If you watch NBC News‘ “Today,” you’ll notice that before going to commercial breaks, the anchors sometimes will say “but first, this is ‘Today’ on NBC.” But why?
- While “Today” is produced by NBC News in New York, it reaches most viewers thanks to one of hundreds of local affiliate stations across the country.
- These local stations typically access the show’s feed via satellite or a digital feed and then retransmit it via over the air signals, local cable systems or satellite TV providers.
- When “Today” first started, most stations had a specialized room known as “master control” that was staffed with individuals tasked with making sure the right programs and commercials aired at the right time.
- Local stations not only would receive network feeds via satellite, but syndicated programming was typically delivered that way too.
- Sometimes these shows would be sent to the station at the same time they aired it — but other times stations would need to record the feed and broadcast it later.
- For example, a station might air “Wheel of Fortune” at 7 p.m., but in reality it was fed out over satellite earlier in the day, recorded by the station and played back at the right time.
- Originally these shows were literally taped onto videotape, but eventually would evolve to use different media formats.
- Master control used to require hands-on operators — who would quite literally switch between the various sources for video — whether it be network, taped or live programs as well as local commercial breaks.
- Because of this, local stations needed a reliable way to know when a commercial break was approaching that they would air their locally sold advertising.
- By agreement with the network, local stations are typically allowed to sell advertising during certain portions of network programming — as well as most or all of any locally produced or syndicated shows.
- The “but first, this is ‘Today’ on NBC” was conceived as a way to be an audible reminder or cue that gave local master control operators a head’s up that a local break was approaching.
- The phrase was selected so that it was distinct from other ways anchors might introduce a commercial break but not so much that most viewers would notice.
- Today, however, most master control operations are highly automated and do not require the on air reminder that a local break is approaching, so the phrase doesn’t serve a purpose for the majority of stations anymore.
- However, the line has remained a prominent element of the show, partly as a nod to the show’s heritage.
- It matches the “This is ‘Today'” part of the show’s opens, a phrase that is also used to market the show as well.