Transmission room: From studio to TV screen

To someone who has never been in a TV transmission room before, the first visit can seem like they’ve entered an underground cave

Leila Alwan

Published: Updated:

Ever wondered how the view in front of a camera ends up on the television screen in the corner of your living room at home?

The information captured by the camera is sent down a series of cables – if it’s an outside broadcast the pictures are relayed back to MBC’s Dubai headquarters by satellites, usually from the top of a hi-tech van. If the camera is in the live news studio then the images are sent through the control room to the transmission room.

The control room is where the program’s production team – the director, producer and the likes sit while creating a show.

To the untrained eye the transmission room is a claustrophobic-looking office space filled with a multitude of colorful buttons, large monitors, and no natural light. It might not seem like much, but this is the hub of everything broadcasted by Al Arabiya News and its sister channels of the MBC group.

al arabiya english
al arabiya english

It’s quite a high pressure job – there’s no room for errors, said senior transmission control engineer Tadj Eddine. “You need to have cool nerves to deal with the pressure,” he told Al Arabiya English.

To someone who has never been in a TV transmission room before, the first visit can seem like they’ve entered an underground cave. But while it might seem quite imposing, this room is actually one of the most important in the building - without it, nothing would reach your TV screens.

In the office there are a line of desktops covered in colored buttons, which cry out to be pushed – although if you did, there’s every risk of taking the channel off the air.

In front of the desks are a series of large monitors that carry images of what’s about to be aired and the actual channel as the viewers see it.

The job of staff like Eddine is to make sure the playlist they receive is ready to go on air.

He told Al Arabiya English that during the 12 hour shift they check the incoming content, ensure the scheduled broadcast timings leave no gaps or overlap in time between programs or segments, check if there’s any missing material. They also coordinate with the newsroom for the breaking stories, on and off air.

But Eddine said a lot has changed in his 14-year career.

“When we receive external programs, it goes through the gallery. In the past, we used to just get the signal directly from our external studios,” he said, explaining how the technology worked when taking external feeds.

If any problems were to occur, Eddine said they had backup system that ensured there wasn’t too much dead airtime when programs were not reaching viewers’ TV screens. Meanwhile they then go into emergency mode, assessing what has caused the problem and fixing it as quickly as possible.

Eddine said working in the transmission room did not require a certain educational background, but a set of specific skills.
“We all have different educational backgrounds, at the end of the day you need to have skills such as: high level of concentration, multitasking, details oriented,” he said.

The dedicated transmission controller said it can get mentally and emotionally draining being in a with no windows.

“During the shift, you don’t notice, but when you go outside to do something the sunlight shocks you,” he said.

Eddine said he makes up for the lack of outdoor by shooting hoops in his free time. Television doesn’t feature quite so much in his days off, after all, watching a movie is almost like going to work.

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