If you’re new to the business, walkie talkie lingo can be daunting to get used to. “I’m going 10-1,” “Copy,” and “Go to 2” are all things you’re going to hear frequently. The first to are relatively easy (“I’m going to the bathroom,” and “I understand,” respectively), but the third one merits some deeper explanation.
Channels of Communication
Okay, this is real basic, but I want to make sure I don’t lose anyone who’s green. I wish someone had explained basic stuff to me when I’d started out.
Most productions rent walkies with 16 channels. That way, each department can have their own channel to communicate with each other, while not bothering anyone else. I don’t really need to hear what the grips are talking about, and they probably don’t need to hear what the camera guys are discussing. It’s not a privacy thing (we’ll get to that in a minute); it’s just that the entire crew would be talking over each other if we were all on the same channel.
There’s no fixed, industry-wide standard for who’s on which channel, except the first two channels. Production is always on channel 1; channel 2 is always “open.” Often, the medic is on channel 16, because in an emergency, you don’t even have to look at your walkie to switch to the right channel.
If your production is smart, the walkie channels are listed on the call sheet, and sometimes even the crew list. Sometimes it falls on the walkie PA to label the individual walkies with the correct channel.
Check Your Channel
This may sound insultingly obvious, but make sure you’re on the correct channel. It’s easy to bump a walkie that’s hanging on your belt without even realizing it. Not to mention the fact that the channel knob is right next to the volume knob, and you might just turn the wrong one.
In production, it’s easy to stay on the right channel, since it’s all the way at one end of the dial. Unless…
Let’s Take This to Channel 2
Channel 1 is utilized by the largest group of people, generally to announce things that affect the entire set. Stuff like, “First team flying in” or “Turning around!” or “Don’t let the extras get to the catering truck before the crew, because they are like locusts.”
But if you need to have a detailed, one-on-one conversation, that’s not for channel 1. If the AD (or anyone else) wants to give you detailed instructions, they’ll ask you to “go to 2.” Obviously, do as you’re told and change the channel.
Sometimes you’ll get a seemingly simply request over channel 1, but you need to ask for more detail. In that case, it’s perfectly fine for you to ask, “[AD name], can we go to 2?” It’s not like some hallowed ground PA’s dare not tread upon. If you need more info and feel like you’re going to clog up channel 1, just ask to follow up on 2.
Occasionally, people will engage in a longish conversation on 1, and a third-party will interject: “Guys, take it to 2.” If you’re a PA, you should not interrupt like that. Just deal with the chatter. But if someone says it to you? Go to 2, and don’t bitch about it.
It’s Not A Private Call
Some people act like they think they can have a private conversation on channel 2. They cannot. You’re still on a walkie talkie, which means it’s a party line, and the neighbor’s got itchy trigger fingers.1
On a crew with dozens or even hundreds of members, at least one of them will be overcome with curiosity and switch to channel 2 to listen in. Never, ever, ever give out private or confidential information over the walkie. Treat channel 2 like you would channel 1 – just pretend everyone can hear you.
One AD I knew had a trick– if he had something private he wanted to tell us, he’d say, “I’ll inform you on channel 2.” That specific phrasing meant that he wanted us to go to channel 13, which was an unassigned channel. He was still smart enough to not give out any real secret information, but he was a little freer than he might otherwise be.