On Thursday 5 October 2017 the day dawn grey – overcast and raining menacingly. Not the ideal day for transporting audio mixers, microphones and other assorted items into a school for a major outside broadcast. Fortunately, by lunchtime, the day had changed completely and all was set fair for our ‘school trip’.
Earlier in the week we had made phone calls, discussed requirements, gathered equipment from home and set up software in preparation, so at 2pm on the day we foregathered at the studios to pick up the rest of our gear and ensure that everything was setup at the studio end to receive the live programme we would be sending.
By 3pm three of us – Mike Brown, Peter Dowsett and Derrick Pascoe – had arrived at the school. We signed in and were given the visitor passes which would allow us access to the school. One good thing about working as volunteers within the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust is that we’re all DBS checked – an important factor when working in a school, with children.
We were immediately met by school teachers, technicians and caretakers who made sure we had all we needed and we began the task of setting up our gear for the broadcast.
The show we were preparing for was a special live edition of Mark Crees’ BookMark, and would be broadcast live between 6 and 8pm that evening. The programme was to showcase the varied creative talents of the school’s students. Children from each of the school’s year groups would be demonstrating their abilities in writing, drawing, singing, playing and even, we were to discover, cookery.
We had done this once before, on a smaller scale, for an hour at the end of the summer term last year and it went so well that we all thought it should be done again. In fact the school were so pleased with the first broadcast that they wanted the next one to be bigger and better still, and we were certainly up for the challenge. So this year’s programme would involve more students, the entire school choir, a larger audience and would run live for up to two hours. OK, we thought… bring it on!
So this time we used two small mixers, two sound engineers and around a dozen or so microphones and allowed three hours to get everything set up, tested and working. And it was just as well that we did. What should be a comparatively simple technical exercise, for whatever reason, never, ever goes entirely according to plan. There’ll be microphones which refuse to co-operate with particular cables or software which worked perfectly well at home or in the studio which steadfastly refuses to work on location, and every problem takes additional, unexpected time to solve, requiring a cool head to be kept as the clock steadily ticks round towards the programme’s eagerly anticipated start time. On this occasion everything in the audio world was rosy and it was, as it often is, the temperamental streaming software, used to get our signal back to our studios via the Internet, which was to be the time consuming issue. Three of us worked on it for an hour before we found the solution and we finally had a rock-solid link back to our studio with just 20 minutes to spare. The remaining time was spent re-checking microphones and establishing a rough balance before starting two hours of live radio with our only rehearsal being the show we had done 15 months or so ago!
The six o’clock news played out into the school’s main hall as we prepared to go live, there was a moment’s silence as a planned commercial failed to go out from the studio and we realised we were already on air a few seconds earlier than expected, so Mark’s them tune rang out and we were off – flying by the set of our pants for the next two hours!
Mark, of course, had by far the hardest job – it was his show and it was all totally unscripted, but defying the time-honoured advice never to work with children or animals Mark, ably supported by Penair’s David Coad, was more than a match for the job. The show opened with a song from the school’s 29-strong choir and we would soon be finding out why they were named the New York Choir.
There followed an impressive sequence of talent, from poets and writers to artists, singers, keyboard players, even a trumpet player ambitiously tackled Ron Goodwin’s ‘633 Squadron’. The two hours flew by and soon the choir were singing the show’s final piece, the theme was reprised and we handed back to the studio. Our programme assistants all played their part smoothly and, just as importantly every single piece of equipment worked flawlessly. It only remained to pack up and go home thinking that, as with Christmas, there had been a lot of planning and preparation, a great deal of fun and excitement, but it all seemed to be over very quickly.
Huge thanks to Mark Crees, David Coad and all the support staff at Penair School, to sound engineers Mike Brown and Peter Dowsett, programme assistants Clarissa Jacobs, Derrick Pascoe and Mark Webster, producer Jason Moyle and studio manager Roy Gladish, assisted by Jeff Jacobs.