NBC11’s New Space-Age Digs Building A Station For The Digital Century

NBC11 is too big for its britches—literally. In less than five years, the San Jose-based television station has gone from serving the tiny Salinas-Monterey market (DMA 125) to the San Francisco Bay area, the nation’s sixth largest television market.
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NBC11 is too big for its britches—literally. In less than five years, the San Jose-based television station has gone from serving the tiny Salinas-Monterey market (DMA 125) to the San Francisco Bay area, the nation’s sixth largest television market. That’s quite a feat. Unfortunately, NBC11, now serving roughly 2.4 million TV households, is still operating out of its old facility, a building almost 50 years old that was originally designed to accommodate small-market operations. To make matters worse, NBC11’s tower is the same one it’s been using since its Salinas-Monterey days. Located on Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 30 miles east of San Francisco, the tower provided perfect reception for the Salinas-Monterey market. But its signals have trouble reaching the northern end of the San Francisco market it now serves. What’s NBC11 to do?

Build a new station and relocate its tower. That’s exactly what NBC11 is doing. It is building a state-of-the-art digital facility in San Jose, smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley, and relocating its tower site to Mount San Bruno, four miles south of Mount Sutro, prized by broadcasters for its central location in the Bay area. The tricked-out facility is set to open its doors shortly after Thanksgiving this year. NBC11 hopes to get the new tower site operating by February 15, 2005.

The Many Lives Of NBC11
NBC11 (call letters KNTV) has a long history. It has been operating from its current facility, located in downtown San Jose, for 49 years. Licensed originally to serve the Salinas-Monterey market, it has been an ABC affiliate, an independent, an NBC affiliate, and now, an NBC O&O. In 2000, NBC and Granite, which owned the station at that time, reached a deal to make NBC11 the NBC affiliate in the San Francisco market, which at that time was the 5th largest DMA in the country. “On January 1, 2002, they flipped a switch and this television station stopped serving market 125, which is what the Salinas-Monterey market was, and started serving the San Francisco Bay area,” recalled Linda Sullivan, president and general manager, NBC11. Then, in May 2002, NBC purchased the station, making it an O&O.

Once NBC11 became a top-ten station, it immediately bumped up its signal capacity, nearly doubling it. It also plumped up its staff for a larger news operation (the Salinas-Monterey operation had a very small news operation) and sought out distribution on local cable systems. Still, it encountered problems. Over-the-air viewers in the northern part of the San Francisco DMA were having trouble receiving NBC11 signals. The reception problems were mitigated to some degree by the fact that most viewers had cable, but it was still an issue. A bigger challenge was that the station was just too small to handle large-market operations. “The facility we’re in was built to be a small television station without a [large] news department,” said Sullivan. “There are just far too many people here for the facility itself.” In terms of the technical infrastructure, the building’s systems were straining under the weight of such a large DMA. “We are really overstretched with the change from market 125 to 5,” said Richard Swank, NBC11 vice president of engineering. “We need more control room space, we need more studio space, we need more rack-room space. And this building just wasn’t big enough or it didn’t lend itself to expanding.”

In order to serve a bigger market, NBC11 knew it needed to make some big changes. Not long after it received its new DMA status, it began researching better tower sites in the San Francisco Bay area. “It took us forever to find the right location,” said Sullivan. “We looked at a lot of different locations, some of which were unacceptable from an environmental standpoint, some of which were unacceptable in that they weren’t going to improve our signal area.”

After deciding on the Mount San Bruno site, NBC11 submitted its waiver request to the FCC to move the tower site in October 2003. It was approved in late September of this year.

A Jewel In Silicon Valley
In the meantime, NBC11 has been planning and building its new station. The new building is an 81,000-square-foot facility located in the high-tech area of San Jose (Cisco, Sony, and Pinnacle are just around the corner). It’s about five miles away from the old, 26,000-square-foot facility. In the spirit of its location in Silicon Valley, it will be one of the most high-tech, state-of-the-art stations in the country, from the Cisco networking used to move audio and video around the facility to the building management computer system that will control all the lighting, heating, and cooling as well as the security system.

The station’s infrastructure will be IT-based. “We are outfitting the building with the latest Cisco networking gear—switchers and routers mainly—which will allow us to do a lot more than we have been, especially when it comes to moving video and audio files around the network. Our data is going to be moving at 1GB in lot of cases,” said Grant Morrow, director of IT. In the new building NBC11 will be moving high-resolution video around its network. It will also have centralized storage (on an Avid Unity) for video and audio files as well as a Thomson Grass Valley MAN server. This will allow several people to look at the data assets at the same time. The facility will also be almost completely tapeless, except for field acquisition. “There’s still tape acquisition in the field, but once they come back and begin the editing and dub-in process, then everything is tapeless inside the facility,” said Morrow.

For its newsroom, NBC11 will be employing the Avid iNews system. “We love iNews because it’s so flexible and scaleable,” said Morrow. iNews will control the playback of graphics and in some cases producers and editors will be able to control the playback of videotape through the iNews interface. Because iNews is MOS-compliant, NBC11 will be able to interface to other types of servers in the facility. For example, the station will be using the iNews to drive its Chryons Infinite CG. That way, character generation can be done straight from the desktop.

Graphics will be performed on two Pinnacle Deko-FX systems, while editing will take place on Thomson’s Grass Valley News Edit systems. For high-end productions, NBC11 will use Avid Symphonys, Adrenalines, and Pro Tools, which will also be tied to the Unity server.

NBC11 has 13 ENG trucks and two DSNG trucks, which it will move over to the new facility. All the trucks have Beta SX editing capability, so editors can perform quick-turnaround stories from the field.

The Virtual Newsroom
Because the San Francisco DMA is so large, NBC11 has a news bureau and sales office in downtown San Francisco. The Avid iNews system will be installed in both locations. Via fiber, reporters and editors in both newsrooms will be able to look at the same video off the server at the same time, as though they were right next door to eachother. For example, for a story that’s shot in San Francisco, the video can be viewed in San Jose without waiting for a microwave hook-up to be set up. Similarly, a reporter in San Francisco can pull video from San Jose and incorporate it into her story without having to wait for a special feed or a courier to bring her the tape. NBC11 staffers have dubbed this set up the “Virtual Newsroom.” “The trick with [the Virtual Newsroom] is bandwidth between locations,” said Morrow. “We’re using SPC, AT&T, and Sprint, among others, to help us move data between locations.” NBC11 is also implementing voice-over-IP systems between San Francisco, the new building in San Jose, and NBC headquarters in New York so that information transmitted over telephone calls will remain confidential to the station.

NBC11 plans to open the doors to its new facility shortly after Thanksgiving this year. Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for a station that’s seen it all.