The Masters of Master Control: How a single operator controls the destiny of all who enjoy public broadcasting (via KNME)

by Kevin Maestas, KNME, reposted with permission from KNME's website here

Stepping into Master Control (the heart of Broadcast Operations), it’s unlike any place I’ve worked before. Traditionally, workplace environments consist of just about any combination of four walls, with a mosaic of calendars celebrating dogs, accompanied by picture frames housing exclamatory and motivating words of optimism. Though KNME’s basement does consist of an assembly of walls and puppy calendars, Master Control takes the intricate patterns of drywall and spackling, layers on sophisticated machinery outfitted with blinking lights, cycling meters, which are all interconnected and tangled in what seems like endless highways of cabling. The flanking stacks of satellite receivers, analog tape decks, and switchers act as momentary stimuli until the likes of Mr. Rogers, Christiane Amanpour and the unforgettable monsters of Sesame Street take center stage.

Master Control, in a nutshell, is the brain of New Mexico PBS.

Even after signing up to assist New Mexico PBS’s broadcast efforts on the weekend, I didn’t quite take into account the gravity and responsibility of the position. Initially, when I first stepped foot into MC my head started to spin. It’s a possibility the blinking lights, cycling monitors and the constant hum of ventilation may have been to blame. Once acclimated, the real culprit became apparent; I was intimidated by everything around me. I assumedly understood every push of a button or flip of a switch would send our transmission spiraling into chaos. The good thing is our engineers and admins accounted for new operators like me.

Problem solving here can be a fairly stressful scenario. Master Control reminds me of a plane in flight. The first time I experienced green lights turning red, alarms sounding, or displays going dark, my instinct was to locate the parachute. At that moment, the gravity of each ticking second was apparent. My instinct was to stay away from every red button that may aid in the circumstantial plummet. After a 10-second overreaction and about another minute of making sense into what switches, receivers and telephone numbers would put our transmission back into the literal sky, the red light(s) eventually turned back to green.

At the surface, KNME’s basement may appear to be like any other under-dwelling, a place void of light. Even so, an impressive array of displays would beg to differ. Master Control is not only illuminated by the blue light emitted from the displays and meticulous networking of state of the art equipment, but more importantly from the people who piece together the experience which is New Mexico PBS. Although the occupying machinery may be the literal neural network for the station’s efforts, Master Control’s heart resides in its people. During my short experience, NMPBS has been and always will be an organization rooted in education. I’m humbled by how accommodating and eager coworkers have been to share their knowledge – everything from the experiences, mentorships and programming promote the expansion of curiosity. I am truly grateful to be not only a viewer and student of Channel 5, but a contributor.