Two hours earlier
“50 seconds to airtime!” shrieked the young (very young) associate director, trying – and failing – to inject into his voice a level of authority that would motivate his troops.
It was Sunday morning, 8:59 a.m., and everyone in the control booth wished they were somewhere else… everyone except Lewis Plinkdunk, associate director for the ALL & Then Some! news show on the Global News Broadcasting Network Company (or GNBNC, as it was known around the world).
“40 seconds to airtime!!” called out Plinkdunk, with a touch more screech than he’d intended. I’ll have to practice at home, he thought, glancing up at a monitor. Glowing on the screen, the set for the ALL & Then Some! show was lit and ready for broadcast, save for the empty seat where Alexander Langston LaMourgan should be.
“30 seconds to airtime!!!”
A control-panel veteran turned to inform the newly graduated associate director that, contrary to whatever the practice was in college media classes, at GNBNC, they generally did not call out the time to air every ten seconds for the three minutes prior to airtime.
But the tech was interrupted – first by a sudden pop as every light, instrument and monitor in the control room went dark, and then by the associate director’s panicky screams ricocheting through the darkness of the small control room.
“Oh no! Oh my god! What happened? Where are the lights?! We’ve only got… Oh my god, how much time to airtime?!!”
“RELAX!” yelled one tech. “The power’s out. The emergency generator should kick in any second.”
On cue the instruments and monitors blinked, then came back to life. Simultaneously, the emergency lights activated in the corners of the ceiling and the walls, filling the room with a soft glow and illuminating the flushed and blotched face of the distraught associate director.
“How long to airtime?”
“Ten seconds,” droned a tech, clicking on buttons in preparation. “And five, four, three, two, one…” On “one,” the tech clicked “play” on his computer monitor, and the strains of Alexander Langston LaMourgan’s theme music, composed by The Edge, filled the control room. A monitor showed Alexander Langston’s chair still empty on the brightly lit set.
“Today,” rang out the true bass voice of the announcer, “on a special encore presentation of ALL & Then Some!, Alexander Langston LaMourgan talks to rising Republican star, Mary Rolfe, during her successful campaign for governor of Virginia.”
With that, the work of the people in the control booth was done for the next sixty minutes, as the regular Sunday morning repeat of the GNBNC weeknight primetime news show played automatically. Almost simultaneously, every person in the room sat back in their chairs, pulled out their phones and began texting, reading or posting.
Everyone except for associate director Lewis Plinkdunk, who remained standing, staring blankly at the monitor showing the empty set, waiting for his heart palpitations to subside.
In the basement of the GNBNC building, a maintenance man in green coveralls bearing the multi-colored logo of the “Global World News Leader” stood in front of the room housing the backup power generator.
During power failures – which in Washington, D.C. were as common as potholes and artfully/deniably corrupt politicians – the GNBNC maintenance staff would give the activated, antiquated emergency power generator a quick once over, to ensure the network would be able to remain on the air for the duration.
The maintenance man had checked on the noisy old generator so many times in the past couple years that putting in his earplugs as he reached the door had become second nature. But tonight, as he inserted the soft orange foam plugs into his ears, something didn’t seem quite right. Shaking off the vague feeling, the man pulled his access badge out on its retractable leash and swiped it across the reader next to the door. The reader beeped and flashed green, and the man pushed the heavy metal door open into the silent, dimly lit room.
The emergency generator, which should have been heaving and shaking under the strain of powering the D.C. studios of the “Global World News Leader,” was sitting perfectly still and quiet.
The maintenance man regarded the generator silently for a moment, then pulled the plugs from his ears to verify his senses’ initial report. The generator was not running.
Then he looked up at the emergency lights. They continued to glow, despite the fact that they were powered by the generator.
Which… was not running.
He turned and looked up and down the hall. Emergency lights, also powered exclusively by the emergency generator, were burning throughout the corridor.
He looked again at the generator. Still… not… running…
Pulling a walkie-talkie from his belt, the man called back to dispatch.
“This is Stew in the basement. Is the power back on?”
The speaker crackled, and then the dispatcher cackled, “Do you see any regular lights on, Stew?”
“Well then,” came the sarcastic voice of dispatch. “What do you think?”
“That can’t be right, though… the generator…” Stew began, then stopped.
He didn’t need this kind of grief. The gang upstairs would ride him hard if he told them what he thought he was really seeing.
“Uh, OK,” he slowly replied. Then, with some conviction, “Everything’s OK down here.”
“Ten-four,” said dispatch. “Get on up here. It’s your turn to deal.”
“Ten-four,” replied Stew absently. “I’m on my way.”
The maintenance man took one more look at the clearly non-operating power generator, and then again up at the emergency lights. As he stood pondering the impossibility of the moment, the main lights in the room and the hallway flashed, and then blinked on, brightly illuminating, but not clarifying, his situation. With an audible sigh, the emergency lights retired – the power had been restored. Everything was back to normal.
The generator was still not running, of course, and it wasn’t talking, either.
Shaking his head, the maintenance man closed the door and headed back to the card game.
© Chuck Hansen – 2015