MIRT?--Don't Even Think About It

A few days ago, I got a phone call from a friend whom I have known since college in the mid-1980s. Today, he's an ENG cameraman who tends to work out of a live truck a lot. He told me about a "coolÓ gadget that he's seen on TV news that can change traffic signals from red to green. He thought it would be "coolÓ if his ENG van had one.

First, understand that my friend is an idiot--for a variety of reasons--this conversation just being one of them. There's something that my friend and a whole lot of news folks (including very highly paid news directors) tend to forget: You do not have any special privileges on the road just because you're the press.

Here's some background on the gadget: It's called MIRT, for Mobile Infrared Transmitter, which is a knock-off of a much more expensive 3M transmitter. At the push of a switch, MIRT transmits an infrared beam with a 1,500-foot range to a receiver that's installed in the intersection, which changes the light immediately. These gadgets were designed to allow an intersection to clear before a fire, rescue, or police vehicle approaches. Not all intersections have the receivers, whose installation can cost $15,000 to $20,000.

The problem is that the gadget is supposed to only be sold to law enforcement and fire/rescue departments, but knock-offs are now available online. The bigger problem is that my friend thinks that a MIRT would be "so cool to have in the truck."

Tim Gow, the inventor of MIRT, tries to make sure that his dealers sell only to municipalities and not the local pizza delivery guy or the general public. MIRT has become very popular in the press in the last few weeks because, at $499, it is a fraction of the cost of the 3M device that does the same thing but works automatically in vehicles it's installed in.

And it works. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation over a 14-year period, emergency accidents in St. Paul, MN were reduced by 71% and Houston, TX, experienced a drop of 17% in response time with the technology.

While Gow and his company, FAC America, won't sell MIRT to the general public, other 3M and MIRT knock-offs can be purchased online by anyone...including my idiot friend.

Gow has been contacted by lots of media folks, but when he tells them during the pre-interview that he doesn't sell to the public, news interest in the story dries up. While helping responders get to the scene faster is a great human interest story, a sensationalistic piece on how anyone can get this gadget and screw up traffic is a much better story to a lot of reporters and news directors.

The legalities of such devices are still to be tested, just as radar detectors and radar jammers have had their day in court. If you want one, you can find one online.

You're team can be first to the story and no longer have to blow through red and yellow lights. Just think how appreciative your viewers will feel for that first live report after they've see the light at the intersection suddenly change as your ENG truck approaches.

As an industry, we have any number of newsgathering tools at our disposal. This should not be one of them.

Michael Silbergleid is the editor. He can be reached at msilbergleid@uemedia.com.

Not Business As Usual

Concentrating on core businesses seems to be the industry rule for the 21st century. And no one has followed it more than Sony (see Sony Undertakes Massive Restructuring).

Sony: The leader in broadcast technology...with second quarter profits down 98% over last year (due to restructuring, according to Sony) and lots and lots of layoffs on the way. PlayStation2s and Trinitrons are no longer selling like hotcakes. Sony's "Transformation 60" restructuring, is expected to take three years and cost $9 billion.

What's Sony Electronics' core business? Hardware. What Sony Electronics business in not hardware? Systems integration. What did Sony Electronics just do? They sold their San Jose, CA-based Systems Integration Division to A.F. Associates (AFA), giving the NJ-based firm a presence on both coasts.

Now Sony can concentrate on selling their own equipment, instead of their competitor's, which they had to do when a Systems Integration customer required someone else's gear in an installation. Of course, they'll still sell you a lens with that camera you're looking at...there's profit in that.