Film Set Walkie-Talkie Etiquette

Crew members who are new to a film set struggle with using walkie-talkies. Only those with Secret Service aptitude like wearing them, but many crew members need their earpieces in place to support their department. Listening to a person speaking in front of you while listening to a conversation on the radio takes time to adapt.

The adjustment period is significantly reduced when the crew follows the proper radio communication etiquette. While there are rules on radio use that vary between productions, here are the six most common rules I’ve encountered.

Select the Right Channel

Most departments have their own channel. However, channel 1 is shared by ADs, Art, Costume, Makeup, and Safety. This results in channel 1 being restricted to essential and necessary conversations only. Any lengthy or specific chat should move to channel 2 or another designated chat channel.

The goal is to keep the unnecessary dialogue in people’s ears to a minimum. The crew benefits when the channel is kept clear for immediate and important contact. Most crew members use the radio as a listening tool when department heads give instructions.

The last thing a crew member wants to do is ask a question that was already answered over the radio. The crew must train themselves to pick out and listen to their department’s voices.

Push to Talk

The timing of when a person speaks and the speed at which they click and hold down, or release, the talk button makes the difference in whether their comment is understood. To ensure that your voice is heard, hold down the talk button for half of a beat before speaking. Also, finish your complete comment before releasing the talk button.

If a person asks you to repeat your comments, do not get nervous and speak faster or before the radio is fully clicked and engaged. Instead, slow down and make sure the button is completely down, then speak clearly and concisely. Keep in mind that the repeat request might not be about you, but the noisy environment the other crew person might be in.

State the Players

When you click the talk button to begin a conversation, state your name and the person you need to speak with. A couple of examples include “Jeremy to Maverick,” or “Sound to Transport.” If there are too many Jeremys on set, state your department with your name, like “Make-up Jeremy to Maverick.”

Once you’ve released the talk button, listen for the response. The person might respond in one of several ways. This might include:

  • “Jeremy, you’ve got Maverick”
  • “Maverick here”
  • “Go ahead, Jeremy”
  • “Hi, Jeremy”

Be patient if the person can’t respond right away, as you won’t know why they’re delayed.

Keep It Brief

Conversations on the main channel must be kept brief. Anything beyond a couple of sentences requires the conversation to be moved to channel 2. This is done by saying, “Switch to channel 2.” The proper response is “Switching to 2.”

While channel 2 is off the beaten path of most conversations, it isn’t a private channel. Make sure you don’t say anything you’ll regret later.

Speak Clearly

Speak slowly and clearly, holding the microphone 1-2 inches from your mouth. Any closer and your voice will distort. Any farther away and you might not be heard. There is no reason to yell into the radio.

Part of clarity is knowing what you want to say before speaking. Crew members don’t want to talk on the fly and find themselves saying something that comes across as odd and makes everyone laugh. They might never be able to live it down.

Clarity might also be achieved on windy days by cupping your hand around the microphone so the wind doesn’t distort your words.

Care for Your Radio

The battery will eventually die. Fresh batteries are typically available in various locations around the set. If you find yourself in an urgent situation, ADs often carry a spare battery, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Also, do what you can to keep your radio dry from the rain. Having a faulty radio due to rain will make your day miserable.

The best way to protect your radio, regardless of the weather conditions, is to get familiar with it. Just as sharpshooters are able to assemble and disassemble their guns blindfolded, you need to know your radio as an extension of yourself.

Make sure you can turn it on and off, adjust the volume, and switch between channels, all without looking. Use the properly assigned channels and know when to move between them to facilitate longer conversations.

In no time, you’ll be able to have a conversation with the person in front of you, while listening to the person calling you on the radio. Your walkie-talkie communication skills will make for a successful production.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers

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