The big shock eye opener for me was how the different News agencies spun the news their own way.  One day my co-worker and I were walking past the CNN area and a producer came out and asked me if I had ever been to the White House.  I said I had not.  My co-worker said he took a tour a few years before.  The producer wrote something down, walked over and handed it to the lady in front of the camera.  Curiosity got the better of us so we moved closer to see what was going on.  The red light on top of the camera came on and the first thing the reporter said was; “According to White House sources…..” I could not believe what I just witnessed.  Remember that George W. Bush was President at the time and some of these News agencies were not very complimentary to him.  Another time President Bush made a live broadcast talking about the hurricane damage and what was happening at the Astrodome with the evacuees.  The ABC truck had a small audience showing the press conference on two large screen TVs.  They invited several ‘residence’ people to watch the broadcast, then went live with that audience and asked them what they thought of the press release and the whole situation of the hurricane aftermath.  For the most part, the audience was complimentary of President Bush.  The ABC people who were hosting this broadcast tried to word their questions that would start a controversial response.  When the audience was not cooperating but were complimentary of the President, they went to commercial and several of the audience were removed and others that were briefed in what to say took their seats.  ABC finally got what they wanted with the answers that were negative towards the president.  Watching this made me think that this level of News has become Tabloid TV.

From day to day we did not know who would stop by, take a seat and just start talking.  One hot day a guy stopped by and was asking who we uplinked and other small talk.  He asked if we had any water.  I said there was plenty of water in the trough which was next to my van.  He got up to go get a bottle of water so I got up and walked over there too.  I sat on the rear bumper of my van and he did the same.  We sat on the rear bumper of the van talking until the water was gone.  He got up and shook my hand and walked on away.  After he left my coworker asked what he was like to talk with.  I asked who that was, he looked familiar.  Turns out it was Sean Penn.   The funny part of that whole thing was, Sean sat on the van bumper underneath the W sticker that was for GW Bush.  I wish I had gotten a picture of that.  Another time a group of serious guys came by and stood just outside our production tent, then a young lady came in and asked if she could talk with me.  I opened up a lawn chair for her and brought another one for me to sit in.  She asked if we had up linked to Singapore.  I said we had.  She asked what they said.  I said I only understand English so I had no idea.  She laughed and said that she has family there and was just curious.  After she left I found out that she was Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor Cabinet member.

 Night time at Satellite City became sort of a Twilight Zone in that the police would form a barrier around the area and anyone wanting to go in had to have a Media Pass.  All others were turned away.  At 11:00 pm, the gates around the parking lot were closed and manned by police, you could leave but no one would be let back in.  One night I heard something going on at the fence line and the police had pulled someone off the fence who was trying to climb back in.  They did not arrest him just made sure he left.  Another night a young black man came up to me and started talking, then he started yelling at me.  He was venting over the whole situation of having to leave his home in New Orleans and in his words, ‘being treated like a prisoner’.   A couple of police officers started to come my way when they heard the guy yelling.  I held up my hand for them to stop, which they did but they kept watching us closely.  After a few minutes of yelling at me, most of which did not make sense, he left.  One of the officers followed that guy as he walked off and the other one came over to me.  He asked what was going on, I said he just needed to vent, so I let him.  I never did feel threatened but had sort of a peace that I was protected by an unseen force. 


In September 2005, I had been unemployed for a year.  Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and a lot of people were evacuated to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.  I got a call from an old friend asking me if I was available for freelance work as an uplink operator for the Associated Press.  This was the first job offer I had in over a year so I jumped on it.  I was on my way to the Astrodome within the hour with a back pack full of clothes since I did not know when I would be home again.  I made my way through the heavy traffic that led into the Dome parking lot and found my way to “Satellite City”.  This is where all the satellite uplink trucks along with the microwave trucks were parked to distribute the News around the world.  I found my truck and went to work.

Tele-Mundo about to go Live

One of the best memories was the people I worked with, specifically the News Crews; the Camera and Audio guys.  I met crews from all over the world and would see them most every day.  The crew that I worked with the most was the Tele-Mundo crew from Mexico City.  The Reporter/Producer spoke fluent English.  The Camera and Audio guys did not.  The camera guy reminded me of Jackie Chan so he sort of played that up.  I would call him Jackie and he would then put his hand up like a Karate chop.  We could only understand a few words from each other but we had the best time laughing about things.  I would go with these guys to eat at a nearby Denny’s for Breakfast.  They needed to get some things to repair their camera so I went with them to a Fry’s which is a large discount warehouse electronic store.  It was funny seeing their reaction as they walked around Fry’s.  They had never seen a store like that before.  Another crew I recall is a Canadian crew that spoke only French. The last day I saw them the camera guy gave me his camera headset and a tape case that he signed.  I signed a beta-cam tape case and gave it to him.  Funny how you can make good friends and not understand a word they say. 


This is the Fox News set with Greta Van Susteren.  Her Producer is the young lady with the pony tail.

One afternoon we set up a link for a live broadcast with Argentina.  When we set these up everyone speaks English so there was no mis-communication but when the reporter went Live they would speak in their own language.  I contacted the AP up-link guy in Dallas, he confirmed our signal, then he routed the signal to a satellite over Panama, we got confirmation there then another bounce to hit Argentina’s satellite, then confirmation that the News control room had audio/video.  Once we were confirmed in the News room the producer took over the call which he had on speaker phone so the Director could overhear.  The reporter was running late, my co-worker was on the phone with her.  She was caught in traffic and it was looking like she was not going to make it.  So to kill time and to keep the connection confirmed, the Producer in Argentina asked what my name was, I responded “Billy”.  He then asked where I was from and I responded that I am from Texas.  The producer then said, “What does Billy from Texas look like?”  I stepped in front of the camera and over my headset I could hear several people in the News control room in Argentina yell out, “Hello Billy from Texas!”  I could not see them but they saw me in broadcast quality video.  I would have to say that was my fondest memory of working for the Associated Press.

                                                                                                        Growing up, I had always wanted to work in Network News doing exactly what I did for the Associated Press those few weeks.  The AP does not report news only provides an avenue to be distributed.  I got to experience what I aspired to do and discovered that I really enjoyed it, but I know that I don’t want to do that full time.  Also seeing what really goes on with the Major networks as far as spinning the news for their own agenda, whatever that agenda is, I could not be a part of that.  No Tabloid TV for me!


One of the up-link trucks

This picture is looking inside the Astrodome.  I did not go inside.

The truck we had was actually an old production truck that we were connected to fiber that led directly to the Associated Press uplink dishes in Dallas, Texas.  We had a tent setup behind the truck with broadcast production gear, camera and audio mixing that we encoded to be uplinked.  Our job was to assist clients; News crews that needed to send their audio/video signals to their companies.  We also provided Live camera feeds so they could do live report broadcasts.  We would get a call from the AP letting us know who had bought time and what they wanted to do, like use our broadcast equipment or use theirs live or uplink to be recorded at their company.  We would setup for what the job was.  Most cases they had a reporter stand in front of our camera and talk live on their newscast.  Sometime we ran camera, other times they had their own camera guy that ran our camera or hook up their camera to our system. We worked around the clock since we were up-linking all over the world. I recall one evening we got a call that our next uplink was the breakfast show for the BBC.  We thought, ‘great, maybe we can get some decent sleep’.  We were then reminded that it was for breakfast in London which is about 1:00 am our time.  That seemed to be the typical day.

In front of our truck we had installed at a light pole an electrical power breaker box to run our truck and broadcast systems.  Most all other trucks ran off their generators all the time.  When the Fox news truck pulled in next to us they asked if they could tap into our power.  My co-worker asked what we could get in return.  The Fox Engineer said they have direct satellite Internet WIFI and he would give us the password.  It was a deal!  Several days later, we lost Internet connectivity so my co-worker was walking over to the power distribution to unplug the Fox truck.  The Fox Engineer saw him going over there, ran out to stop him.  The Engineer said they had to change the password since CNN had found out the password and was using their Internet.  We got the new password and had to swear not to share it with CNN. 

 Near our area was what looked like a large watering trough.   People would come by from time to time and fill it with ice and drinks.  There was all kinds of things to drink except no alcohol.  Whatever we wanted, we would go get.  I got mostly water.  Also golf carts with stacks of pizza boxes along with other things to eat would stop by.  In the mornings they brought boxes of doughnuts.  I thought it was funny that when the doughnuts came through so did the police.  We had to be fast to grab some dough nuts.

As the days went on, the more crowded the Astrodome site became.  It turned into a city unto itself.  There was around the clock police patrols that came from all over the country.  Some were on horseback, others walked or used cars and golf carts.  There was the constant noise of helicopters overhead that never stopped, both News and Police. 

Tele-Mundo Crew from Mexico City.

Audio guy on the left,

Producer/Reporter in the middle.

Cameraman "Jackie Chan" on the right.

Me in Satellite City

Crew from Barcelona doing a quick edit before up-linking to Spain. 

Free drinking water

I was able to go home about every third day to get a shower, some clean clothes and head right back.  We lived in the parking lot, some nights I slept a few hours at a time in our van, other nights I rolled out a sleeping bag in the center aisle of the TV truck. 

The first few days there was four of us that crewed the truck and production tent.  One day we got a call that the AP wanted to trim the crew down to two, fortunately I survived the cut.  

 On one side of us was a local news outlet.  The other side of us was Fox News.  CNN was on the other side of Fox with ABC, NBC and CBS down the line from them.  We got to meet all the people we see every day on those networks.  I enjoyed watching Fox go live with Greta Van Susteren each evening.  She is a very short person, maybe just over 5 foot nothing.  Very nice person.  Her sister was her producer for the show, also a very nice person.  One evening Greta was on live.  I called my Mom and asked her to switch to the Fox News Channel.  She did.  I asked if she saw Greta or if it was in commercial.  She said it just came out of commercial.  I told her to watch the back ground behind Greta.  I then walk past and looked at the camera.  Instantly I heard mom over my cell phone exclaim she saw me.  She then called out to my Dad to hurry up and come see this.  When Dad got in the room I walked the other direction.  It was fun to have my parents watch me on Live TV!  Greta’s sister, the producer then asked me not to do that again.  It was all fun!

Isreali News up-linking his footage

Ever present Police.  We loved having these folks around!