There is no point in discussing equipment at an operational level because each type of prompting software or on-camera prompt monitor is different in design and operation. But an operator should make sure they understand the workings of both, and, of course, know where cables plug in, and particularly the routine of fault finding if the prompt output, or power, is lost. There is sometimes no time to wait for an engineer to finish his tea and come and sort you out! We’ve all been there, no video to the prompt camera, live show, presenter complaining, gallery shouting, “Three minutes to transmission………..”, deep breath, fight the adrenalin, all cables seem fine, nothing for it must re-boot the computer, picture comes up with ten seconds to go……..the strange thing is that because it worked everybody is so pleased they overlook the fact that it shouldn’t have gone down in the first place! Perhaps the prompt operator needs the odd hiccup to be noticed at all!

The following are some hints and tips for those who are new to operating. Those who are experienced please do not hesitate to e-mail any further points or, indeed, if you feel any of the hints are wrong!

While many prompting systems are permanently rigged there are still times when kit is brought in just for a particular show and by covering the procedures for this the general principles should be covered for both situations.

Many studios have permanently rigged prompting base stations which tend to take some of the pressure off the operator. They are not responsible for the performance of the equipment which they are if they bring the equipment in. But the operator should still make themselves aware of the cable runs and how the system is rigged. Even though it may not be their responsibility if there is a problem everybody will be looking at the prompt operator!

When rigging in studio always check with the floor manager where you should set up, (a.) out of courtesy and (b.) because he may have earmarked a place for set storage or similar and no sooner than you have rigged he’ll ask you to move!

Before assembling the rig check that all the items are labelled as having been PAT tested for electrical safety and are in date. It could be very embarrassing if the site electrical or Health and Safety representative closed you down!

Set up if possible with line of sight to the presenter position.

Set up near a wall box. They are standard in most modern studios. It looks after the distribution of power, audio, video and IT Network.

On the wall box you will find a mains electrical supply, you must use Technical Mains which ensures that there is a common earth, in other words the prompting base station has the same earth as the camera which the prompter is mounted on. The socket may take a conventional domestic plug or it may require a special connector. If you do not have the correct plug you can usually get an adaptor from the site electrician – if you ask nicely!

Next note the number of the wall box ask the Engineering Manager to allocate you two BNC video outputs on the wall box. One will be for a video feed which will be patched through the gallery to the prompter on the camera using a tie line in the camera cable. The second is for a genlock feed, genlock synchronises all the video in the studio to prevent any interference. Use a BNC cable to take a feed from the prompter to the appropriate input on the box, and take an output from the box, again use a BNC cable, and plug it into the genlock input of the prompting base station. Ask the Engineering Manager to supply a genlock feed of Black and Burst.

Next find the person looking after sound and ask for headphones. At worst you want a feed of the Gallery in one ear and a clean feed of the presenter, studio sound out, in the other, but preferably a talk back system which enables the operator to control the balance between the two feeds and also speak to the gallery if required, finding out where to go from, text alterations etc. absolutely essential for big productions.

Posted in: Operate a prompter