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On a recent Tuesday morning a couple of dozen of our Probus Club members, plus a few younger friends, braved the icy winds of Docklands to visit the Seven Broadcast Centre, Melbourne.  Our host for the visit was John Deeks, one of Australia’s few remaining full-time television announcers, possibly remembered by many as a former presenter of regularly unsuccessful Tattslotto draws.

Channel 7 in Melbourne started in the Herald and Weekly Times paper storage warehouse in Dorcas Street, South Melbourne in 1956 (remember HSV7?) and the network still produces some shows from studios it retains there.  They moved to the Broadcast Centre in 2001 in a building they share with other branches of Seven West Media.  The area occupied by the Broadcast Centre has been specifically designed, and includes a double floor with rubber between two layers of concrete to preclude vibrations from the adjacent Etihad Stadium.

Our tour commenced with a ride up the escalator to a waiting area which presented an amazing view of the Master Control Room.  A very colourful wall of screens, about 10 metres wide, was displaying the program content that was being played out of every one of the three channels (Seven, 7TWO and 7Mate) of the 36 stations in the Seven Network.  No matter in which Australian city a program originates or is broadcast, all of the Seven Network’s programs pass through this Control Room.  Three operators were keeping an eye on things, their jobs being to fix (as quickly as possible) any problem which causes a failure of any those programs to be transmitted properly.  Although all these programs were running simultaneously with screens and lights flashing everywhere, there was an amazing feeling of calmness about the whole affair.

Behind the Master Control Room we visited another suite of monitors and controls where assembly of the broadcast content was taking place.  John Deeks described the operation here as being simply to get the right programs and the right commercials to air at the right time.  Assembly takes place about 24to48 hours ahead of actual broadcast time.  Although generally under computer control, manual intervention in programming is still required when live sporting events, etc run over their anticipated finish times.

We then moved to the control room of a live production studio, in which a show’s producer and assistants assemble together camera shots, still images, feeds from external locations, captions, graphics and other sources of visual material to make up the picture we see on our screens.  Subsequently we moved into the studio itself where live activity is captured by the cameras.  The studio has a floor area of about 300 square metres, and when we visited was set up for Talking Footy.  The walls and pillars of the set were made only of plywood and plastic but, with the aid of about 200 lights hanging from the grid in the roof and several video screens, they look very realistic when viewed at home.  Other shows are presented from the same studio, some with a live audience only a few metres away from the performers, and appropriate sets (and audience seats) are wheeled to and from a small scenery and props storage room at one side of the studio as required.  The studio was equipped with four floor cameras and at least one boom camera.  It was noted that television stations operate quite differently from earlier times in that they now buy-in most of their programs rather than producing them in-house; consequently they no longer employ full-time cameramen, production designers, make-up artists, etc for live programs; people doing these tasks are all on contracts.

A visit to the news studio saw a few members fantasizing on the set about their news and sports presentation skills, and some of our mature age weather girl members were spotted boning up on the next day’s forecast.  The newsroom prepares material 24 7 for presentation throughout the day, so it was not surprising to encounter presenters Peter Mitchell and Tim Watson who obliged to be photographed with members.

All-in-all it was an excellent tour, with plenty of technical and show-biz content offered in an easy-to-understand way that kept everybody interested for the hour.

Rob Thompson