‘Live’ or not? How the ‘Today’ open is modified in some time zones

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Back in the spring of 2020, “Today” fans in some time zones might have noticed a slight difference in the show’s open — the announcer stopped saying the word “live” in markets that receive the show on tape delay.

For years, NBC News has followed the same format for what the “Today” announcer says: “From NBC News … this is ‘Today’ … with (anchor name) … and (anchor name) … live from Studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza.”

However, the network started dropping the word “live” from the announce in some markets with the reasoning that shouldn’t be included in the open in markets that receive the show on tape delay, which typically includes the central and mountain time zones. Sending out tape delay across other time zones is standard practice at not just NBC — but ABC and CBS do it too and it’s commonly used for both the morning newscasts and evening broadcasts. 

It’s worth noting that most of these markets typically receive a “live to tape” version of the show — the network essentially records the show as it is produced live at 7 a.m. on the east coast and feeds it out as it aired originally an hour later for the central time zone and two hours later for mountain. 

That said, there are occasions where technical glitches are fixed or updated information is incorporated into these later feeds, though typically minor slipups won’t get corrected. Again, this is a practice done at all “big three” networks in the U.S.

In cases where there is rapidly changing breaking news, the stations may opt to join the show in progress, especially in the central time zone, meaning viewers tuning in in those markets at 7 a.m. local time see what is really the 8 a.m. eastern hour in “truly” live form. 

The major U.S. networks typically provide separate feeds for each time zone that stations pick up and rebroadcast, though in some cases stations will record portions of the feed to air shows at slightly different times than most other affiliates.

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That’s how NBC is able to include the word “live” in some markets but modify it in others.

From a purely semantic standpoint, it does make some sense to remove the word “live” from the tape-delayed feeds, though it’s worth noting ABC News still includes the word “live,” though with slightly less emphasis, in its “Good Morning America” open across all markets even when the show is, like “Today,” live to tape. There are also other productions, including some syndicated talk shows, that include references to the word “live” even when the show is live to tape in some markets.

When tape-delayed shows are labeled as “live,” one common workaround is to add a time zone designation to live bugs. For example, a live report would typically be labeled as “Live EDT,” “Live EST” (depending on if it’s daylight savings time or not) or “Live ET” in the graphic or, in some cases, “Live (current time) ET,” which was sort of a “fine print” way of getting around the technicality (it’s likely that many casual viewers never noticed this or realized why it’s there).

It’s not clear why this suddenly became a hot-button issue at NBC in 2020, but the network started muting the word “live” in the announce on tape-delayed feeds provided to local stations that air the show later.

To some, the removal of the word “live” was even more glaring because there wasn’t quite enough of a pause in the recording done by announcer Les Marshak between “live” and “from” and a few milliseconds of the word “from” sounded cut off.

Like many shows that use an announcer in its open, “Today” typically uses a recorded announce — the same one each day — unless a special or split edition calls for different open, in which case Marshak or, occasionally, another announcer, will record an updated track.

There are shows that have to update the audio each day if the announcer is tasked with providing an overview of topical stories (such as “The View“) or reading the date (for a time during Peter Jennings’ tenure, “ABC World News Tonight” included the date in its announce).

In some cases, particularly with dates, the show might simply have the announcer record a large chunk of dates in one session and then pull the correct date from the audio recording for each day; in other cases, the date might be pieced together by combining pre-recorded segments of the announcer reading each month name, day number and year, though this can sometimes end up sounding slightly robotic. 

However, because of the added layer in production this practice added, more and more shows, both news and others, have opted to switch to having anchors or hosts read the teases with any date references or either mention the date near the top of the show or show it on-screen at some point, thus avoiding having to record new announcer audio for each edition. 

“Today” has whichever co-anchor is reading the tease headlines say the date just before the open runs, with it being worked in to the script such as “… Prince William celebrating a milestone birthday: We’re live at Kensington Palace with an inside look at his life and growing influence on the future of the royal family, today, Tuesday, June twenty-first, twenty twenty-two” (it’s worth noting that this headline itself still contained the word “live”).

The show then plays the familiar fanfare and recorded announce, but sharp-eared viewers would notice the word “live” starting slowly sneaking its way back into the announce in at least the central time zone feed sometime in late 2021, though not intentionally. 

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In reviewing recordings of the show taken from the central time zone feed going back to September 2021, the audio level of the word “live” seemed to vary, starting out silent before starting to become audible again. As time went on, it seemed to get louder.

In recent months of 2022, it became significantly more noticeable, at least in the central time zone, though it never played at full volume — instead sounding something like an echo or partially muted.

The issue appeared to have been caused by a technical issue an incorrect audio track being used on the feeds provided to other time zones. The word reverted back to being softer in mid-June 2022, but it is still slightly audible as of June 21, 2022.

Speaking of oddities at NBC, on May 20, 2022 in the Chicago market, the Comcast feed of NBC aired via WMAQ began getting a strange black bar along the top of the screen that appeared to have either faint lines or extremely small text in it.

Although the bar appeared across all WMAQ programming for several days, the issue notably affected the X/Y coordinates of where the time and temp and ticker, sometimes called the namedropper, that most local NBC stations insert via their local master control. In this case, the station appeared to be ignoring the fact the picture’s positioning was being thrown off by the bar, thus resulting in a slight misalignment of the locally-inserted text.

WMAQ and NBCUniversal did not respond to requests for comment on the issue, so it’s not clear why this was happening. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it was only an issue in the Chicago market.

Eventually, WMAQ temporarily stopped inserting the ticker, leaving the black gray spaces the network feeds out as part of the graphics package empty until the bar was removed several days later and everything appeared to return to normal.

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