Snell Powers Va. PBS Stations

Mark Spiller
Migrating to digital operations presents significant challenges for public broadcasters that rely solely on viewer support and an ever-dwindling amount of federal and state funding.

At the Community Idea Stations, a family of PBS stations based here, our approach to "going digital" meant focusing on the functions directly involved in delivering signals to air, and implementing solutions that could deliver maximum efficiencies and "bang for the buck." That's why our new digital operations center (DOC) incorporates automation and distribution solutions from Snell.


The Community Idea Stations operate WCVE-TV and WCVW in Richmond and WHTJ in Charlottesville, Va. and have a combined viewing audience of more than 400,000. We had two main goals in creating our DOC: To improve signal quality by upgrading to full SD and HD, and to feed separate program, interstitial and branding material to our Charlottesville operation. Early in the project, we searched for a server with storage space and outputs to feed all of our planned streams, as well as an automation system to control those separate streams.

The DOC was launched in February 2008, giving us the ability to control all three stations from a centralized location. Snell systems manage and transport two HD and five SD video streams for the three stations. Snell's Morpheus automation system controls all of the components necessary to put these streams on the air, including control of our DigiBeta and Beta SP tape deck program playback and our Omneon server record and playback functions for program and interstitial materials.

The Morpheus system also controls our five Snell Masterpiece switchers (we have two HD and three SD models), as well as two "cuts only" SD channels. It integrates seamlessly with our ProTrack traffic software. Most importantly, Morpheus provides the scalability that will enable us to grow in the years to come by simply adding more program streams to what we're running now.


In addition to the Morpheus system, we've installed a 256x256 Snell Sirius router that transports all SD, HD, and analog signals. The matrix size was selected to provide plenty of capacity for additional inputs and outputs as the operation expands. Router operations are supported by MCM, Snell's highly flexible PC-based router control system.

This Snell equipment has given us a solid foundation on which to build a facility that will adapt to changes in technology and our business requirements. We now have the ability to run separate interstitial material for all of our channels, allowing us to brand each station separately. And, we're able to do it with a single operator during most of the day. Our investment in the Snell gear is a solid one. We can quickly respond to the ever-changing needs of our service community, and at the same time keep quality high and expansion costs to a minimum.

Mark Spiller is vice president of broadcast operations for The Community Idea Stations, a family of public broadcasting stations (PBS television and NPR) owned by Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Corp. He may be contacted

For additional information, contact Snell at 818-556-2616 or