tom smith | make green bay weird | march 2018
Friday, February 2nd at the Lyric Room, I attended the Tim Dart Birthday Show which featured five great bands: Impetuous Riff Raff, Hue Blanc's Joyless Ones, The Foamers?, New Rocket Union (not New Model Army, as the Rev. Norb kept referring to them on stage) and Rev. Norb and the Onions. This evening also was a taping of an episode of “Action TV," the hottest locally produced television program since “Video Wave." “Action TV" also flashed me back to fourteen-year-old me watching “New Wave Theatre" on the USA Network's “Night Flight" late on a Saturday night. These are the two highest compliments I can give to a television show whose main focus is music. To better explain the show, I give you the results of my interview with Action TV founder and its driving force, Brad Daugs. Brad is also the guitarist in Rev. Norb and the Onions and Last Sons of Krypton. Brad quit drinking 40 months ago and I have seen him focus his energy into projects like this and I think he has done a wonderful job of refocusing the energy he put into drinking and using it in ways I find, quite frankly, inspiring. My one glimpse of “Action TV" leads me to believe Brad is really on to something and I see big things for “Action TV."
What is 'Action TV'?
'Action TV' is a portable, multiple camera setup with its own live audio and video recording gear. We bring the stuff to places where bands perform live original music locally and record everything using fully analog gear and VHS tapes.
Does 'Action TV' have a mission statement or a goal it wants to accomplish?
The goal is simply to document a bunch of live music locally that is happening independently of the show. I spent many years playing in bands and a nice multiple-camera shot was one thing that seemed far harder to obtain than going to a recording studio and getting a nice sounding audio track, for instance. Everybody had a friend or knew somebody who was in film school, but getting a finished product was often time-consuming and problematic, if it was possible at all. Many great local bands simply never had the opportunity to be documented in such a manner.
Thus, when you are looking at old performance footage on YouTube, for instance, you see terms like "pro shot" or "multiple camera footage" as opposed to "fan filmed." Fan filmed typically means its shot by a member of the audience on a single camera. See, even if you have multiple "fan filmed" videos to work with, you still need a soundtrack of music, and then you have to put the music in synch with the video footage. If it's not done perfectly, the timing will be off and the whole thing ruined.
What personally do you want to get out of the time and effort you put into 'Action TV'?
Well, the most obvious and immediate benefit is to my personal video collection. For every couple songs I post by each band in an episode of the show, there are many others that don't make the cut for whatever reason. Often it's simply that my attention is directed elsewhere, the fact is, most of the editing for 'Action TV' is done live, in real time. We use a video switchbox to change between cameras as the action unfolds in front of us. This saves the time and effort of having to edit later on, choose camera angles, get everything to line up perfectly and so on. It also means the person operating the switches has to maintain full concentration during the entire length of whatever song they are working on, as it happens.
That's just the video end; we also have an independent audio mixer and microphones for the show. The sound has to come from somewhere, and it's not coming from the cameras. So, getting a great video relies on many components coming together in the same time and place. The band has to put on a great performance. The technical aspects have to be just right in terms of the venue's choice of who is in charge of the house PA and lights. Our technical aspects have to be working in terms of a useable audio mix and functioning cameras that are properly framed and focused and so on. Usually the songs I choose for the show are self-evident based on the restrictions of the medium and human error, but getting back to the question, 'What do I get out of it?' Well, hopefully I end up with a giant video collection of content that wouldn't exist without all my effort, and that's priceless, right?
What inspired you to do 'Action TV'?
'Action TV' started as a music television show in Door County back in 1997. The station manager ran the studio out of the high school up in Sturgeon Bay, and they ran ads looking for original content. I called the guy up and pitched him the show, he was receptive, and we took it from there.
Shortly after episodes went into production, the manager was fired, and his replacement wasn't as receptive to the show, so I put away the stuff in a box and forgot about it for the next 20 years.
In a broad sense, I wanted to make music videos recently, to document what's happening locally. There's good stuff happening all the time, but people have busy lives, any form of entertainment is fighting for such a limited amount of attention span that we have these days. A lot of my inspiration is not wanting to forget it all! I play so many shows with my bands that it all kind of started blending together over the years. Putting these experiences into episode form assures me that I will be able to enjoy all these precious musical memories for many, many years to come!
What are the influences of 'Action TV'?
Anything that is not a lip synch/mimed music video. It's not 'Shindig!' or 'American Bandstand,' I always thought those shows were lame. Put up a couple microphones and a set of headphones, it's not rocket science. Milton Berle, Steve Allen, these guys knew to have a performer perform live and for real! You should be documenting the live act.
The major influences are stuff like 'Beat Club,' 'Musikladen,' 'Don Kirschner's Rock Concert,' 'Midnight Special.' The old 'Town Hall Party' vids with Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, stuff like that. Anything with multiple cameras, shot in real time with live sound.
How did you get the equipment for the making of 'Action TV'?
First I figured out what I needed. Cameras, any old camera with a composite out. For the non-technical folks, that's a yellow wire, like when you hook up a VCR or DVD player and there are red, white and yellow wires. The camera needs to have an output like that. Basically, any old '90s camera works fine, I found.
At first I just used junk I had around, an old DJ mixer for audio, though I am gradually upgrading my gear as I can afford it. The real breakthrough moment was when I realized I didn't need a video mixer like we had at the TV station, but I could edit live using a video switcher, like you would have on top of your television to choose between DVD/TV/video games back in the day — one of the things with the big buttons on the front of it.
I built a small wooden box that allows me to stand a switcher upright, so you can punch the buttons on it like a lighting console at a rock show, for instance. Another thing we needed were tripods that could put the cameras above people's heads, so you can have a shot of the whole stage from the back of the audience. I used old speaker stand tripods I already had and duct taped $2 camera mounts to them.
Most everything is bought second hand from the internet or thrift stores, except cables and the video switcher itself, which has buttons that are prone to wearing out.
How can people see 'Action TV' on the internet?
Are you self-taught on the technical aspects of operating the equipment for 'Action TV'?
I took communication technology classes in middle and high school that taught me the basics of how to run a signal path, and when I had the cable access show I produced my own episodes.
The real breakthrough technically was realizing that you could use any old camera with a composite out, that the video signal from those cameras was the same as any other video signal and that you could switch between those cameras in real time using a cheap switcher rather than a $2,000 mixer and obtain useable results without a lot of time-consuming editing and synch work — especially in working with analog sources that don't have a solid clock to work with like modern digital methods.
It's basically, 'Do what you know and learn from your mistakes.'
What bands do you hope to have on a future 'Action TV'?
I like punk and garage rock, so anything in that genre. I suppose locally some that I would like to capture are Holly and the Nice Lions, Malignance, Sons of Kong and The Phylums. I wish Greg Oblivian would come up, or Greg Lowery and his new band, Control Freaks. Really looking forward to Ramma Lamma in the near future.
Live long and make sure you're where the action's at.
'Action TV' upcoming taping sessions:
March 3rd at the Lyric Room with Ramma Lamma, Rev. Norb and the Onions, and Mary and the Immaculate Rejections
March 10th at Zozo's Kitchen, Last Sons of Krypton, Tim Schweiger and the Middlemen and others
April 21st at the Exclusive Company Green Bay for Record Store Day with Rev. Norb and the Onions and TBA
May 19th at the Lyric Room with the Golden Pelicans from Florida, Aluminum Knot Eye, The Stink Lines and Hue Blanc's Joyless Ones
Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.