Tally Ho – Livestream Lessons from the Golden Age of TV

Growing up in the 1960’s with a Dad who worked at CFRN-TV I am definitely of the television generation.

Television.

That word sounds very old. Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, Tiktok. Everyone now has a tv station in their pocket.

But not everyone learns about production. Production is a craft. It’s not where the cameras are placed, or the script, or the lighting, it’s about all of it. Production is the design of how your audience should feel.

I didn’t expect that the many hours I spent as a kid watching from behind the cameras at Sunwapta Broadcasting would be useful for me 50 years later, but then a global pandemic caused a wholesale switch from in-person events to online events, and production was back in demand.

When Or Shalom decided we would, like many other churches and synagogues, broadcast our services there was a unique opportunity to bring these almost-lost skills of live event production to live-streaming. Video equipment at the prosumer level is both affordable and high quality. Good glass, i.e. camera lenses never go out of fashion. LED lights have made it possible to bathe a room with warm glow without needing a generator truck.

The golden age of livestreaming is here.

Andrea Superstein quartet rehearsal with Aputure C150 lights
Emad Armoush and Noah Gotfrit rehearse while Sarah tests the slider.
The control booth, audio mixer on the left, video on the right

Among the things I learned watching how live television was made were tally lights – red lights on the camera to tell the performer or announcer which camera was live. Tally lights haven’t made the transition down to prosumer products yet, and that seemed a real lack for livestreaming use, so decided to build one. Having a Roland 4-input video switcher (with a real T-bar fader like the Grass Valley Group switchers now infamously associated with the Star Wars Death Star) building a tally light system seemed a simple undertaking.

Like most projects, if you knew how difficult they were going to be before you started, you wouldn’t start. So it’s good to approach every project with some over-optimistic ideas of how hard it will be. To build this tally light system I took a technology I already knew, the Arduino microprocessor product line, and had to learn about MIDI. Along the way I also got to be re-acquainted with another technology I hadn’t used since the 1980’s – the DTMF tones that still signal much of the telephone system.

An intro to the project is here on youtube:

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