|BBC Engineering September 1973|
|Saturday Sport on BBC Television|
|D. M. W. McGregor,
Assistant (Operations), Television Studios
and D. J. Fawcitt, Video Tape Operations Manager, Television Recording
On Saturdays the enthusiast has between five and six hours of sport viewing available on BBC 1. The three regular programmes are Grandstand, Today's Sport and Match of the Day, BBC 2 has its own 55 minute programme, Rugby Special showing the highlights of two rugby matches. Grandstand, which starts at about 12.30 and finishes shortly after 17.00, includes many of the sporting events that are held both nationally and internationally. The various items may be live or prerecorded highlights, plus an up-to-the-minute result and news service. Today's Sport is a 5 min round-up of sports news and results and follows the evening news bulletin at 17.45. Match of the Day usually features recorded highlights of two of the day's top football matches and lasts for about an hour, starting around 22.00. The control centre for these three programmes is Studio E at Lime Grove, and the linking announcements and discussions are broadcast live from this studio, so that Saturday is always a busy day for both the production staff and the engineering staff. The content of the programmes, the facilities required and the transmission times vary from week to week, but the basic studio operation is similar.
The day begins when the engineers and the Technical Operations Crew arrive for duty at 09.00. While the studio is being lit the camera crew connect the camera cables and rig the studio monitors and teleprinters. The Sound Crew start rigging the studio microphones and the other sound equipment required, including Direct Exchange Telephones, PABX extensions, talkback to the Production Control Room, Control Lines from Exchange Telegraph for racing starting prices, and headphone feeds for programme etc. The outlets for the various facilities appear on trunking which fits into the front of the desks occupied by the sports sub-editors and their staff and is connected to the appropriate outlets on the studio walls by means of multi-conductor 'hose-pipe' cables. The studio engineers commence lining-up the cameras and the vision mixing equipment etc.
Because of the wide range of sports and venues, the problem of ensuring that the correct number and type of temporary and permanent circuits are provided between the remote sources and the studio is a major task. Information regarding the use of the circuits within West London Television premises is issued daily in a Lines Booking Sheet,
The circuits from remote sources arrive in the studio via the Combined Vision Apparatus Room (CVAR) and the engineers there start the day by checking the Lines Booking Sheet to ascertain what outside broadcasts are to be involved in the day's operation, and what lines are to be used to provide the various facilities that are going to be required. Some of these outside broadcasts will be transmitted live, and others will be required for preview purposes only, as they are to be recorded on video tape which will be edited and replayed at sometime after the event. They also need to learn what method of synchronisation is to be used for the various remote sources, including Television outside broadcasts, video disc and the five or six videotape machines, which are fed from Television Centre. There may be inserts from overseas, which come via the International Control Room and possibly Standards Convertors, both of which are also situated at Television Centre. The methods of synchronisation available are Natlock/Slavelock, Natlock/Genlock, a commercial Fast Genlock system or FS2, the BBC Field Store Convertor, working in a 625 PAL- 625 PAL mode. It sometimes happens that a combination of several of these systems is employed and this entails careful planning with Television Outside Broadcasts Department and Television Recording Department.
It is important that the editor Alan Hart, and the Studio Producer Brian Venner have constant communication with Frank Bough, the linkman, who is seen and heard on transmission, and a system has been developed to provide this facility wherever Frank Bough is in the studio. The deafaid that he wears carries Production talkback so that the producer can speak to him at all times. Should the editor wish to talk to him he may do so by means of the talkback microphone or by using a special telephone, the microphone of which is also connected to the deaf-aid. The telephone earpiece is fed with a pre-hear output of Frank Bough's personal microphone to enable two-way conversation to be carried out, and thus only one microphone is used for both transmission and talkback purposes. If Frank Bough wishes to contact either the Editor or the Producer he operates a push-button that he carries in his pocket and this signals the special telephone by means of a d.c. signal fed along his microphone cable.
An important source of information for general and sports news during the day is the bank of Teleprinters on the studio floor. A Communications Department teleprinter technician arrives at about 10.00 to check that the ten teleprinters that are used (including the inshot teleprinter used for football results) are all functioning correctly and that the required services are connected to them. The services used include:
Press Association A - general news headlines
Press Association B - detailed general news
Press Association C - sports news
Reuter UK - general UK news
Reuter 2 - sports news
Exchange Telegraph Sport I
Exchange Telegraph Sport 2
By 10.30 the Editor and the Studio Producer will have arrived in the studio along with the Producer's secretary, sub-editors, caption artists, Teleprinter attendants and messengers etc., and will start the studio camera rehearsal. This includes linking announcement positions, caption positions, overlay shots and checking the time and cues into and between telecine and videotape items.
From 10.30 until 11.30 the Television outside broadcast circuits start to arrive in CVAR and are passed on to the Technical Manager after the signal parameters have been checked. The Natlock circuits are tested and equalised and Natlock/Slavelock error signals are sent to the various Television outside broadcasts, which are to be used synchronously during the programme. By 11.30 the local camera rehearsals are completed and the outside broadcasts sequences are rehearsed, particularly if they feature in the opening titles. At 11.45 the studio rehearsal ends and the cameras are lined-up, remote sources are checked for synchronisation and telecine and videotape areas prepare for transmission. By 12.30 everything is checked and Grandstand is on transmission.
At 17.05 there is time for a rapid check line-up with the remote sources involved in Today's Sport. Captions are up-dated, late results are added and checked on cameras, linking announcement camera shots are checked and there is a quick camera rehearsal. At 17.45 Today's Sport follows the evening news bulletin and weather forecast and by 17.50 the afternoon commitment is finished and the Technical Crew are off duty.
2.3 'Match of the Day' (MOTD)
Another Technical Crew arrive in the studio after dinner and from 19.00 to 20.00 the studio is reset and relit for Match of the Day. The Editor, Sam Leitch and the Studio Producer,
Jonathan Martin will have spent the afternoon in Sub Control Room at Television Centre watching two or occasionally three football matches simultaneously and will have left the Sports Production Assistants in charge of editing the VT material to be used later that evening while they return to the studio.
At 20.00 there is a camera rehearsal for the opening and closing sequences of the programme, linking announcements into the videotape inserts plus numerous captions particularly if 'Goal of the Month' is being featured. From 20.45 to 21.10 a check is carried out with the videotape area at Television Centre and Network Control I, in order that last minute changes and alterations to the script can be checked and rehearsed.
Shortly after 22.00 Studio E is back on transmission for about 60min with all the excitement of some of the best footbal I matches which have taken place during the afternoon.
Video Tape Operation
The studio and Outside Broadcast facilities are extremely sophisticated and flexible, but it would be impossible to produce a balanced show of the present style by relying on live material alone. Two telecine machines are always available to replay film inserts into Grandstand but the preparation of film - planning, shooting and editing - is a comparatively long process and, topicality being all important, the time factor imposes its own limitations.
Since video tape recording facilities were first introduced to the BBC in 1958, Sports Department, more than any other television production group, have made use of the versatility of video tape machines and stretched the equipment and operational staff to the limits of their capability. Sport, in the video tape sense, can be split up into three broad categories,
Firstly the preparation of material before the transmission which may take the form of a brief history of a personality, team or event, This may end up as only a few minutes of programme time, but it can take many hours to prepare because of the large number of tapes which contain the original material and the difficulties in matching sound and vision recorded on many different occasions. Such compilations are always topical and indeed the idea is often conceived only a day or so before transmission - hence the frequent last minute rush to complete items.
Secondly there is the material which is recorded and transmitted within the programme transmission time. It may simply be recorded to act as a delay when two items occur simultaneously at Outside Broadcasts, but it is also likely that the material will be edited into a package - as frequently happens with athletics, for example.
The third category covers the 'Match of the Day' type of programme where the only 'live' material is often the links between items, the rest of the programme being made up of edited highlights of one, two or perhaps three football matches, together with interviews, which have been recorded earlier in the day.
It is during the afternoon that the Saturday Sports load reaches its first peak. Whilst Grandstand is on the air, the football matches for Match of the Day must be recorded as well as the two Rugby Special matches, and it is quite normal for twelve out of the twenty-four video tape machines in the basement of Television Centre to be in use for Sport. On special occasions, such as F.A. Cup Final Day, the number could possibly be sixteen or more - and this does not allow for recordings required by Television Enterprises!
Four or more adjacent machines, operated by engineers (including at least one VT Editing Engineer) are normally allocated to Grandstand itself and these machines must provide recordings of any incoming material, replays of prepackaged and newly-recorded items as well as editing facilities if required. The afternoon's work is scheduled in advance by the Sports Production Assistants who seem to spend much of their life in the VT Area, but the keynote of this programme is flexibility and a machine may be asked to stop recording, transmit a short sequence and then revert to recording within the space of a few minutes.
It is usual for all the machines involved in such an operation to have their outputs fed to the studio via the Complex Operations Desk, a centrally situated monitoring and switching desk which enables the Production Assistants (PAs) to control the operation and yet be in close contact with the studio destination via the built-in communication facilities.
This desk can accept up to six machines on the input and can allow the PA to select any one of those machines to be fed up the one line to the studio. Sound and vision circuits are switched simultaneously and it is possible to cut from machine to machine on air without disturbance. The desk has four 11 inch. monochrome monitors which show Studio output, Switchable Preview of available VT machines, Desk output and Network output
An electronic countdown generator is an extra facility which automatically shows a l0second countdown on the desk output vision whenever the play button of the selected machine is operated, thus giving reassurance to the studio that the 'run cue' has been heard and at the same time ensuring consistent timing of the vital 10sec run down.
All vision replayed from VT during Grandstand is expected to be fully synchronous in the Studio and this is initially achieved by Natlock/Slavelocking one of the pulse chains at Television Centre to the Lime Grove studio pulse chain. It has been found that once the generators are locked, the monochrome correction loop can be broken for long periods without the chains drifting apart. It is still necessary to make sure that each machine is accurately colour phased at the studio mixer and Digital Phase Shifters are used for this purpose. Providing each machine has been fed to the Studio Mixer input before it goes on air, its Phase Shifter will be pre-set to very nearly the correct position and any remaining errors will be quickly corrected after the machine has stabilised during its run-up for transmission.
The last part of the Grandstand programme is often a hectic round-up of the afternoon's proceedings and this relies largely on VT contributions. All the available machines may well be used for this within the space of a few minutes and the success of the round-up depends upon the closest possible co-operation between the VT Engineers, the Sports PAs, in the VT Area and the Studio team. With Grandstand off the air at 17.05 there is just time to take a deep breath before the Today's Sport summary programme although for this only two machines are normally required since most of the interest is in the football results from the studio.
Although Grandstand may be over, Rugby Special is not far off and the editing of the matches has already started in two of the 'Record Pair' cubicles. Each cubicle is equipped with two video tape machines which, during the afternoon have made a master and backing copy of one match. By 18.00 hours the machines are being used as 'edit pairs' and from the master tapes electronically edited shortened versions are being made.
Time is short, and so the Sport's PAs and the VT Editors working in the channels have an air of concentration which they must maintain right through until transmission. The aim is to have both matches edited and ready for transmission by 19.15 but if either match has many tries or interesting incidents then the number of edits needed to cover them is also high and editing sometimes continues to within a few minutes of transmission at 19.45.
Although electronic editing is the preferred method of joining wanted sequences together it is worth mentioning that the old 'cut edit' system - where the tape is physically cut with a razor blade and the wanted pieces joined together with a metalised splicing tape - still has its uses. In electronic editing the programme is compiled by copying the wanted sequences from one machine to another, the editing machine being specially equipped to enable it to change from replay mode to record mode without leaving a disturbance on the final tape. This means that to produce a 45 min programme by electronic editing at least 45 min of copying time must be available, and two machines will be required. There are still many situations, mainly in sports programmes, where a tape will be cut either because of the time factor or because only one machine is available for the operation. A skilled VT Editor can make a physical splice in about a minute once he has found the cutting points and it is sometimes worth splicing a valuable tape to gain the extra few minutes.
If the Rugby editing has gone well, the final transmission will come from one tape, but if one of the matches has been difficult and has taken a long time, then two machines will have to be used and a 'change-over' made on air. Rugby Special is a complete programme on tape, the opening, closing and any links being recorded from the Outside Broadcasts, and so it is possible to send this programme direct to Network without it going through a studio to be tidied up.
By the time Rugby Special is on the air, the MOTD editing should be well under way. Immediately after the matches any interviews with players or team managers which can be obtained will have been recorded and Sam Leitch and Jonathan Martin will have briefed their PAs in VT on how much material from each match should be used. Apart from the recordings made at Television Centre, each match has a mobile or portable video tape recorder on site and this is fed with the output of a camera situated behind the goal. This is used to give an alternative view of any shots at goal and the tapes must either be returned to Television Centre or the interesting parts played down the line to London, where Sports Staff can decide whether to incorporate them into their programmes or not. During the match the Sports PAs will have mad. their own careful notes of action in the match against the elapsed VT spool time and by the time they have worked out rough cutting points the VT Editors will have copied the opening sequences of the matches.
One VT Editor will be working on each match, either by himself on a record pair or on two of the multi-purpose machines with another engineer to operate the play-in machine. Although at least four hours are available between the end of recording and the start of transmission, the whole of the time is needed to produce the smooth final product which is expected. Editors and PAs pride themselves on their ability to disguise the edits and this can be achieved only by taking great care in choosing the cutting points and then mixing the sound over the edit point to ensure a smooth transition. To help with problems that can arise from attempting to edit in the middle of commentary, a feed of 'clean effects' (crowd noise) is often fed on a separate line from the football match and recorded on the second audio track of the VT machine. During editing this can be substituted for the mixed commentary and effects of the main audio track until the unwanted commentary is finished.
The highlights of each match - goals, disputed decisions etc. - often warrant closer inspection and it is common for slow motion replays of such incidents to be inserted into the edited version from the Video Disk Recorder (Fig. f). Although not mentioned previously, the Video Disk has been in operation all afternoon for Grandstand, and during that time will have been used for replays of tries in rugby football, falls or finishes in horse racing, wickets in cricket, match points in tennis, or whatever else is considered of interest to the viewers. The machine itself is housed in a cubicle separated from the main area by a large glass window. It is within sight of the Complex Operations Desk and can be routed through the desk although this is not normally done. Once the disk is recording, it has available at any one time the last 36seconds of programme and, if the machine is switched to 'Play' that 36sec can be stored indefinitely. Apart from replaying at normal speed, it can also switch to half speed, one-fifth speed or 'freeze', which gives a 'still frame' for as long as the position is held. There is also a 'variable' position where the replayed speed is continuously variable from `freeze' to normal speed and this is the most commonly-used position for showing the action replay of a goal.
The video disk is often used 'live' on sports programmes and for this it is used via a 'Hot Switch'. This simply means that the Outside Broadcast and the Video Disk are both fed to the input of a switch and the Disk Operator, who also has a record feed of the O. B., has control oft he switch so that he can either feed the O. B. to the destination or switch the disk output (in the replay mode) to line when so directed.
|Fig. 1 HS100 Video Disk head assemblies|
|The Video Disk room also has a caption scanner installed and, apart from using this to superimpose the `BBC Action Replay' caption on the video disk inserts, it can be used as a separate facility to add titles to an otherwise complete programme.
For MOTD the interesting incidents have to be played from the video tape on to the video disk and then transferred back at the best speed to show the action - not in itself a long job, but there could be up to fifteen such operations wanted during the evening and they can take up a large part of the editing time.
By 21.30 the studio will be hoping to start rehearsals with -VT and the opening titles at least will be ready on one machine.
As with Rugby matches, if incidents in the match are few, then the editing will be completed in good time and probably ready for the start of rehearsal. It is quite common, though, for only one of the matches to be completed by transmission time and the other must be completed during the first half of the programme. The Complex Operation Desk is again used to route machines to the studio and as the second match is switched to line then the engineers, editors and production staff noticeably relax and start clearing up the many tapes which are lying around, completing the paperwork and discussing problems met during the day.
The studio cannot start clearing up until the closing titles are complete, but these final minutes of the day bring a last burst of activity as the crew de-rig the technical equipment and return it to stores, and the Studio Engineers turn off equipment which does not need to be continuously powered.
Another six or seven hours of Sport on Saturday is over and a total audience of perhaps 18 million people will have watched some or all of it.