Michael Sheffer - Engineering and Impossible Live Shots

The one thing you'll hear time and again from people who were part of the WAAY family is the amount of leeway we were granted in any number of endeavors. We allowed to express, explore, and drive ourselves to our own limits in finding out what we were capable of - even if we really had no clue at the time. It was a breeding ground for raw talent to grow in a variety of differing fields.

Many folks from the production side of the station have brilliantly commented on the freedom of expression they were allowed, but I'd also like to recognize the WAAY Engineering Department as another shining star in the 31 constellation. While there are innumerable stories about "Cactus' Boys" which could fill volumes, I'll play it safe, and focus on WAAY's unique ability in engineering live field remotes.

No matter what it took, no matter how far we had to go in order to bring back the feed; from double hopping a microwave signal from Sand Mountain - with the repeater perched precariously atop a 40 foot billboard, to setting up a full blown, 5 camera live news program on little more than an hour's notice, our little group succeeded in an area that most top market stations fear to tread. If it was "remotely" possible, we were always able to find a WAAY. There was nothing more rewarding than knowing that our competition would simply scratch their heads and wonder; "How'd they do that?" when we hit the air.

WAAY was the very first station in the market, and possibly all of Alabama, to produce a live, satellite fed newscast. Under the direction and designs of John Hain, we developed any number of innovations, from the Piggy Pack camera remote interface, to what may arguably have been the very first "in car camera" for our racing coverage at the Huntsville Speedway. In order to facilitate reliable communications, we developed our own pro channel receiver, so that studio commands and cues could be heard in the field without having to rely on telephone or ( at the time ) expensive cell phone links. We grew from the old LIVE EYE; a massive Ford Econoline Stretch Van that drove more like a rowboat in rough seas to a full-blown mobile production vehicle that is still in use ( last I heard ). A photo of the new truck even graced the front page of TV Technology Magazine. Our sports coverage, especially motorsports, won accolades from the Alabama Associated Press three times in 1992. Think about it - a Statewide news organization recognizing an engineering department.... Only at WAAY could it have happened.

Donny Seymour and I would roll out the truck for any number of different projects. Whether it was Johnny Evans' "A Country Affair" music program, or Jamie Cooper and Gary Dobbs hamming it up at a some automobile dealership at 4 in the morning for "W2E", over the years we had become the most efficient remote team in the region. We had a huge amount of fun, and developed the skills which we use to this day.

It's a unique experience when many different and talented individuals come together and jell into such a productive and powerful group. Nothing got in our WAAY - either we simply didn't know that "It's impossible" or we didn't care; somehow, the job got done. With all of the hard work, ego clashes, fried equipment, frayed nerves, blown fuses, and everything else that can go according to Murphy's Law, I'll always value my years as a WAAY family member, and am very proud to have been one of "Cactus' Boys".

© 2003 Smith Broadcasting, Inc. [update 7-24-2003]