The Continuity Announcer 

2 October 2017 tbs.pm/13890

From The Technique of Television Announcing, published by Focal Press in 1966

Most people on visiting a television station for the first time are surprised at the smallness of the Announcer’s Studio (sometimes known as the Continuity Suite, or Booth). In many cases this surprise is justified.

The tiniest announcer’s studio I have ever seen was triangular — a corner of a larger room partitioned off. It was just big enough for a chair, a small table, a vidicon camera mounted on a shelf, and of course, the announcer. Two of the announcer’s most important qualifications must have been a diminutive build, and no claustrophobic tendencies!

On the other hand I have broadcast from the announcer’s Presentation Studio of the B.B.C. in London. This is served by its own separate control room and staff, and is as big as some main studios owned by small television companies.

Types of Continuity Studio

Apart from physical dimensions there are three main types of television continuity studio.

  1. Vision and sound studio where the announcer has a degree of switching control with provision for take-over by Master Control.
  2. Vision and sound studio controlled by Master Control or studio control room staff.
  3. Sound only studio controlled by Master Control or the announcer.

Let us assume that you are a continuity announcer working on a television station which has the first type of studio. If we concentrate on this layout, then you can safely assume that announcers’ studios operating on systems (2) or (3) will present you with less difficulty. This is because the first represents the maximum that television announcers are called upon to do in the way of technical operation.

In system (2) all the procedure connected with “getting on to the air” is dealt with by others.

System (3) is concerned only with off-camera announcements and is virtually a small radio-broadcast booth. It is sometimes used in conjunction with an on-camera continuity studio. One announcer performs the on-camera announcements while his colleague in the booth handles the voice-over material.


A typical layout for a continuity studio. A, talk-back speaker. B, microphone. C, fill light. D, off-air speaker. E, off-air monitor. F, studio clock. G, camera cue light. H, Vidicon camera, j, preview monitor. K, announcer’s switching panel. L, cue lights. M, routine sheet and promotion script.

Studio Equipment

As you enter the announcer’s presentation studio you will see a desk, a table, or a console. A microphone may be slung aloft, mounted on a small unmanned boom (lazy arm), on a table stand on a floor stand, or set into the console.

You will find an adjustable stool or chair behind the desk. This seating arrangement can be wound up or down so that you are in the right position on the television screen. You can thus manoeuvre yourself to allow an agreeable amount of head room between the top of your head and the upper frame of the picture.

Bruce Lewis reading the TWW Reports on Wales news

The Camera

Sitting in this position and looking straight ahead you will see the announcer’s television camera. This will nearly always be a vidicon camera, with a broadcast-quality tube, capable of producing good pictures under proper studio lighting conditions. With some vidicons as much as double the light intensity is required compared with that needed for the image-orthicon cameras used in the main studios.

This camera will be mounted on a tripod, pedestal, or other support such as a sound speaker or monitor cabinet. It may even be installed outside the studio, in which case you will see it peering at you through a small glass window. This idea is used when the length of the continuity studio is limited and it is necessary to move the camera beyond the confines of the room in order to establish a reasonable distance between the announcer and the lens.

Most cameras used for announcer presentation are pre-set and do not require an operator during transmission. This means you must always check your position by looking in your preview monitor to make sure you are framed correctly.

In more elaborate continuity studios, the camera may be manned by a cameraman. In such instances it will be his responsibility to compose a suitable picture.

A third system which is becoming more widely used, combines many of the advantages of the manned camera with the simplicity of the static camera, it is the remote-controlled camera operated from outside the studio by a technician in the Master Control area. An extensive range of shots can be achieved with this method: the camera can be tilted and panned and the lens may be zoomed in and out. As an announcer encountering this robot for the first time you may be forgiven for feeling a sense of eeriness as it performs its animations in front of you. Whether manned, remotely-controlled, or fixed, a red cue-light on the camera will indicate when it is live.

A characteristic of the vidicon is that once it has been adjusted it requires a minimum of attention, and maintenance is also comparatively straightforward. One of the disadvantages of the vidicon is its tendency to create a smear across the picture if an object which it is taking moves too quickly; this can be described as a “following image”. However, for continuity work where the announcer sits comparatively still this creates no problem.

Either a lens turret with a selection of lenses or, as already mentioned, a zoom lens will be attached to the camera. This means that shots of the announcer may be varied from time to time and according to the nature of the announcement. For example, a message which includes a certain amount of demonstration, using the hands, will require a wider angle shot than perhaps a brief announcement where a head-and-shoulder shot might be appropriate.

Lighting

You will probably find the lighting hot and possibly irksome (I have never got used to it). This is due not so much to the light intensity, but to the close proximity of the lamps to the announcer — unavoidable in a small continuity studio. In some cases the “fill light” may be no more than three or four feet away from you. This is why some television companies make use of cooler fluorescent light for this purpose rather than the more usual scoop lamp.

Master Control at Alpha Studios in Birmingham. The duty Transmission Controller is second from the right.

Monitors

Usually not less than two television monitors will be situated in front of you. They will be either to the side or below the camera, as near to your on-camera eye-line as possible. Sometimes mini-monitors are set into the announcer’s console.

One monitor will invariably show off-air pictures — that is, the programme exactly as the viewer is seeing it at any given moment.

Another monitor will probably preview the programme source to be selected next. For example, it will show what is happening on a V.T.R. or telecine channel.

It is very useful when speaking on the air to know that the film you are introducing is about to appear on the viewer’s screen. Out of the corner of your eye you can take your cue from the preview monitor as you see the film leader rolling through. You can judge exactly how many seconds you have left before you must finish your announcement.

This same or another monitor can be used to show a preview picture of yourself. It is advantageous to have the means of checking your “on-screen” appearance before actually going on the air.

The Speaker

A sound speaker will be situated somewhere around the same area as the monitors. Sometimes the programme sound emanating from this speaker is the only means of checking off-air sound quality. In such systems the Master Control staff will be listening to the sound fed out to the transmitter. When this is so, you, as the announcer, may be the first person to realize when a programme failure occurs on transmission. Studio talk-back between Master Control and yourself may either be relayed over this same speaker or on a separate one.

Lou Rivers, presentation manager at ATV in Aston, checks a “running order”” with Stuart Harris, senior telecine engineer in the Telecine Room.

Studio Backing

Swing yourself round in your chair and study the studio backing. This may be a simple piece of hardboard only a few feet square and covered in wallpaper. Possibly there’s a photographic blow-up of a natural scene or a building placed behind a window frame, giving the illusion of a third dimension. Backings of this sort are usually located in grooves, so that they can be slid in and out and interchanged with other patterns and pictures to maintain variety.

Venetian blinds form a popular backing as they can be easily adjusted to avoid light reflections. Curtaining is also widely used, often mounted on rails so that it can be varied with curtains of a different hue or pattern, or with the other forms of backing already mentioned.

Front projection from a “slung” lantern on to a stretched canvas screen can be effective; slides are inserted into the lantern to produce a variety of patterns. Back projection is yet another kind of studio background. With this method a translucent screen has images reflected on to it from a lamp situated behind it. Simple shapes and designs placed between the screen and the lamp can be used to create many different effects. Although the objects are reflected from the rear, the television camera successfully picks up the image from the front because of the translucent quality of the screen.

True back projection is a more elaborate system utilizing a slide or even a film projector; but installation of this equipment is usually impractical in a small continuity studio. Sufficient depth of studio is needed behind the screen to allow for the throw of the beam of light. The apparatus consists of a costly projector which is expensive either to hire or buy. It normally requires an operator.

Ideally you should choose a backing which does not contrast too violently with the shade of clothes you are wearing. Yet at the same time there must be sufficient variation in colour tone to ensure that you stand out from the background. Avoid fussy, distracting designs.

If you use pictorial backings, be sure that they are in mood with your announcement—it would hardly be appropriate to announce some disaster in front of a gay holiday scene.

The Clock

Turn to the front again and look at one of the most important items of equipment used by the announcer—the studio clock. This clock, in common with all the others in the studio is synchronized with, and regulated by, the master electric clock. In theory, the master clock keeps time, regardless of mains fluctuations, temperature variations, shock, or vibration.

The clock is like the heart-beat of the studio—when it stops the studio seems to die. I remember a time as duty announcer when all our clocks ceased to function for over two hours. It was a weird experience — like trying to drive a car at night without the aid of lights.

Studio clocks are austere in appearance; plain round white faces with clear black numbers and black hour and minute hands. Or, as in many TV studios, plain black faces with illuminated white numbers and hands. The vital second hand is large and coloured red. It either sweeps or pulsates around the clock face. A sweep hand executes a smooth regular movement, whereas a pulsating second hand moves in a series of jerks, one jerk per second. From an announcer’s point of view the pulsating hand is much to be preferred for accurate timing while talking on the air. We will return to the technique of using the studio clock in a moment, but for the present let us continue our survey of the announcer’s studio.

What the BBC Newsreader sees when he is on the air

Announcer’s Controls

As this is a studio where the announcer has a degree of operational control you will notice a small panel of switches situated on the top or at the side of the desk, or built into the console. These controls operate some of the equipment we have just seen. The following are typical controls:

  1. Microphone switch — normally three positions: mute, talk-back to Master Control, on air. Sometimes, for reasons of safety, there is a separate switch for on air only.
  2. Volume Controls — for regulation of off-air and talk-back sound.
  3. Monitor switch — for picture preview; camera, telecine, or V.T.R. channels.
  4. Emergency buzzer — button to facilitate quick contact with the transmission controller who has a similar device for attracting the announcer’s attention.
  5. Studio lights’ switch.
  6. Studio back light intensity control — dimmed or intensified according to individual announcer’s hair colouring. Correct position previously calibrated for each staff announcer by the lighting supervisor.
  7. Ventilation Control — this may need adjustment according to studio temperature. If a blowing or rotating fan noise is present when the system is operating, the announcer will have to switch off before each announcement, so that the sound is not picked up over the microphone.

The vidicon camera is normally switched on throughout the duty shift. Therefore it automatically “takes” you when Master Control mixes through to the continuity studio.

Preparing for the Duty Shift

Check that you have the following documents:

  1. Routine Sheet.
  2. Amendment form.
  3. Promotion Script.
  4. Programme paper.
  5. Informational hand-outs.
  6. Announcer’s log.
  7. Pronunciation dictionary.

In addition you need:

  1. A stop-watch.
  2. Pen or pencil.
  3. Ruler.

For make-up repairs:

  1. Tin of cream puff.
  2. Powder puff.
  3. Comb.

When you first come on duty as continuity announcer for the day you will be handed a Routine Sheet, a Promotion Script, and probably an Amendment Form. As well as these you should have a current copy of your station’s Television Programme Paper (on shifts that fall towards the end of the week, it is important to have also the periodical which gives the following week’s shows).

Gather as much written information as you can, about programmes being networked to your station from other studios. The publicity departments of most television companies issue an abundance of copy relating to their output. If in doubt about any point, such as the name of the star who is appearing as a guest in a particular show, then telephone the organization concerned.

Aim for accuracy every time when dealing with the announcement of facts. Remember, the more knowledge you can glean on any subject you have to talk about on television, the more likely you are to give an appearance of authority, and an impression of understanding what you are saying.

The Announcer’s Log is considered essential in some studios. It should be meticulously kept up to date throughout each shift. All references to errors, breakdowns, departure from routine, and remedial action should be accurately logged. The Transmission Controller will have reference to all these matters in his own report. The purpose of these logs is not to apportion blame to any individual, but rather to build up a detailed survey of occurrences on transmission which can then be studied. This leads to an improvement of systems and methods of operation for the benefit of everyone concerned.

On some television stations announcers are expected to log commercials — noting to the second when each commercial begins and ends. Having experienced this chore myself I am convinced it is a mistake to impose this extra burden on continuity announcers. Instead of preparing for the next announcement, you are obliged to concentrate on the monitor, watch all the commercials, and then write down timing details. Under this system your broadcasting standards are bound to be adversely affected. In a number of television companies, logging clerks are employed to carry out this duty, which is in fact a full-time job in itself.

Amendments

First of all it is necessary to bring your Routine Sheet up to date. By looking at the Amendment Form you will see references to various items in the Routine Sheet that either need corrections, additions, or deletions. These alterations occur, rather like stop press announcements in the newspapers, through changes in circumstances that have taken place since the Routine Sheet was compiled.

Perhaps more commercials have been sold with the result that certain promotional material has to be deleted to make room for them; possibly a few typing errors are present on the original Routine Sheet which need correction.

Maybe a special programme produced at the last minute to cover a sudden event of national importance is to be added to the programme schedule. Such a case usually necessitates considerable reorganization of shows, announcements, and programme durations.

Amend your Routine Sheet very carefully, it is your authorized guide for the coming shift. For your sake it must be absolutely correct.

Preliminary Preparation

Having got your Routine Sheet up to date, and checked it thoroughly, throw away your Amendment Form (the less surplus paper you have on the announcer’s desk the better). Place the Promotion Script and Routine Sheet side by side on the desk.

Now go through your Routine Sheet, ruling off every item that concerns you, the announcer. These will include timed segments for: station opening announcements, station identification, time checks, on-camera promotions, off-camera promotions with slides, captions, or film, off-camera commercials with slides, captions, or film, weather forecasts, public service announcements, station closedown.

Some of those announcements which are of a routine nature such as the station identification, may have been pre-recorded. The voice is often dubbed on to film or tape to tie in with the appropriate visual material.

As we mentioned earlier various commercials requiring a station announcer’s voice, will probably have been recorded on sound tape previously. This will have been done either by you, or more likely by one or more of your colleagues in order to provide a variety of voices. Make sure that you are clear which announcements are recorded. It would be disastrous to start up a dialogue by announcing live the same message that is being transmitted in recorded form. It has happened!

While ruling off all the appropriate items on your Routine Sheet, check carefully that there is a corresponding script for each announcement. Some announcers like to rule off the routine items in different ways in order to distinguish their category. In other words where an on-camera announcement is indicated it might be underlined with a double line; an off-camera announcement with a single line; a commercial with a wavy line, and so on. A variety of coloured pencils can be used to serve the same purpose.

Checking your Script

Each announcement should now be read aloud and timed, to ensure that the duration corresponds with that designated in the Routine Sheet. Remember to make allowance for the fact that your delivery when off camera will be more rapid than when you are on camera, using a more conversational style.

Before timing, it is advisable to see that the announcements, particularly those to be performed on camera are written in a form which lends itself to the spoken word. The script should be phrased in a style which corresponds with your own personality. If it does not, then alter it. At the same time be careful to retain all the vital facts and basic meaning behind the message. If you are doubtful about the pronunciation of any word, check it with the help of your pronunciation dictionary.

If on timing the script it is found to be too long or too short, you will have to amend it. Remember that if any cue words are altered which may affect Master Control, or Telecine, or Y.T.R., then the people concerned must be advised in order that they too can revise their scripts accordingly.

The standard of promotion writing varies from station to station depending on the knowledge and ability of the script-writers. At best a script-writer will study the on-air characteristics of each announcer employed by the studio. He will then write scripts tailor-made to fit individual styles.

Timing Rehearsal

It is normal to carry out all rehearsed timing on a stop-watch, but I strongly suggest that announcers, especially those new to continuity, will benefit considerably by doing all their rehearsal as well as transmission timing on the studio clock.

When errors attributable to announcers do arise, they are nearly always due to mis-timing or failure to read the clock correctly. Learn and study your studio clock until it becomes embedded in the forefront of your mind. If anything must be acquired for successful continuity announcing it is a sense of timing that approaches the uncanny. Some experienced announcers are capable of speaking for exactly 15 seconds, or 30 seconds, or a minute, or two minutes without the aid of a clock or warning signals.

The clock is the practical indication of what is written in your Routine Sheet. You will soon realize that certain things take place during defined segments of the clock. For example, it may be an invariable rule that network is joined on the hour or half-hour with no seconds either way. If this is so, then life is simple because you know that you must finish your announcement fractionally before the second hand points directly upwards. That is on the completion of the final minute before the hour or half hour.

Suppose you are rehearsing a promotion announcement which is written to fit a 27-second slot. It is scheduled to be made before joining a network show. Wait until the second hand on the studio clock ticks round to 32 seconds past (or 28 seconds to — if you prefer to think of it that way). Then read your script aloud to confirm that it fits the segment accurately and comes out on time at 59 seconds, i.e. a fraction before 60 seconds when network is joined.

Rehearsing with the studio clock familiarizes you with the clock itself and the segments most frequently used. It sharpens your awareness of the amount of time at your disposal at any given moment by accurate reading of the second hand.

Naturally the hour and minute hands will only indicate the real time corresponding to your Routine Sheet at the moment of transmission. This is not important for rehearsal purposes. Concentrate on making friends with that red second hand. Later you can take things a stage further, and practice reading the clock out of the “bottom of your eyes” while looking straight into the camera lens.

You can see from what has transpired so far, that sufficient time must be allowed for the proper preparation of the day’s announcing duties. Some announcers cut corners and skim through this part of their task, only to find that they are inadequately prepared in moments of emergency.

A general guide is that as continuity announcer you should be in the studio at least one hour before you are due to speak your opening announcement. You can then spend more time and thought on how you are going to handle your forthcoming shift. Devoting a certain period to reading information about programmes to be presented on that day and in the near future is never wasted. In this way you build your own confidence and speak with an air of authority based on knowledge.

Making-up

Having completed your preparatory routine work, you are ready to move on to the next stage. Now is the time to get made-up for the television camera. I find it is best to leave this part of the procedure until as near the beginning of transmission as possible. In this way your make-up is freshly applied, and will remain satisfactory for the longest possible period before needing further attention. It will probably need repair at some time during the course of a lengthy shift, may be lasting for several hours. For a detailed description of make-up technique please turn to the section which deals with the work of the make-up artist.

Be sure that you hair is neat and tidy, with no bits sticking out at at an angle which might catch the light. Give your clothes a good brushing, particularly around the area of the shoulders and collar, to remove any stray hairs or surplus make-up powder.

Pre-Transmission Checks

Return to the continuity studio at least fifteen minutes before your first announcement is due. Check the following in conjunction with the transmission controller and the presentation staff:

  • That your studio clock is correct and is synchronized with the Master Control clock.
  • That your camera and microphone cue lights are working.
  • That the studio lights are functioning properly.
  • That your camera has been lined up correctly and is producing a satisfactory picture.
  • That your monitors are performing efficiently.
  • That your microphone is operating; give a “voice level” for the benefit of the sound engineer.
  • That your talk-back equipment is working.
  • Make sure that if you are using slides or film in your opening sequence, they are properly loaded and ready in telecine: ask for a preview on your monitor. It is important that you should carry out this preview check before every announcement where these facilities are involved. Never trust to luck.
  • The telecine engineer will have a copy of your script with the cue words marked, so that as you speak them he will change to the appropriate slide or roll the relevant piece of film. Always check that your scripts tally with his.
  • Be certain that your studio backing is in place, and is of a suitable pattern and shade in relation to what you are wearing.
  • Check that your script, Routine Sheet and programme information are on your desk. Consult the transmission controller if in doubt on any point regarding your Routine Sheet.

Assimilating Your Script

You are now ready to make your opening announcement. It is important that whereas you initially studied and timed your various script segments as they applied to the complete shift, you now deal with each portion separately. Throughout your shift, you will find things work out more simply and with less confusion, if you concentrate only on those parts of the script and Routine Sheet which relate to your immediate forthcoming announcement or sequence of announcements.

When learning (unless you have a photographic memory) do not try to memorize all your on-camera spots at one go. This will very quickly lead to mental indigestion. Absorb each one separately; then forget it as soon as you have announced it and move on to the next piece to be learnt. In this way your whole mind will be focused on the current message and not diffused over half-assimilated pages of material written to cover a whole broadcasting day.

In fact, it is better not to learn scripts at all in a parrot-like fashion. As we have said already, the words and thoughts expressed in the message you are delivering should be so much part of yourself that they arise quite naturally from within you.

Adopt this method and you will never be at a loss for words, or dry up, because you will be thinking and caring about what you are saying. Your viewer will sense that you are “with” what you are doing. He in turn will respond by thinking and caring about what you are saying. This of course applies specifically to your on-camera spots—those moments when you become a guest in your viewer’s home.

Off-camera announcements, promotions, and particularly commercials, are tightly written to correspond to slide and film sequences. They normally require a straight announcing style, which nevertheless does not exclude humour or any other emotion from the voice, where these are appropriate to the mood or meaning of the message.

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