Fitch: Hey, Is This Thing On?

by Charles S. Fitch

James O’Neal’s WTOP story prompts some memories. At my age, everything is a story ... very briefly my favorite WTOP tale ...

Back in ’71 I was living in Baltimore and loved to watch the Charlie Chan movies on late Saturday nights on WTOP(TV) ... these were the Chan's with Warner Oland from 20th Century Fox circa 1935.

Anyway, they go into a break in the movie just after midnight and come out to a pad slide and the booth announcer essentially says, “And now back to the movie, ‘Charlie Chan in El Cajon.’”

The movie starts and there's no sound ... the Audimax or whatever they have starts looking for audio and you hear what sounds like control room noise ... then a VERY LOUD chair squeak … then a hand over the mic, then a door opens and, muffled, you can hear the booth guy call over to the MCR guy: “I don't think my mic is off.”

The booth guy takes his hand off the mic and you hear the MCR guy say, “Hit your on/cough switch button a couple of times.” Click, click ... bang, bang ... but still no movie audio as Chan rolls on.

The MCR says, “Must be a relay hung up as we don't have any movie audio.” Now the sound of rack doors opening in the distance and covers being pulled off ... more banging ... occasional silence ... more chair squeaking ... Chan rolls on. Tthe MCR guy says, “Let's go to a break and see if that clears it ... if need be I'll patch the audio.” Pad slide up ... booth audio disappears ... the break rolls extra long ...

Now we're back to the slide and the booth guy begins by apologizing for the technical snafu, which he tells viewers was caused by “an audio switcher bus relay latch ... whatever that is ... and since most of us have missed a notable part of the movie, we've re-racked the movie to where we lost audio. So that there is no confusion and especially for those who have just joined us, let me recapitulate the plot thus far.”

The booth guy now proceeds to give us an erudite plot analysis to this point in the movie! About 5 minutes of off-the-cuff dissertation.

“… And now back to ‘Charlie Chan in El Cajon.’”

This sort of thing never happens anymore ... this is when real people used to make TV.

My other D.C. favorite TV tidbit is that the original Channels 5 and Channel 7 started out in the hallways of the top floors of two D.C. hotels, the tallest buildings in the city at the time. Since they were demo stations, evidently they only operated during daylight hours so as not to disturb the guests.

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