The YouTube Files – when TV goes wrong! (Part 1)

One of the more unusual aspects of TV is the technical fault. Due to improved technology you don’t see them happen too much nowadays but many years ago they did often happen for various reasons, such as the tape snapping or the line going down during live events, and picture or sound could often be lost which would liven up a dull afternoon’s viewing. Sometimes these moments are preserved on Christmas tapes or by viewers who happened by chance to be recording when disaster struck. Today I thought I’d have a look back at some of the bizarre moments when the screen suddenly goes blank that I have found on YouTube that happened in America, and in the next part I’ll look at some from Britain.

I was intrigued to watch some clips of TV presentation from America to discover how they deal with faults. Various captions would appear with messages such as “one moment please” or please stand by”, or the more commonplace “temporary fault” (better than a permanent one I suppose) accompanied by a random piece of library music. It is surprising to note how many comments from Americans on the videos point out that faults used to freak them out because they presumed that it was the moment when the missiles had been fired and the bomb had been dropped. That moment of uncertainty is always concerning.

One of my favourite faults that I came across happened in 1986. The picture goes wrong during an advert break leading to a rogue testcard appearing on screen which is quickly replaced by a caption. We then hear a rather bemused announcer with an impressively deep voice who seems to have been caught off guard and can only inform us “please stand by”. It gets ever weirder though when he accidentally leaves his microphone on and we can hear him mutter to himself “whoa, brother”, proving a: that was his real voice, b: he really was live, c: the amount of panic that must go on in TV galleries when nothing is going to air. vlcsnap-01069

Secondly, a channel called KTZO dealt with a technical fault in a very amusing way. It consisted of a short pre-recorded clip of lots of people running around dropping big piles of tape everywhere, before we get reassured that everything is fine as the professional team are working on the problem and we shouldn’t adjust our set. It probably was a little more tense in the real studio but I’ve never seen a fault dealt with in that way and it was very good. vlcsnap-01070

Finally for now, there’s a great site with a lot of archive TV presentation material from America called which helped me learn a lot more about how TV works in this country that has a section decided to technical faults. There are lots of good ones, but to pick one as an example of what can go wrong, during a film in 1980 the picture suddenly disappears, leading to a caption appearing. How exciting. vlcsnap-01071


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