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The Funny Behind-The-Scenes Story of Covering this Wal-Mart Meeting

Employees line up for a Walmart meeting.
Photo: Jane Wells for CNBC.com
Employees line up for a Walmart meeting.

As I've been reporting today, Wal-Mart announced a $15 billion share repurchase program at its annual shareholder meeting, as 16,000 employees and shareholders gathered Friday at Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas.

Wal-Mart also plans to hire 500,000 peoplearound the globe over the next five years (we don't know how many jobs will be in the U.S.), and there will be a special focus to "develop women everywhere in our company and at all levels of our company." Wal-Mart is facing a massive class action sex discrimination suit.

But CEO Mike Duke adds, "we need to improve our comp store sales," which have been falling. He also wants the website improved. "Quite frankly, some of our competitors are ahead of us here."

That's basically the news.

Meantime, I've aged dramatically since arriving in Bentonville.

Here's what you don't see on TV.

3a Central Friday morning: the alarm clock goes off.

We arrive on site of live shot location at 4a. My first live shot is scheduled for 6a.

4:30a: our satellite truck operator, who's just driven from covering the oil spill in Louisiana, notifies us the truck is broken. He can't power the satellite dish.

This is not good. The producer and I go over our options: 1) try to find another satellite truck company, or 2) see if the local affiliates can help us out.

We begin making calls. At 4:40 in the morning.

We discover truck companies are in Tulsa and Little Rock, two to three hours away. Calls are made. No luck. All available trucks are down in the Gulf.

We begin calling the local news operations. The NBC/Fox affiliate, KNWA, has a truck but no operator.

The ABC affiliate is using its truck in another town and can't even be 'bribed' (KIDDING) to change plans.

Hmmmm.

I ask KNWA if I can run over and go live from their newsroom. I'm told that will be possible, but only after their morning news is off the air. Then Aaron on their news desk kindly suggests he could drive their truck over to us if someone could figure out how to run it.

At the same time, our cameraman mentions that the University of Arkansas has a satellite truck. Somehow we find a number and wake up some poor guy around 5a, get him out of bed and heading our way.

My 6a live shot isn't going to happen.

6:50a: the truck arrives. A very nice engineer named Michael looks at our producer like she has ten heads when she explains our live shot schedule and that we need to be "up on the bird", like, yesterday.

I go inside to cover the Wal-Mart meeting and try not to think about things over which I have no control. I watch the thousands of Wal-Mart workers—"associates"—from around the world toss beach balls inside the arena. Jamie Foxx kicks things off, then Enrique Iglesias makes his way into the crowd to croon and hug employees. There's Lee DeWyze, Mary J. Blige (who only sang one song—it's early), Mariah Carey and Josh Groban.

Finally, at 8:02a, the producer—who is outside the arena—emails me that the truck is "all good".

We have a signal.

I can go live.

Mission accomplished.

So when I run out to report the news about the share repurchase program, with the hot, humid morning sun beating down on me, I'm tired but relieved that it was not all in vain.

I put on my microphone and my earpiece and a smile.

Then the show producer tells me in my ear, "Keep it quick, I can only give you thirty seconds."

Sigh.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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