are tiny. Five of them weigh a little less than a pound. It makes a big difference in shipping costs. Some stations use DVDs and now, some are beginning to use file transfers to move programs around - kind of like emailing programs back and forth. For now, a lot of programs are sent to us via satellite and we record them on servers and back them up on tape. One day in the not-too-distant future, most of our programming will be fed as files rather than as real-time programs. Real-time means that an hour-long program takes an hour to record. A file takes much less time, so the amount of time needed on a satellite to deliver a day's worth of programming will be much shorter and hopefully a lot less expensive.
After showing Stanley around the TV station, we walked to the other side of the building to visit the radio station. We entered a room where a bunch of people were sitting in front of computers. The phones were ringing and there was a lot of food in there. This was a room full of volunteers - spending their time answering phones for a membership drive. You've probably heard one before. People from the local area get on the radio and ask for donations to help pay for some of the programs that are on the air. It's not an easy job, but for public radio and public television to exist, funds are needed from the people who watch and listen to help pay for it. Sometimes it's a lot harder to raise that money when people are being laid off or having their hours cut at their jobs. They don't have much money to spare - but our listeners think that our radio station does something special, so they call and offer what they can afford. Every single pledge of support matters because every dollar adds up to enough (hopefully) to keep the programs people want to listen to on the air.
Flat Stanley thought that was pretty cool. He looked over the notes and some script suggestions and thought it might be fun to try that - but the headphones were way too big and he couldn't reach the microphones. He did want his picture taken in front of one though.
Finally, to wrap up our tour, I took Stanley into the radio control room.
He was pretty impressed with all the buttons and slides. Every button on that board was a source of sound - a microphone or a tape machine or a satellite... it's pretty complicated when you have a lot of different voices that need to be a part of a show. We used to have paper rundowns that told the operator what to do and when, but like most things these days, it's computerized. And when we're not doing live radio like the membership drive, even the switching between audio sources is computerized.
Flat Stanley's head was spinning - he had no idea there was so much to television and radio. He can't wait to get back to Kentucky and tell those kids all about it.