How To Avoid A Hot Mic Disaster

It happens again and again; a politician, celebrity or TV anchor wearing a microphone says something embarrassing, followed shortly by, "Oh, is this thing on?" Our resident humorist takes on "hot mic" disasters.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

He's back, Day to Day resident humorist, Brian Unger, today surveying the ever-present danger of being exposed by a hot mic, on the Unger Report.

BRIAN UNGER: Over the weekend at the British parliament, an open microphone, or hot mic, captured a candid conversation between Barack Obama and Tory leader, David Cameron, about the importance of rest and downtime. Thank you, ABC News, for having the courage to report this.

The phrase hot mic, once an exclusive part of the broadcasting lexicon, is now mainstream. What is a hot mic? It's a loaded gun, without a safety. When mishandled, it shoots you in the foot, after that foot has been put in your mouth. Can it kill? No, despite the victim feeling better off dead. Listen to the humiliating potential of the hot mic in this dramatization.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: So, all right, Brian, you about ready?

UNGER: Uh, yup. Hey, before we go, by the way, you see the sore on my lip? Yes, this one, right here under my nostril? Yes, it turns out it's not from kissing goats after all! I'm so relieved.

Unidentified Man: Oh, um...

UNGER: This is on?

(Soundbite of music)

UNGER: The hot mic. It has scorched many a public figure over the years. Famously, in 1984, Ronald Reagan mic-ed up and joking about the Red Menace.

President RONALD REAGAN (Former President): My fellow Americans, I'm going to tell you today that I signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We'll begin bombing in five minutes.

UNGER: Most recently, Jesse Jackson, offering his services to castrate Barack Obama.

(Soundbite of whisper and beep)

UNGER: With no reports to the contrary, Barack Obama is still all man. Here's CNN's Kyra Phillips on a hot mic, complaining about her brother's wife.

President GEORGE BUSH: There will be a better, more effective response.

Ms. KYRA PHILLIPS (CNN Reporter): He's married, three kids, but his wife is just a control freak.

UNGER: Is it breaking news that Kyra Phillips' sister-in-law is a control freak? Yes. Thank you, CNN. It's so much more ironic when people whose job it is to wear a mic feel the heat. They should know better. It's like General David Petraeus shooting himself with his own gun.

So, a reminder to the mic-ed. As Professor Keith Newman taught me at Ohio University in TV Production 101, on Earth, a microphone exists for one purpose. To convert your voice into an electronic signal and deliver it to a device for recording or amplification. And because you can't hear it running, like, say, a car, one should assume a microphone is always hot.

Audio engineers of America, thank you for keeping us honest. Keeping your mikes open, even when we can't keep our mouths closed. And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

Unidentified Man: OK, Brian, good.

UNGER: OK, thanks. Hey, don't tell Alex, but when I pulled into the parking lot this morning I hit his car.

Unidentified Man: No.

UNGER: Yes. No, I kind of - it's more like a scrape, but it's not like, you know - is it? Don't tell me this is still on.

CHADWICK: Humor. We hope. Every Monday on the Unger Report.

Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick

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