07.28.2009 10:55 AM
WIAT Upgrades With Utah-400 Router
BIRMINGHAM, ALA.
When I was hired here five years ago, WIAT was considered one of the weakest CBS affiliates in the country. The station's late news often ranked in fifth place, beaten not only by our competitor's newscasts, but also by reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show." These poor ratings were due in part to an antiquated facility.

In 2006, WIAT was purchased by New Vision Television. The company brought with it a unique perspective and strategy, along with a plan to increase ratings.

(L-R) Tom McKleroy, WIAT assistant chief engineer; Rob Barr, WIAT IT engineer; Scott Sarkisian, WIAT chief engineer
We've now made the conversion from an analog-only operation to an all-digital HD/SD facility. One of the key pieces replaced was our 30-year-old analog router. We chose the Utah Scientific Utah-400 router in part because it accommodated both SD and HD signals. We also purchased Utah's MC-2020 master control switcher, with two SD controls for the new digital channels, and HD control for the main channel.

THE ROAD TO HDTV

Early in the project, the only HD programming we offered was what CBS sent us. Today, we broadcast six hours a day of locally produced HD programming and are producing commercials in HD. Our ultimate goal is to broadcast HD programming 24/7.

The new Utah routing and master control switchers have had a huge impact. Programming the routing panel and the MC system is so user friendly that I can do it from my desk. With everything software-based, any signal you want to push to the router is ready in seconds. The Utah equipment enables our operators to multitask; and it even includes an EAS crawl feature that allows us to input an emergency alert system into all of our channels automatically and simultaneously.

The Utah equipment works seamlessly with our Florical automation, and because the Utah-400 was also designed to serve as the master control switcher, it was extremely easy to add in the master controller for the two new digital channels.

DOING MORE WITH LESS

Some may wonder how we were able to add channels and improve our broadcast quality while remaining profitable in this poor economy. What they don't realize is that they are just now seeing changes we have had in design for more than five years. In addition, because of technology improvements and cooperation from vendors such as Utah Scientific, we've done the work cost effectively. We are already seeing a return on our investment. The most recent Nielsen sweep indicates that WIAT is now the second most-watched television station in the market.

It's not only the viewers who appreciate what we've accomplished, the staff is also grateful that we've been able to achieve massive equipment upgrades without a single layoff. At the same time, our competitors have reduced their commitments to capital spending and are making dramatic cuts in staffing.

It's also interesting to note that we have the smallest staff of any station in our market. This is even more remarkable in that we perform all traffic, graphics and master control operations in-house. We've achieved a competitive advantage in our market due in large part to the purchase of amazing technology, which is empowering our employees instead of hampering them.

Before becoming chief engineer at WIAT, Scott Sarkisian raced cigarette boats professionally. He may be contacted at sarkisian@cbs42.com.

For additional information, contact Utah Scientific at 801-575-8801 or visit www.utahscientific.com.



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