The usual day of thrills for a Live Broadcast Engineer

Written by Kurt Roberts

My job is like working on the edge of a cliff, or say, defusing a bomb … if one small thing goes wrong it can be catastrophic. My role is critical to a whole nation’s entertainment! In live television, the show must go on. No day is the same when working as a Live Broadcast Engineer – it is both an exciting and terrifying experience. When your client is expecting their program or signal to arrive at the broadcaster at a particular time, then without fail, this MUST happen. There is just no room for error.

It is when the Director or Producer alerts us to the fact that the client is not receiving either video or audio that I kick into high gear. The fault must be found immediately and resolved. NO NEGOTIATION. ‘Black on Air’ during a live show is not acceptable. In the Live Broadcast environment, mere seconds ‘off air’ create a huge problem and someone must take the rap.

And so, the adrenaline levels rise as I race against the clock to get things working again. ‘Where has the signal stopped?’ I ask myself, tracing the system components in my head. I know that the Head of Television is on her way over, ready to demand answers for this technical error. This situation may explode in my face if I do not find a solution, and fast.

Do I panic? Me, never! I can’t. Panic is the enemy. Everyone remain calm. I feel my heart racing as the phones rings. It’s the client’s technical department calling to find out how long we will be down for. As I approach the phone, the other phone rings and it is Globecast wanting to know the same. Just at that point the Head of Television walks in with a look on her facing asking the same question that everyone else is. How long before we’re back on air? Everyone is waiting on me and that’s a lot of pressure.

At this point, I just need silence to think, PLEASE! Everyone will you all just keep quiet!!!

With my brain firing on all cylinders, somehow neurons and synapses collide and work together to give me a plausible solution to find a signal flow route.  If the signal is there but not here, then if I patch this and change that, I should see a signal coming out. Adrenaline is still high with no signs of dropping or leveling out. I work only on a solution. I patch and pull, then plug. YES!!! I think I have found the fault.

With the switch of three cables, I restore the signal to the main encoder and in 1 second Globecast informs me that the feed has been restored. Six seconds later our client, the SABC, confirms the same. Whoop whoop, oh hallelujah!

Having bypassed the faulty device and making a temporary solution, all is well again. The Head of Television calms down and returns to her office, satisfied that we’re back on air.

Working with high-end electronic equipment does not guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Every day something can and does go wrong to challenge you. How you react to that ‘something’ is what is most important. There is nothing dull about my days in this industry, so I say, bring it on!


About Kurt:

Kurt Roberts comes from a long line of broadcast engineering experience. Having started with Panasonic SA as a Lab Technician for consumer cameras and television, he moved onto to Precision AV where worked as a Sony Broadcast Repair Engineer servicing the broadcast and film industry in Cape Town. In 2000 he started a 9 year career as Africa Regional Engineer, installing FM stations all around Africa for Adventist World Radio. In 2010 he started working for Visual Impact again as their Broadcast Equipment Repair Engineer. Since then he has worked on numerous filmsets and various studio based productions. Kurt’s passion is technical problem solving and he loves a good challenge.

Kurt says broadcast equipment is changing all the time, so to stay current on trends and ahead of the pack you need to continuously research everything that is new and innovative in your field.

He currently works for the Okuhle Media Group as the Group Engineer.

For press enquiries, contact;

Kurt Roberts, Studio Engineer

M: 079 835 9112


For more information contact;

Paula Brown, Director & Co-founder at Okuhle Media

T: 021 486 2900