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Radio Free Montone: ‘Operator Error’

John Montone

John Montone

By John Montone, 1010 WINS

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — Remember when we were promised that the technology of tomorrow would make our lives so much simpler?

When I started out as a radio street reporter, I would go to the scene of a story, get some tape and then look for the nearest phone booth.  I would talk live over the phone and when it came time to play the tape, I would drop the mouthpiece down to the external speaker of the tape recorder. That was it.

A few years later, an enterprising radio engineer invented the Voice Act. Voice for the reporter’s spoken words, Act for the taped sound bite or actuality as it is known in the biz.  This required reporters to unscrew the mouthpiece of the phone, often shattering it in the process, and screw on the Voice Act.  A single cable ran from the tape recorder to the Voice Act which amplified the reporter’s voice and sent the tape directly over the phone line onto the air.

The mobile phone killed the Voice Act.  To connect to the new innovation we needed to carry small audio mixers around with us.  The mixer had a microphone and two mini cables, one for the tape recorder and one for the phone.

At the dawn of the new century 1010 WINS Newsman Lee Harris and I decided we should be able to broadcast from the field in full broadband sound.  Lee who knows a guy for almost every possible task, had one of his guys create a program called Audio TX which connected to the station over a much wider bandwidth than a cell phone.

Now in addition to the phone, the recorder and the mixer, I needed a laptop in my car and in order to be able to reach everything, the mixer sat on the dashboard and the laptop on a special seat desk.

Due to the explosion in digital devices and the onset of texting and tweeting via cell phones, Audio TX got crowded out of the cellular airwaves and often did not connect to the station.

Which brings us to my current in-car set-up.  It consists of a digital mixer on the dashboard with five cables, two of which go to the laptop, one to my recorder, one serves as my microphone and where the heck does that other one go?  Oh, yes. To my Access unit and antenna which is how I now connect to the station.

But before I do that I have to establish an Internet connection via my MIFI air card which, because it is in constant use, must be powered up by a charger connected to what we used to call a cigarette lighter.  Meanwhile, the laptop is powered through an inverter which is connected to a power source running directly from the car’s battery.

Although the inverter was not manufactured in Mexico, it does like to take an occasional siesta.  It just shuts down without notice at which time the battery on the laptop, taxed beyond its capacity, starts losing its juice.  I can live with the inverter’s naps, but one morning I heard sparks and smelled smoke.  Flames shot out from the inverter.  And with so many gadgets demanding power from the car sometimes fuses burn out and occasionally a battery just up and croaks.

Did I mention that the MIFI, my iPhone and most of the cables are black and that I do a lot of my work before dawn and my eyesight isn’t what it once was, so if the phone or MIFI falls into the abyss between the driver’s seat and the center console, I scream and curse and smash my fist on the steering wheel while looking for the missing device?

And because the Access unit is supposed to remain connected to the station and thereby the studio, if Lee Harris or Judy DeAngeles forget to turn it off, all of our loyal listeners will hear me screaming, cursing and smashing my fist on the steering wheel.

Not surprisingly this mess of wires and machines occasionally breaks down.  This means I have to bring it all back to the newsroom for a couple of my more technologically adept co-workers to examine and determine the cause of the failure. Inevitably the culprit is, operator error — me being the operator.

And that’s when I think back to those beautiful phone booths of my younger days.

John Montone, 1010 WINS.

Be well.