a radio or television programme that is recorded or broadcast live on location and not in a studio.
The radio outside broadcast, or OB, or all expenses paid jolly in lots of cases!
There are two types of radio OB, the sales department sold opening of a new hotel where the breakfast show broadcast live from a bed in the hotel lobby (yes, we did that in Oxford with FOX) and the programming sorted International OB that you then give to the sales department to third party sell to try and justify why you are doing it.
In my thirty years in radio, I have been very lucky to have been on some amazing international OBs both as a presenter and a programmer broadcasting from Paris, Ibiza, A cruise ship in Los Angeles, the beach in San Diego, Antigua twice, Ocho Rios in Jamaica three times and of course the legendary Disney Parks in California and Florida.
The Disney OBs were always the crème de la crème, a team of normally three or four would travel from each UK radio station to America and then be assigned a Disney ‘Rep’ who was your key to everything and would drive you around in your own minibus. I remember on one Florida trip ours was Tim – now Tim was very happy about this extra task as the bonus he was earning for it was paying for a new kitchen floor for him, as he told us copious amounts of times, even to the point he drove us to his condo to show us the old floor (It did need doing).
Tim was great – he was with us for the entire week, he was our passport to the front of the line in the parks to ride any ride we wanted to – normally with a mini disc player to get some audio for the show. Tim also had these meal passes that were valid for us in any restaurant on Disney property. So that might be the Café on the park or the main, very posh restaurant in the Grand Floridian hotel, after we visited the latter, we returned there every day for the rest of that trip – I think it’s where I discovered my love for garlic mash. I’ve always found it hard to be a normal tourist in Disney since then and not having a Tim, having to wait in the queue for a ride and having to pay for the meals yourself! Disney really looked after you during broadcast time too, A line of tables with isdn boxes and microphones for each station broadcasting, I’ll come back to the isdn later in the blog. The most amazing buffet was laid out so you could eat nonstop during the show and of course Tim was at your side if you needed anything, or for him to grab a guest for you to talk to. My greatest memory and pleasure was to have interviewed two of the original voices of Minnie and Mickey - a lovely elderly couple who were indeed married.
Wayne & Russie the voices of Mickey and Minnie
I think anyone who lived this era of radio would agree that up at the top of the OB tree with Disney would be Sandals OBs from the Caribbean. I remember the first time the invite came through, being thrilled having always heard great things of these trips – I had to plan to talk to the MD about this carefully to catch her in a good mood with details of my idea. So, when the moment arrived, I went to her and explained ‘we have this great opportunity to broadcast from Jamaica and I need to go and produce the breakfast show to make sure it all goes ok”. Her reply was “Stuart you don’t normally produce the show’ now clearly this had nothing to do with the fact the trip was ten days, five broadcasting and five sitting on the beach, I just felt it was important some management was there! Anyway, we made money from it selling it to a builder’s supply merchant, no synergy required for this clearly as I really wanted it to happen. BUT - Let me explain, it was not all as glamours as it sounds, after that 12-hour First Class flight we then had to endure a three hour minibus ride from the airport to Ocho Rios on roads that had not even been built yet, if you ever did this trip you will understand this!
Bus to paradise !
Looking at the technology we have today vs how we did it back then life would be so easy now – imaging being able to log into your playout system and record the links and being able to edit packages on a laptop – not back then, we lived with the dreaded isdn lines and the horror of the discounted light on the codec often mid link.
I recall two such horrors in my time. Firstly, in Ibiza we arrived at the ‘studio’ which was a room above Café Mambo with a table, some chairs and some bits of kit in it. We arrived about an hour before the show started and I asked if we could do a line test, someone pointed to a bunch of phone wires hanging from the wall stating that we need to wait for a telecom engineer to show up and connect the isnd, now this was a drive show, it was mid-afternoon and yes it was not much work happening time, its Spain! As I paced around the room thinking this Drive show was not going to get on the air continually asking when the person will show up to get the reply each time of ‘Manana Manana’ finally a chap with a toolbox turns up at seven mins to the hour and gets us connected with seconds to spare.
It always rains on an OB
Secondly the Caribbean is not only known for its great sunshine but also its very tropical rain – on about day three of our broadcast such a rainstorm happened and took down the phone lines, so again no isdn connection – on asking how quick this would be repaired I was informed last time it happened it took four days! Thankfully we only missed about an hour of that days show and the weekend presenter who was the tec-op back at base got to be on the radio in peak time, so he was happy at least. I think that day after all that stress I deserved my six meals at the all-inclusive resort
I touched on it earlier that the technology has changed so much in how audio can be broadcast remotely now, the world of digital meaning you are not stuck having to try and send an analogue voice only Mic on a stick back to the UK via kit that was often highly temperamental. Yet these OBs don’t happen as much these days, now that might be down to budgets or maybe more down to the fact, we have finally realised that doing an OB to Jamaica in January hearing presenters saying what a great time they were having and what the chef was going to make them for lunch that day was not overly going down that well with the audience stuck in traffic on a snowy morning on the Cowley Road trying to get to work. Thankfully there was no ‘text’ back then so they couldn’t let us know what they though! My only worry is how todays Tim is paying for a new kitchen floor?
This article a trip down memory lane for guest writer Stuart Davies - Head of Content, Virgin Radio Anthems.