The sun shone brightly as we headed towards the car park. It was lucky that we had a disabled badge, for every other space was taken with a vehicle. We got to the MediaCityUK in time for a coffee while David took advantage of the good weather to take some photographs.
Gradually a few familiar faces appeared, eventually followed by Judith. She marshalled us into order, took our names and directed us to the desk where we exchanged our names again for a badge to hang around our necks. Two charming young ladies, Lyndsey and Karen, took us down to the Tardis (right) where we were given the Health and Safety briefing before being led across a draughty roadway to Dock House. Unlike the old studios at Oxford Road, these studios are owned by Peel Holdings and were designed to the BBC’s specifications although the Corporation just rents the space they need.
This is the home of Radio 6 Music, recently saved from the draconian axe of the cuts by the voice of its listeners and now enjoying an audience much larger than before. Shuffling through the Green Room we entered the studio where Giles Burton acted as presenter and Stella Pursell was the producer sitting in the chair opposite.(left) Most radio studios are dark boxes but this one is popular as it has a window for one of its walls and the presenters can watch the world go by and some peer back in. Apparently the Arctic Monkeys had been in recently and there was a drum kit left at the back. We were told how these days the presenters have a range of computerised aids which account for the apparent ease with which they introduce each number. However as well as the library of recorded sound effects they can call upon, a handbell and loudhailer were to be seen.
Retracing our steps to the first building we were shown the lettering on the wall “HQ2” and told “HQ1”, the largest HD studio in Europe lay beyond. However we were destined for “HQ3”, generally used for presenting Football programmes like Football Focus and Match of the Day. The studio was surprisingly spartan in its furnishing, but equipped with rather more lights than the average room (over 200) which are used to change the ambience between different programmes. Infra red sensors in amongst all those lights act like satellite navigation for the cameras so that computers can generate ghost like images for Gary Lineker to walk around while he presents.
Even such simple moves as changing the number of chairs on either side of the desk can make each programme appear completely different. The presenters and pundits are wired for sound using cables fed up the legs of their chairs. The leads are hidden under cooking foil and our guide Lyndsey annoys her husband by trying to spot the foil rather than on concentrating on the game!
From here we were led along a serpentine route (so some of us got lost) out into the sunshine. Passing a studio from which some sports news was being broadcast, (we could see this on the giant screen across the piazza) we continued to the building from which “Breakfast” and NW News is broadcast.
The studio was much smaller than expected but packed with many cameras most of which are remotely controlled from an unseen room. They are fitted with wide angle lenses to disguise the true space and the presenters take small steps when they move to maintain the illusion. The cameras were all fitted with autocues normally controlled by the director but solo presenters can control the speed with an accelerator pedal.
While we were there the cameras were live and an unseen operator kept switching cameras to show pictures of us on the monitors. The weather presenters’ spot is marked with a “W” on the floor. Karen, standing in front of a plasma screen, gave us a demonstration of how it’s done.
Then on to a final mockup studio(right) where June Poole and Colin Cook presented the news and Mike Pursell provided an entertaining weather forecast using “Green Screen” technology. Earlier Lyndsey had wrapped herself in a loose sheet of this material and demonstrated its possibilities as an invisibility cloak.
Thanks again to Judith for another very enjoyable trip.
David Burridge, December 2013
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