Monday, 29 September 2008

"A View From the Inside" - Adult Rodeo, 1999

Today's post is about what John and I did on Saturday morning. I wanted to get photos and links together before posting the story, so I really couldn't post this until today.

Last weekend was "Open Weekend" at the BBC all over the UK. For our local BBC Oxford affiliate, Saturday was their open day. I had gotten tickets for John and me to participate via the BBC's website, after hearing about it during one of BBC Oxford's newsbreaks one evening in August.

So he and I arrived at BBC Oxford's building for our 10am tour time. Here is the building that houses the radio and television studios, on Banbury Road (and right on my park and ride bus route).

(Click on any of the images for a full-sized version.)

Eight of us were assigned to Judith, one of the BBC Radio production people. Judith is in the red T-shirt in the photo below. I am just behind her (peeking over her head), and John is to her right as you view the photo. (I swiped this photo from BBC Oxford's website, by the way.)

Before I describe the highlights of our visit, let me mention one thing that really struck me as we toured the BBC's facilities. The BBC have a goal of making all of their employees versatile in all media - radio, TV and web. They want their producers and editors to be able to work with either TV or audio content. They want as much job interchangeability as possible within their staff. It's an interesting concept. Judith suggested that slowly but sure they are getting there, too.

Our group's first stop was outdoors. John and I choose to see the workings of the BBC Oxford radio car rather than the TV car. So did one of the other guys. It was probably a good choice, too, as we later learned that the TV car's transmission distance is so short that they really can't do any remote reporting (not even outside of Summertown, the area of North Oxford where the studio is located)! However, Mark Watson of Radio Oxford can go all over the place with his vehicle and huge retractable antenna, and it was very interesting to see all the choices of equipment he carries. We participated in a fake remote broadcast - John and I playing "villagers" being interviewed about how we felt about the possibility of pet alligators being discovered in our village - and then we got our photo taken with Mark and the back of his vehicle. (We didn't have too many photo ops, unfortunately. The BBC, as you might imagine, aren't too keen on photos being taken of their equipment.)

We then moved into the newsroom, where we got to experience the genesis of news stories...whether from the BBC itself or from local sources. Most fascinating was the editing equipment. They demonstrated the sound-only equipment (and would I ever like to get my hands on it for editing recorded DAB broadcasts!) and then the audio + video editing for BBC Oxford TV (shown as part of what's called "South Today"). We also saw the location within the newsroom where guests are often interviewed for national BBC broadcasts - you know the ones, when there's an Oxford professor, politician, etc. being interviewed as part of a national story. On TV it looks quite plush. Actually, it's a chair, backdrop, camera, etc. stuck in a very small corner of the newsroom!

Next was a visit with the BBC Oxford webmaster and watch how he updates their web pages. It looked remarkably like what my office-mate does for our company...except that the BBC guys have better computer screens! Interestingly enough, I caught a typo in the fake web page that was being demonstrated - the county name had been written as "Oxfirdshire". I couldn't help but notice. That's what I get for doing so much editing and proofreading these days!

The next two stops were probably my favorites, though, as we got to see actual working studios.
First, we got to spend some time with TV's Geraldine Peers (who is even more petite and more attractive in person than she is on TV), a favorite of John's and mine. Geraldine is the main anchor for BBC Oxford's news items. She's only on for 10 minutes or so Monday through Thursday, but she gets a full 30 minutes on Friday. She demonstrated a lot of the equipment she uses, in her tiny little studio space, and we met and talked with her producer. In the process of seeing how efficiently her little studio is set up, the producer pulled a green curtain across the wall behind where I was standing. That curtain is used in order to provide a neutral background for superimposing whatever image they want - like a weather map, for example. They then showed us a mock-up of how the weather forecasters work, and I got to be the "weathergirl" for the occasion! It's quite tricky to point to the correct location on a map that isn't really behind you at all, given that you're only able to watch yourself in a small TV monitor - and Geraldine also told us that the weather people have to essentially memorize their weather scripts, as they don't have any sort of autocue machine to help them with what they saying. I asked Geraldine what she does if she discovers that her part of the broadcast isn't long enough. She told us to watch for times when she's giving the web address, mailing address, etc. (along with a card showing that same information being put on the screen), as that is a standard we-are-running-too-short filler. And, she added, if she repeats things (like the web address) more than once, it's a sure sign that they are running especially short on material!

Geraldine was very friendly and accommodating to the visitors, and she left us with a very positive impression on us. John already had quite a crush on her, and I'm sure it's now even stronger!

Our last stop was the BBC Oxford radio studios. TV for the BBC only came to Oxford about seven years ago, so radio remains the largest part of what's done in the building.

We got to meet Louisa Hannan, one of the presenters for Radio Oxford weekday mornings, and we spent about 15 minutes in the studio with her. She told us how the radio equipment works and how she uses the fabulous computer software package (was it really called Radioman, as I remember?) which helps her keep track of everything she needs to know and do. She asked for a volunteer to work with her on a prewritten radio script, and I did all but push John's arm up as her volunteer! He was absolutely fantastic - and I wasn't the only one who thought he sounded like a natural - so BBC, would you be willing to give him a try at BBC Oxford? He's be just great at DJ'ng and/or reporting! (I hope you kept his work as a possible audition tape!)

Louisa was also very nice to all of us, and spending time with her and with Geraldine added such a personal touch to the tour!

Neither John nor I took any photos in the two studios, but here are photos of the two lovely ladies from cards we were given at the end of the tour.

Finally, the tour came to an end. One of our fellow tour-team members took our photo out in front of the BBC building.

And one of the items within our goody-bags was this curious set of wind-up chattering teeth...

Cool, huh? I've never had any before. And now they are proudly residing on top of the bookcase behind my desk at work. Perfect for a former-trader, right?

Oh - one more thing. On their website, BBC Oxford have a short video which will give you a similar version of a tour of their studios. If you like to take a look, you can go to the first website I linked on this post and then click on "Tim Bearder shows you around BBC Oxford" to see the mini-tour video.

Thank you, BBC, for a really terrific morning!



At 29 September, 2008 15:36 , Anonymous NFAH said...

I wondered what that facebook status was about... sounds like it was a great tour! Since I don't have a tv at home I've only recently discovered that there was local news at all around here-- I'm now addicted to the ITV Anglia update :-)

At 29 September, 2008 16:03 , Anonymous Nozza said...

WOW! I am green with envy!

At 29 September, 2008 22:25 , Blogger Milky Bar Kid said...

I liked your story and presentation. 10 out of 10. Thanks for sharing it.

At 30 September, 2008 14:57 , Blogger chris hale said...

Good to hear you had such a great day out!

The BBC gets a lot of stick at the top end but the workers at the bottom probably don't get the recognition they deserve.

Long live local radio!

At 30 September, 2008 16:32 , Blogger Jannie Funster said...

Wow, your face will forever be famous up on that BBC site.

At 03 October, 2008 11:10 , Blogger Stevyn Colgan said...

It looks like great fun. I'm envious!


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