For Charleston station, first step to HD news is remote operations

WSAZ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Charleston, WV, is planning a transition to broadcasting its local news in high definition, but it’s cutting eight employees in the process. There’s no official timetable for when the station's newscast will be in HD, although it currently passes through network programming in the 1080i format.

Don Ray, vice president and general manager told the local “Charleston Daily Mail” newspaper that, “Gray [Television] has 30 stations. We have to fit into their plan. We’re one of their most important stations so we think we’ll be sooner than later.”

Aaron Withrow, chief engineer at the station said they’re consolidating two production studio staffs (one in Huntington and one in Charleston) into one, whereby the Charleston studio will be controlled from Huntington. They’ll send the studio signal of news anchors in Charleston, where it will be switched live in Huntington using video over IP encoders and decoders from TANDBERG Television. The distance between the two studios (some 50 miles) now requires a three-microwave hop, so consolidating the facilities will significantly reduce transmission costs.

“The price of microwave versus the cost of data circuit and encoders is a tremendous difference. So the next step is to increase the data stream on our wide area connection and we’ll run the nine encoders we already have at 15Mb/s. We previously used the encoders to support a bidirectional feed, so we're going to move some encoders from Huntington to Charleston. Technically, that’s not the hard part [of moving to HD news].”

The first phase involve moving its existing Thomson Grass Valley 200 analog switcher and Wheatstone SP-8 audio console from Charleston to a new control room in Huntington. Huntington also includes a single master control room, which has been supporting the two channels (WSAZ, and MyZ) for the past few years.

As for the staff reductions, three full-time and five part-time employees in Charleston will be eliminated as the station shifts its technical news production to Huntington, said Don Ray, vice president and general manager.

“Before, these people were behind the wall, on headsets,” Ray told the “Charleston Daily Mail.” “Now they’ll be 50 miles away. It will be an invisible change.”

Ray said the parent company (Gray Television) would save nearly $2 million by avoiding having to convert two facilities to digital operations. Going forward, audio, directing and graphics will be produced and inserted in master control remotely from the company’s Huntington facility. The stations will continue to have two sets of anchors

WSAZ, which is seen over the air and on numerous cable TV services throughout the region, now broadcasts two simultaneous newscasts in analog and digital. During the 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. newscasts, there is a split newscast whereby people in Charleston see Charleston specific news segments on the station’s LPTV or cable channel. Each city has its own anchor and news specifically designed for each region.