9News technical meltdown forces newscast to go back to the future -- the pre-voiceover era

Like all modern TV stations, 9News is extremely dependent on up-to-date technology. What to do if it fails?

That's what happened during the 10 p.m. newscast on Monday night, when the crew was forced to move from a 21st century broadcasting approach to one more akin to the early days of television, when even voiceovers were impossible.

The newscast started off fine, but it didn't stay that way for long. Assistant news director Tim Ryan says that at around 10:01 p.m., "the audio board failed," and it did so in a big way. Although no flames erupted, the studio was soon filled with a burning smell that let everyone know something really bad had happened.

At that point, the station went to a commercial break that was extended as staffers tried to figure out how the show could go on. It quickly became clear that work-around options were very limited.

"The board is what we use to get audio out of our main studio," Ryan points out. "So the only other way to get on the air is to take the fixed cameras we have set up -- the news camera and one in the weather center, which are connected to microphones."

Problem solved? Not exactly, Ryan acknowledges. "The only way to get audio is to roll tapes out of master control -- so everything then moves from the news control room, which is disabled because the audio component doesn't work. But you can't show video with no audio."

As such, Adele Arakawa and Kyle Clark, subbing for vacationing co-host Mark Koebrich, "had to come out to the news camera. And for the next 35 minutes, the only things we were able to do were a few news stories" -- pre-recorded packages that already had video and audio combined -- "and sports stories from the news camera, and also some weather" delivered by Marty Coniglio, wearing the sort of lavalier microphone associated with a previous generation of TV news. "But there were no graphics, and we couldn't do any voiceovers. Either you were on camera or you were on tape -- one or the other."

While all this was going on, Ryan was attending a Colorado Rockies game won by Jason Giambi with an exciting, walk-off home run. But sportscaster Drew Soicher "couldn't show that, because we couldn't get it on tape in time," Ryan continues, "and Drew couldn't have described it the way he usually does, because we couldn't do a voiceover."

Once the newscast was in the books, maintenance people called in on an emergency basis got serious about fixing the board, and by toiling through the night, they managed to replace the damaged component in time for the next morning's news block. Meanwhile, management huddled to evaluate how they handled the situation -- only the second time in the past twenty years that Ryan recalls an event nearly sinking a newscast entirely.

In retrospect, Ryan and company realized that they could have simply re-aired the 9 p.m. newscast that had been seen on 9News' sister station, Channel 20. "That wouldn't have been ideal," he concedes. "Even though it was only an hour old, it was still old. But under the circumstances, we could have done it."

Still, Ryan gives off an aura of pride that the on-air talent and everyone behind the scenes was able to get out the news in a throw-back manner. "It obviously wasn't the type of newscast we like to do," he says. "Our newscasts are technically sophisticated and use a lot of technology -- and when we have bumps, they're usually a lot smaller than this. But the team was great. It was a really interesting challenge."

More from our Media archive: "Twitter at a funeral: The evolution of tweeting from a service since Marten Kudlis controversy."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts