Stargazing Live: live OB engineer

Understanding the needs of your production team as well as the vast possibilities that your kit allows – we examine the role of the live OB engineer with BBC Stargazing Live’s John King.

Live outside broadcast (OB) engineers have quite a difficult job – an understatement perhaps, given the sheer scale of a live OB like BBC Two’s Stargazing Live.

Broadcast live over three nights, the award winning production makes use of one of largest OB trucks in Europe, receiving circuits from TV studios and weather stations both in the UK and overseas, and even taking feeds from a plane filming the aurora borealis at 30,000 feet, before finally sending out the circuits to your TV at home.

In charge of all this is OB engineering manager John King, a vastly experienced OB engineer. His remit is to fit the scope and ambition of the production.

“Teams should get to know each other from the word go. It’s essential that they meet, go on the site visit, and trust each other.” - John King

From an initial site visit to figure out if it’s even possible to park a large OB truck in situ, the OB engineering manager has to establish where the power source is located, how to to get the signal from truck to TV and, equally importantly, where to accommodate a huge crew.

For John, being technically good is only part of the core skills he feels are needed for his job. Crucially the OB engineering manager is also the main link between the production team, so it’s his or her job to understand and deliver what the production want. Finance and budgets are a major part of any production, so they will need to have a head for this too.

As in any production role, John feels it’s important to learn the process from the beginning rather than jumping straight in to managing an OB. Getting experience either in camera or sound will give you an idea of how the elements fit together and show you if you’re cut out to handle such an all-encompassing role.