National Press Club Gets Digital Makeover

New facilities mean 'functionally, we can do anything'


The National Press Club may be best known in television for its luncheons, where newsmakers wax ponderous on the events of the day. But beyond that podium seen as you surf past C-SPAN, the club hosts 2,000 events annually at its historic location just blocks from the White House.

That means a demanding clientele with world-class needs, so the venerable club has built an advanced format-friendly production center and studios that accommodate everyone else's equipment and can handle multiple projects simultaneously.

"What we created is basically a turnkey solution for events," said Howard Rothman, director of multimedia services for the Press Club. "It's a forum for people who have something to say."

"Functionally, we can do anything," he said.

Working with the club and the historic National Press Building's owners, Chuck Heffner, director of applications engineering for Professional Products Inc., based in Gaithersburg, Md., devised an infrastructure designed to deal with the varied equipment clients bring in. So from Betacam to DVCAM to DVDs, the club can handle most any format and transfer media from format to format, for air or archive.

"The amount of conversion that goes on between formats in the technical core is significant, and it's transparent," Heffner said. "It's designed to be efficient and flexible--which accommodates the operation's myriad requirements."

The club sends its productions directly to the networks and C-SPAN (with which it has an especially close relationship) and can also send media around the country and around the world for interactive productions (such as interviewing subjects in a remote studio) using fiber or satellite, and burn DVDs of the entire event for the client.

At the heart of the system is a Ross Synergy 2 standard definition digital video production switcher with internal DVEs and remote control of the routing switcher.

Audio is driven by an Allen and Heath 3800 series audio mixer and a Telos TWOx12 telephone hybrid audio console with four lines in and two discrete channels out for air or to the on-air talent over IFB. If someone's doing a show with a live feed from a studio in another part of the country, producers can send audio and video back there without them having to hear their own audio.


Two Clarity 46-inch LCD monitors each display up to 8 different SDI sources across their 1920x1080 screens. Heffner says advantages of the LCDs over CRTs were a one-day installation for LCDs (versus about a week for CRTs), plus the LCDs are cheaper, consume less power, and produce 30 percent less heat than CRTs. For any producer who wants to check the true CRT picture, one of the workstations does have a 17-inch unit. An Avid Deko 1000 two-channel editor handles the CG and graphics functions and enables fast edits and real-time effects.

An Avocent AMX 5000 KVM (keyboard, video, and mouse) switcher lets any workstation control any of the production system's computers, and thus many other functions from prompters to monitors. PPI first deployed such a system in its 2002 construction of WJLA, across the river in Rosslyn, Va., Heffner said. There, engineers are 250 feet from their studio and can't be running back and forth all the time.

The fourth-floor broadcast operations center also has two studios, one of which can be split further in two, for a total of three.

Another nearby room holds a technical operations center with camera controls and shade functions and a manual quality control station where an operator can see all the facilities outputs and signals. The area also holds multiple VTRs of various types for dubbing, aided by two Snell & Wilcox TBS-180AV frame synchronizers, and an Evertz MSC5600 master reference and timecode generator.

The cost of high-quality conversion products has dropped significantly in recent years, Heffner said. "Basically it's garbage in, quality out."

The TOC is built around a Ross 64x64 NK series SDI and stereo analog audio routing switcher, and a Ross Geneos control system, as well as an Evertz 7707 series fiber transmission system.

The TOC also has an Avocent KVM user station that is connected to the Internet, so PPI can do some diagnostics from its Gaithersburg headquarters about 30 miles north of town.


Visitors to the Press Club for its luncheons, press conferences, and special events tend to come to building's 13th floor. It takes over 500 feet of Triax to connect down to the fourth-floor studios and operations centers. The 10 large press conference rooms, the main luncheon hall, and the studios all have hard-wired junction boxes with multiple video, audio and Triax lines. Clients can bring in their own cameras and just plug in.

What's more, the cabling extends to the Marriott hotel next door, another site for high-level events with newsmaking bigwigs. Conference rooms in that luxury hotel are also hard-wired to the club, so people can plug their cameras in and send media to the club's BOC and off to the networks.

So far, says Rothman, response to the club's new facility has been "out of control." Eventually, the facility reconstruction will enter a second phase, with more edit bays, set storage for clients who want to hold regular weekly or monthly events, more archiving capacity with a searchable database of content, and other upgrades.

For clients, the Press Club now provides one-stop shopping for a newsmaker (or public relations outfit) to get the message out. Rothman notes that in previous eras, clients would have to bring in crews, then go to a studio to edit, and then send the media over satellite back to the network. Now, that's all in-house at the Club.