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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
From left, Bernie Lohmuller, Todd Grimes and Jonathon Nuthals broadcast Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech Tuesday morning from the CATV studios inside Helmke Library.

Airing speech no easy feat

Broadcast had many obstacles to overcome

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Suu Kyi’s speech in Burmese was broadcast on large video screens at the Coliseum – and to TV viewers – with a captioned translation.

The cameras came from IPFW, the translator came from Indianapolis, the transcriber stayed in Boston and the end result was broadcast by WFWA PBS 39.

WFWA’s live broadcast with English translation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday was fairly seamless, except for a ten-minute snafu.

But it was not easily achieved.

The translator, IUPUI linguist Aye-Nu Duerksen, was chosen by the Aung San Suu Kyi Welcoming Committee, according to WFWA transmitter engineer Matt Kyle.

Kyle said the translator needed to be someone who communicates as readily in English as in Burmese, and that was a tall order.

Duerksen earned her B.A. in English literature and language at Rangoon University (currently Yangon University) in Burma, her M.A. in linguistics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and her Ph.D. in English and applied linguistics at Ball State University.

For the transcription, the station decided to use real-time caption services provided by WGBH in Boston, Kyle said.

“With the time frame we were under, we decided to go with a known entity,” Kyle said. “We might have been able to do it locally with a local stenographer and software. But we decided to go with the people who do that sort of thing relatively often. It was one less thing to worry about.”

WFWA lacked all the equipment and fiber optic connections it needed for the broadcast, so it partnered with CATV, IPFW’s cable access channel, according to WFWA general manager Bruce R. Haines.

The broadcast was engineered by WFWA production manager Todd Grimes and CATV director Bernie Lohmuller from the CATV studios in the basement of the Helmke Library.

Duerksen sat in a suite in the Coliseum and translated Suu Kyi’s speech and subsequent question-and-answer session over a land-line phone to the transcriber in Boston.

Images from the Coliseum were sent from CATV to WFWA, where the captions were attached, Kyle said.

The images then made a return trip to CATV, continued on to the Coliseum’s in-house video screens and went out over the airwaves.

On Monday, Haines compared what the station was planning to do to playing the game Mousetrap.

“You have to go through a lot of things,” he said. “But if you make it to the end, you get to capture the mouse.”

Just before Suu Kyi took the stage at the Coliseum, Grimes said it rarely matters in such situations if the scene at the studio is one of “utter chaos.”

“As long as the broadcast looks good, that’s all that matters,” he said.

The only hitch in the broadcast came during the question and answer session when the connection between Duerksen and the transcriber in Boston was inexplicably broken for about 10 minutes.

“I was panicking,” Duerksen said afterward. “I tried to call the Boston people, but I only got an answering machine.”

“She swears up and down that she didn’t do anything (to break the connection),” Kyle said. “Somehow it got cut off. We don’t know how it happened.”

One of the challenges of translating Burmese into English, Duerksen said, is that Burmese is structurally dissimilar to English.

Duerksen said she needs to hear each complete sentence before she can begin to translate it.

“I think I captured most of the things she said, the essence of her remarks,” Duerksen said. “Sometimes the Boston people didn’t quite hear me well. They were getting some of the spellings incorrect.”

“I translated almost everything, but not word for word,” she said. “All the concepts of it, the essence of it, were there.”

“Mentally, she was doing a lot of gymnastics,” Grimes said of Duerksen afterward.