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Gray’s WTAP first in West Virginia to broadcast HD local news

For those who thought the transition to HD among local stations producing news was complete, here’s another milestone. WTAP-DT, the NBC-affiliate serving Parkersburg, WV, and Marietta, OH, became the first station in West Virginia to broadcast its local newscasts in HD (1080i) on May 29. The station converted from analog to digital TV broadcasting in 2004.

“The picture [is] absolutely stunning,” said Roger Sheppard vice president and general manager at the station. “We’ve gotten used to seeing HD video from national news sources and DVDs, but to see our local news, weather and sports in true high definition [is] incredible.”

The station will now be “virtually HD” all day long, from sign on to sign off, said Sheppard. As part of the transition to HD, WTAP also installed new Hitachi cameras on a Telemetrics robotic control system, a Ross OverDrive automated system and a Chyron graphics system to give the newscasts a cleaner, more consistent on-air look. Along with its Thales high-power transmitter, the station also plans to erect a new 120ft broadcast tower adjacent to its studios in downtown Parkersburg to improve signal propagation.

The new tower will be erected in the next few months. When it is done, WTAP will move its Highmark West Virginia skycam from the top of a former Mountain State Blue Cross/Blue Shield building to the top of the new tower. That camera will also be capable of outputting an HD video image.

Kevin Buskirk, WTAP’s chief engineer, and Larry White, the station’s IT and production manager, have been planning the move to HD since 2005, according to Sheppard. That was when Gray Television directed the team to launch two new stations to complement the long-standing NBC affiliate, which signed on in 1953. In the spring of 2006, WTAP put FOX Parkersburg and My5 on the air, utilizing entirely new Harris master control and production control rooms (with a Ross Vision HD switcher), designed several years earlier by Buskirk.

In 2004, WTAP became the first TV station in West Virginia to carry NBC network programming over the air in HD. With the transition to local HD, WTAP’s NBC station is now capable of carrying its syndicated (non-network) programming in HD as well.

WTAP will also soon be creating local TV commercials in HD. “We have been shooting high-quality, digital video for our commercials for several years,” Jeff Nutter, the station’s creative director said. “That video will still look great as it appears in our HD programming. And as time goes on, our new local commercials will be shot in the wide-screen, HD format, too, just like our news video.”