ABC Goes on Tour for Election

Network covers the pols with 'studios on wheels'
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Network covers the pols with 'studios on wheels'

NEW YORK

When in doubt, go patriotic. ABC has taken that theme and is flying America's colors across the country with three mobile television and radio buses-one predominantly painted red and appropriately named "red," the second white and the third bus blue. All three were assigned to follow the nation's 2004 primaries; red and blue will continue to cover the Republican and Democratic conventions, campaign trails and national election. The buses, which were rolled out in early January, follow candidates across the country, broadcasting everything from interviews to entire news programs from aboard.

Each of the 45-foot-long by 12-foot-wide vehicles is a self-contained production studio on wheels, equipped with Sony PD170 DV cameras, Panasonic production switchers (five inputs with four inputs on a subswitcher), a four 21-inch LCD screen monitor wall, lighting gear, two plasma displays, seven workstations with computer and phone access, and an equipment rack filled with various A/V switchers, mixers and decks. At the heart of the operation, and literally tucked in a corner at a small workstation, is a laptop running Avid Xpress Pro editing systems.

WITH A CHASER

Also aboard is a core team of ABC producers and engineers. Following behind in a separate vehicle is a "chaser," an SUV that was transformed into a mobile transmission station, carrying a satellite dish and a voice/data system to downlink phone lines and Internet. As the buses travel through various U.S. cities, the teams are joined by local reporters or correspondents from that city's ABC affiliate station.

The setup gives news crews great flexibility according to ABC News Senior Producer David Reiter.

"We can do anything we want from this bus. It's not just one thing at a time," he said. "We could and have done three or four things at once. For instance, we can have editors in the back editing a tape while an interview is going on in the front of the bus. Or, someone else could be doing a live shot outside while someone from radio could be inside doing hourly reports on whatever candidate or event they are covering."

Reiter said that ABC ensured that its trucks were fully capable of producing complete production and post services for TV, radio and/or the Internet.

"The Avid Xpress and the DV cameras onboard are really revolutionary for us with how we are covering the campaigns," Reiter said. "They allow us to be a lot more flexible in so many ways."

NEED A RIDE?

Reiter explained that, for instance, inside the front part of the bus are plug-ins for two video cameras and a lipstick camera.

"We could very quickly and easily do a three-camera shoot. Plus, we could do the interviews while the bus is standing still or moving," he said. "A number of the interviews we got were because we were able to tell the candidates we would drive them from one location to another."

Rick Knipe, an engineer for ABC News assigned to the red bus, played a pivotal role in deciding which equipment actually ended up inside each of the buses, which were rented from National Tennessee, which had previously been using the buses for tours by well-known recording artists.

Reiter met with Knipe to discuss the bus' interior design options and according to Reiter, "the equipment in the rack, in particular, was very ingeniously planned out. It's amazing how much gear Rick was able to get into just that one rack."

Reiter and Knipe both agreed that the size of the equipment was a decisive factor in what actually ended up inside a bus.

"The size of the equipment that's available today is much more compact and lends itself well to the type of application like a production room on wheels," Reiter said. "We can now do in a bus everything that we used to have to do in an office. The flexibility that this arrangement has afforded us is amazing."

"The size factor is simply amazing," added Knipe. "The Avid, for instance, enables us to do in that small area what used to take an entire room. That's a very big deal.

"This has allowed us to be more flexible and creative with how we are covering the elections," he said. "When a producer comes on the bus with video, we could almost immediately feed it into New York where it could be sent out to any of our affiliates."

Beth Loyd, the ABC News producer assigned to the red bus said, "Besides serving all the big platforms such as 'World News Tonight,' and shooting correspondents doing live shots, we could take the DV cameras out of the bus while we're parked. We can go and cover an event while also getting some added value, some color from the people of the town, and could then edit it on the Avid while driving to the next town or state."

Loyd is one of the producers who, just a few weeks prior to the start of the year, were trained to use the DV cams and the Avid editing systems.

"One of the great things about training the producers and engineers assigned to the buses," said Reiter, "is that we didn't have to send the additional staffing out. We tried to be as efficient as possible. Because the Avid is so easy to use, it allowed us to train people who aren't editors in the classic sense to come in and be editors."

"I did small things on an editing system before going on the road," Loyd said, "but I had never cut an entire piece by myself. But, I felt comfortable doing it."